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Harvest Tales - Riley County

Harvest stories submitted by Kansans for the online exhibit, Wheat People.
Submit your own at kshs.kansasmuseum@ks.gov.

Leila Larson Hope

Harvest in the Early 1920s

This is a true harvesting experience in North Central Kansas in the early 1920's . . . around Leonardville, Walsburg, Randolph and Garrison, Kansas.

There were no pick-up trucks, no combines, no gasoline powered equipment; just Horse, Man, Woman and Child power as that was all that was available. The John Deere binder was pulled by a four horse span or by mules. The grain was hauled (by horse power) to the granary in the ever useful "lumber wagon" which had been reinforced with side boards to carry a larger load. However, after cutting the wheat which came from the binder in 20 to 30 pound bundles it had to be "shocked" or stacked in neat piles. . . . After the wheat stayed in the shock a given number of weeks to dry it was loaded onto a "hay-rack" then moved to a certain area and stacked. . . . The bundles were very slick and it took a genius such as my Uncle Charley to stack them just right so the whole stack wouldn't come sliding down and fall apart. . . .

"Thrashing Time" with all the family and neighbors gathered to work together just sounded romantic. In reality it was just plain hard work for all the family and gathered neighbors. Several farmers in this area pooled their resources and bought a "Thrashing Machine" and it was "garaged" on my Uncle Charley's and my Dad's place as they were in partnership and had the space and "garage" for it.

The "Machine" took a crew of men to run the steam-engine (an Altman-Taylor) which furnished the power to the thrasher plus a crew to pitch the bundles into the thrasher and then another crew to haul it to the granaries with horse or mule power. The "Woman-Power" came in the form of feeding the thrashing crew at noon and supper. . . . It was done on wood, corn cob or coal stoves in temperatures over 100 degrees. It was a formidable task for our household as there was only one "House-Wife," but with the help of good neighbors and wonderful "In-Law" power all were fed after washing hands and faces (with home-made soap) on long wooden benches set up outside the house in the shade (not cool-shade).

"Child Power" came in many forms as there were no "Child Labor" laws then or at least we never were told of them. Children worked shocking, stacking, driving teams of horses or mules and on the feeding crews right along side of the crew of men. . . . One summer harvest stands out in my mind particularly as my cousin [Eveline Larson Tiderman] and I had just finished shocking wheat at home and our neighbor asked us to shock his wheat. His farm was two hills East of our farm . . . [and] we had to walk both ways in the Kansas heat. After shocking wheat and oats for five long days we were paid the grand sum of five dollars apiece!!

"Harvest Tales" is part of the online exhibit, Wheat People:  Celebrating Kansas Harvest.