The winter months sometimes allow a little extra time for me to work on a project that has been in the works for many years. - compiling reminiscences written by my grandfather, W.D. Fish, known as "Golly" to those who looked for his column in the weekly newspaper.
Born in 1875, he lived in Allegany County near Whitesville during his youth and that's where he was bitten by the printing/newspapering bug. He worked for many area newspapers and print shops. He wrote a book (which was never published) about his time in Cross Fork in the early 1900s. But in the 1920s, he made Coudersport his home and The Potter Enterprise his newspaper.
Golly continued working at the newspaper until shortly before his death in 1969 and in the later years especially, he penned pages and pages of stories, written in pencil on now-yellowed newsprint. My mother squirelled them away and now they've made their way to me. And such treasures!
This particular piece was in a folder marked "filler" and here's the introduction page as I found it. It was likely written in the late 1960s.
It seems to fit well with my stories of this old farm. Though Arthur tells me he has not come across a grain flail, we do have a grain cradle from the old days.
This Crude Instrument Start Of Modern Harvest Methods
The instrument pictured in this photo is the forerunner of the modern grain combine. It can hardly be designated as a machine but more correctly as an implement.
It is a simple invention that did service for the farmers of one hundred years ago. Today there are few people who could give its name or have any idea of its use.
It is a flail. It was used in the early days to thresh grain such as wheat, oats, barley, millet, buckwheat and other grains. It was a slow but effective way of separation of the grain from the straw.
The handle was perhaps four feet in length. The shorter piece of wood fastened to the handle with a loose toggle, probably of buckskin, was called a whipple or swingle.
The grain was scattered over the barn floor some six inches in depth. The operator moved the handle enough to let the swingle strike the straw to release the grains. The straw was removed and the grain, heavier than the straw, remained on the floor.
There was chaff and broken pieces of straw mixed with the grain. To remove the chaff it was tossed in the air when there was wind and the light refuse was blown away while the grain, being heavier, fell back to the floor. At a later date the fanning mill was invented to clean the grain.
Still later came the threshing machine, the first powered by horses on a treadmill. The grain in bundles was hauled to the barn when dry. It was run into a rapidly-revolving cylinder with spikes which separated the grain and a fan carried away the chaff and straw. The grain came from the machine in a spout. Burlap bags were fastened to the spout and filled to contain the grain for storage.
The next improvement in threshing was steam power which hauled the machines know as "separators" and provided the power to thresh at the various farms of the neighborhood.
"Having threshers" was a day of activity on the farm, even until recent years.
A goodly crew was necessary to operate an operation successfully. Sometimes the farmers hired extra help and the thrashers, as they were called, had have a meal or two. It was up to the housewife and often a wife or two on nearby farms came to the rescue. The men worked hard and they were hearty eaters.
As a side light of those earlier days, the writer remembers hearing the comments of a man who worked one season on a traveling crew. Since fresh meat to feed the thrashers was often not to be had, the farm wife could always prepare a sufficient number of hens to provide food. For those traveling with threshing outfit, chicken became too much of a good thing. In those old days, one thresher declared that when asked a question he either cackled or crowed in response.
Today as one sees pictures of modern combines in the west, traveling northward driving the harvest of thousands of acres as the grain matures, he should hesitate a moment to think it all started with that simple little implement, the flail.
-- written by W.D. Fish