If our crop was small, not much planted in either wheat or rye, we did threshing in the old-fashioned way, flailing the grain.
This was accomplished by spreading a canvas sheet on the ground and placing grain on it. Then, with another sheet over the grain, we took sticks and beat out the seeds, a process we called flailing. Before we put another supply of grain on the sheet to be flailed, the grain we had beaten out had to be separated from the straw and scooped up into containers for winnowing later. This process of beating a small amount at the time went on until our whole crop of wheat or rye was separated from the seed pods.
The winnowing, or getting the chaff out of the grain, was done by holding the bucket or other container at shoulder level on a day with a little breeze so the chaff would blow out of the grain as it fell from shoulder-level onto the winnowing cloth. All of this process was tedious and took much handling of the grain by hand. The grain was forced into a pile at the center of the cloth. Then it was picked up after the winnowing and stored in containers or special grain bins in the barn.
Then the threshing machine came to our community, and farmers grew larger fields of grain because the process of getting the grain from the pods was less time-consuming. My grandfather, Francis Jasper Collins, whom all the community—and even the county, for he had been a representative to the Georgia Legislature in earlier years—was the first in Choestoe to get a threshing machine. He purchased the machine before I was born, but in my childhood, I can remember “the threshers” coming. At first, I have been told, and an old faded photograph shows this, Grandpa pulled his threshing machine with a steer team, and somehow had it hooked up so that the animals provided the power to operate the machine, with necessary pulleys and belts.
Later he purchased a gasoline-powered tractor with huge steel wheels. This became the means of his pulling the threshing machine from farm to farm and also provided the power necessary to operate the thresher. The threshing team made stops at the farms on the circuit that had grain to be threshed. It was a sort of carnival day at our farm when all the threshing gear and the workers arrived. My mother and the neighborhood women—for they helped each other—depending on which farm was on schedule for the day’s work—fed the workers a great spread of food at the noon meal which we called dinner then.
I can remember the noise of the tractor’s operation and the threshing machine’s “putt-putt” forcing the grain from the pods and sending it down a chute to be collected in bushel measures. I was fascinated to see the straw blown out of the chute and stacking up. One worker with a pitchfork moved it to a growing pile to the side of the machine.
After the excitement of the day, the hard work but party-like atmosphere, and the enjoyable “threshing day” meal, we had work to do after the threshing machine moved on to its next location. Always after the fresh straw had been stacked up, we filled the freshly-washed bed ticks (straw mattresses) with the newly-threshed, sweet-smelling straw. On top of this straw mattress, our beds also had feather beds, another mattress filled with duck down. If we had allergies to fresh straw and duck feathers in those days, we never gave those maladies a thought.
Until the wheat and rye were used up, shortly before the next year’s harvest, we enjoyed breads made from home grown grains that had been ground into the respective flour at Souther mill, about a mile from our farm.
Remembering the practices on the farm of my childhood days, they all seem like a world removed from our present age of “store-bought” goods and prepared and preserved foods. Life in those days was filled with much hard work and a savvy for neighbor helping neighbor. “One good turn deserves another” was a well-practiced adage in our community as I grew up. The remembered sounds of the old steel-wheeled tractor chugging up the road and the operation of the threshing machine settled for the happy work day on our farm still produce music to my ears.
c2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 28, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.