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Step back in time

Posted July 10, 2013 in Greene County

Step back in time during the Pleasant Prairie Threshing Bee at the Foster-Timmons farm at 1176 M Ave., in rural Jefferson on Saturday, July 27 and Sunday, July 28.

Four steam tractors pull moboard plows at last year’s threshing bee.

Four steam tractors pull moboard plows at last year’s threshing bee.

Nick Foster, his daughter and son-in-law, Nicole and James Timmons, other family members and more than 50 volunteers show off threshing machines, corn pickers, steam engines and moboard plows; go for a tractor ride; and host a huge community dinner.

Foster expects 400-500 people, mostly from the surrounding agricultural community, to come and go over the two-day event.

“This all started about 14 years ago with the Four-County Antique Tractor Club,” he says. “When we first started we had it in a couple of other places, but then we just decided to bring it out to the farm.”

The threshing event is one of only about four such events in Iowa. Mount Pleasant’s threshing bee draws a lot more people, Foster says, but the Pleasant Prairie Threshing Bee has even more demonstrations and equipment on display.

The event is all about education, preserving the history of early agricultural implements and understanding how farmers lived and what the work was like, and it’s free.

“Our philosophy is that everything should be free. We’ll have live music and food and invite a bunch of people over. It will be like a family reunion. We have a real good time,” Foster says.

So, there may be some people out there who are reading this and wondering what a threshing bee is, as well as a threshing machine.

• Definition of a threshing machine: A machine for removing grains and seeds from straw and chaff often associated with harvesting oats. Before threshing machines, people used large sticks to beat the oats or other grain to make the seed fall off. It was a long process. The threshing machine cut the time considerably.

• Definition of a threshing bee: A gathering of neighbors or friends to undertake the chore of threshing grain, or removing grain from the stalk. Often in early American agriculture, the farmers would help one another out. Although the events were work, there was usually a large communal meal served and sometimes some type of entertainment. Today, threshing bees, like the one at the Foster-Timmons farm, are for demonstrating, viewing and entertainment, as well as historical purposes.

A corn sheller in action during the 2012 event.  Photos courtesy of Joe Gleason.

A corn sheller in action during the 2012 event.
Photos courtesy of Joe Gleason.

Family friend, volunteer and member of the antique tractor group, Nick Rasmussen, explained that the threshing machine was the precursor to the modern combine. When using just a threshing machine, workers have to first harvest and bundle the oats. The oats bundles are allowed to dry, and then the oats are fed into the machine.

Some of the machines are steam-powered, and some are powered off the drive shaft of a tractor. Modern combines both cut the grain and remove the seed.

These early concepts can be observed and discussed at length at the Pleasant Prairie Threshing Bee, where people of all ages and backgrounds can come to check out the machinery.

Rasmussen has been involved with the threshing bee since it began, even though he admits he’s more enthralled with antique tractors.  He mentioned how much fun it is to watch a steam engine run as well.

“It is interesting to watch these machines and demonstrations. It gives people an appreciation of how hard our ancestors worked to get things done on the farm. They were working all the time, from sun-up to dark,” he says.

Rasmussen also likes to take part in the antique tractor ride on the morning of Sunday, July 28.

The tractor ride goes from the Foster-Timmons farm to Lohrville where the Lions Club serves the tractor riders’ breakfast in the park. There are usually 30-40 tractors on the roads.

“We keep the entire event with a family-type atmosphere. Some people wear period clothing. Other people come and demonstrate the crafts of a bygone era, such as blacksmithing,” he says.

One demonstration given at the event is the use of a moleboard plow. Each blade of the plow was operated by a person standing on the apparatus and operating a lever.  Photos courtesy of Joe Gleason.

One demonstration given at the event is the use of a moleboard plow. Each blade of the plow was operated by a person standing on the apparatus and operating a lever.
Photos courtesy of Joe Gleason.

His friend and fellow tractor club member, Joe Gleason of Des Moines, formerly of the Scranton area, says a lot of people bring friends or relatives who have never seen or even heard of a threshing machine.

“I’m a native Scranton person. You might say that whole neighborhood is where I grew up,” Gleason says. “I’m the historian of the group.”

While Gleason has been a member of the Four-County Antique Tractor Club for a long time, he wasn’t really involved with the threshing bee until the volunteers who help with the event found out he had grown up around corn shellers.

“My father used to shell corn on our place, and then he did custom corn shelling for other farmers,” he says.

One year he was asked to come and do demonstrations with a corn sheller. He jumped at the chance and has been involved in the event ever since.

Gleason will have his Minneapolis Moline corn sheller at the event. He has two corn shellers, both of the same make, but one is a Model E and the other a Model D.

“One of my shellers is operational, and the other isn’t. Both of them are out at Nick’s farm,” he says.

The event is much more than just corn shellers and threshing machines, however. There are also antique tractors, including steam-powered models. One demonstration given at the event is the use of a large moboard (also called a moleboard) plow. Each blade of the plow was operated by a person standing on the apparatus and operating a lever.

Pictures from last year’s event show men and women operating the plows as they are pulled by the steam engines.

Kenny Pederson of Grand Junction will have his vast array of antique and vintage tractors at the event for the antique tractor and truck show on both days.

Nick Foster (left) will be one of the hosts at the Pleasant Prairie Threshing Bee to be held July 27-28.

Nick Foster (left) will be one of the hosts at the Pleasant Prairie Threshing Bee to be held July 27-28.

The two-day event is set up so people may come and go as they please, but there are some specific demonstration times.

On Saturday, threshing machine demonstrations will be running from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Sunday from 1-3 p.m. At 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, there will be a demonstration with four steam tractors pulling moboard plows.

Throughout both days, Roby and Angie Pedersen will demonstrate blacksmithing from the late 1800s. Another demonstration will show off a buzz saw cutting wood.

The Sunday morning tractor ride starts at 6:30 a.m. beginning at the Foster-Timmons Farm and ending at a park in Lohrville where the Lions Club serves breakfast.

All of these events are done in conjunction with the Greene County Historical Society.

The rural address for the Foster-Timmons farm is 1176 M. Avenue, northwest of Jefferson just a few miles.

“I like the threshing because it is from a time and era that has passed. This type of machinery isn’t made any more,” Gleason says. “A lot of the later generations, young adults and children, have never seen this type of equipment before, or seen it work.”





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