South Central Kansas
Working as a Harvest Hand
For parts of three summers, 1938-1940, I worked as a wheat harvest hand. . . . The first two years was spent as a shocker and when the harvest crew arrived I pitched bundles onto the bundle wagons in the field. Sometimes I pitched bundles into the threshing machine. The last year I handled a bundle wagon, although I'd never before really learned to drive horses.
One morning after I was the first to finish at the threshing machine, I found out about a "harvest rule"that no one had told me about before. I helped my uncle milk cows that morning and got to the neighbor's threshing outfit too late to be the first one to the threshing machine that day I found out it was a "no no," and I was the butt of innumerable jokes. So, I filled my bundle wagon so full that one could not put another bundle on it without sliding off. As I was driving out of the field onto the road which led to the threshing machine, I turned the team too sharply and the rear wheel went off the culvert, turning the wagon over some and the top half of my bundles went into the ditch. I straightened out the team and drove out of the ditch and was told to go on to the separator. Another bundle wagon was filled up with the bundles in the ditch.
On another farm that season I helped with a more self-contained wheat harvest. I drove a tractor--I'd driven cars since I was 15, but had never driven a tractor before--which pulled a small Allis-Chalmers All Crop Harvester. This combine's moving parts were propelled by a power-take-off from the tractor. My cousin would come by with a truck and drop the grain into the truck that had been augured into the elevated bin. One time, when I was at the edge of the field, I drove too close to a drop-off and I could not move farther. My cousin got us out of that mess and I finished harvesting that field for him.
As I look back on my personal experiences with the Kansas wheat harvest I realize now that there were many changes in the mechanical part of the harvest. I experience the last of the binder, threshing machine years and I was in on the beginning of the small all-crop combines. Farther west in Kansas there were other machines used in the harvest, particularly harvesting with headers which elevated the head and a small portion of the straw into header barges, from which huge stacks would be made to "sweat" the grain before threshing. There were many changes in the kinds of wheat sown and harvested on Kansas farms. For example, when I became a participant in the Kansas wheat harvest, winter wheat was accepted as the kind of wheat for use in Kansas. In the nineteenth century, there was a long debate between the use of winter or spring wheat.
Homer Socolofsky also submitted Carrying Water to Threshers.