Community Opinion

Memories of harvest during World War II

Dick Hamann is pictured in the white shirt and Little Joe pitching bundles of hay.

I have read stories about the home front in WWII but haven’t seen any about getting the crops harvested.

Submitted by Dick Hamann

In the Cavalier County Republican’s 50 years ago column, I had read there had not been half enough help to harvest the crop in the year 1943. Many farmers at that time still didn’t have combines, and even if they wanted a new one they couldn’t get them as very few were made during the war. Many farmers cut the crop with the binder, shocked the bundles and later put them through a threshing machine.

This was all done by hand and required a lot of manual labor which was in short supply. Most of the able-bodied men were either in the service or were working other wartime jobs. Some kids were kept out of school to help with the harvest. In 1942, I helped with the harvest and returned to school in November. Before the war, men from other states would come to work the harvest.

Some were from farms, good workers, and experienced in farm work. As a result of the Depression years money was in short supply and jobs were scarce, so this was welcome income for them. Before the war you could go to town and find hoboes who would work. Most of them were not very good workers and just wanted a few free meals and a little money before they quit.

Now even the hoboes were in short supply, so it left the work to be done mostly by old men and kids. Most of the threshing machines were 28 inch cylinder, had a crew of six bundles teams, a separator man, and farmers who hauled the grain. During the war all the threshers I knew only used four bundle teams and sometimes a field pitcher to help load bundles.

The threshing machine could be fed from either side so when a load was almost empty the next one could start unloading. Some machines had a short feeder and were harder to unload into. No one wanted to be on the belt side as you couldn’t get as close and had to pitch over the belt. The horses were afraid of the belt and were hard to control. Most often the farm kids usually got stuck with the belt side of the threshing machine. You were paid by the belt time, so any time there was a stop it was recorded. A typical run could last six weeks or longer. Threshing crews went from farm to farm, sometimes quite a distance from home, with the crew sleeping in the farmer’s hayloft. After all of this work you would have to put in at least 200 hours of more.

A bundle hauler had to get up early in the morning and feed and water his team of horses. Breakfast was always a big meal cooked by the people you were threshing for.

There was a basin and water, sometimes setting in front of the house, to wash your hand and face. That is all there was to clean up with even at the end of the day. When I was a Peace Corp in the Phillippines I learned to take a pretty good shower with a pail of water. If you were the first one to go in at night, you were the first to go out in the morning.

This meant that you would be the first one to get loaded and unload the next day. There was a cream can full of water usually sitting by the tractor. Sometimes you didn’t have time to get down from the load of bundles and get a drink so you would hope to get that drink when you came in with the next load. Lunch was brought out midmorning and mid-afternoon. Usually a grain hauler or the seperator man would unload some of the load while you were eating.

There were times when a field pitcher was there to help you load, but not always. Kids in those days were use to working, but this type of work was almost more than they could handle. One fall, another kid and I were always competing against each other on who could haul the biggest load.

It was a dry fall, and we never got a day to rest up. I never thought about it then, but he and I were hauling two-thirds of the bundles. I don’t remember the threshing machine ever stopping to wait for us to get in with our load. As a kid during this time, I was proud of the work I did. My book titled, “Hauling the Biggest Load” was inspired by this experience.