By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT COUNTY, MN Threshing time.
It guaranteed long days of hard physical labor, but there were always plenty of caring neighbors and good food to make up for it.
“I’ll never forget those days,” said Cokato resident Gary Schmieg. He threshed with farmers in the Waverly area from 1960 to 1968.
“There was nothing better than getting a good harvest in,” Schmieg said.
“You’re darn right,” added Holdrein Oelke, who started threshing in 1942.
In those days, several farmers worked together to bring in the harvest. Men went from farm to farm, working from sun up to sun down, until the fields were all completed.
“Every place was a one-day job,” Oelke said. Typically, each farmer had about 15 acres of grain.
“As long as there was daylight, we were threshing,” Schmieg said. He and Oelke lived next door to each other at the time. They started work after morning chores, and stopped at about 6 p.m., to leave time for the evening milking.
“It was a fun time, but I’m glad it’s over,” Schmieg said. “They were long days.”
“The first one to go home was expected to be the first one there in the morning,” added Oelke, who now lives in Buffalo.
If the weather cooperated, threshing could be done in a week; other times, it took almost a month.
“We didn’t get tired in those days,” Schmieg said.
“We didn’t know better,” Oelke laughed.
Home-cooked meals helped make the days easier, as well. Sharon Dalbec of Howard Lake said she remembers her mother cooking for men who did threshing.
“They would eat and eat and eat,” she said.
“That was the best part of it,” Schmieg said. “Boy, we ate like kings.”
Plates were piled high with potatoes, gravy, chicken, pie, and other homemade delights.
“That’s what I went for the food,” Schmieg joked.
Socializing with fellow farmers was another perk of threshing season.
“It was fun getting together with the neighbors,” Schmieg said. Dalbec’s uncles, Walter and Wesley Arnold, were two of the farmers Schmieg threshed with south of Waverly.
“They were always smiling,” Schmieg said.
“Nothing bothered them,” Oelke added.
Oelke’s daughters, Carol Randall and Karen Bergmann, drove the tractors sometimes to help out.
The Arnolds purchased a threshing machine in 1925.
“At that time, threshing was done in 20-foot-tall stacks,” Oelke said. By the time Oelke joined in, they had shocks instead.
“By that time, we were advanced enough,” he said.
Oelke and Schmieg were among the last farmers to do threshing.
“Some guys quit sooner,” Schmieg said. “They didn’t enjoy it as much as we did.”
By 1968, most of the farmers had purchased combines, and there wasn’t much help for threshing anymore. The Arnolds purchased a combine in 1969, and Schmieg moved to Howard Lake in 1971.
“Everybody got too independent,” Oelke said. “Farmers quit working together.”
“Most jobs aren’t bad when you’re working together,” Schmieg said. “When you have to do it all alone, that’s not so fun.”
Now, Schmieg’s son lives on the farm in Howard Lake, and he often helps out with the work.
“That’s my therapy,” he joked.
Schmieg said he had always loved farming, even as a young boy.
“That was always my passion, and it still is,” he said.