Childhood Days

Submitted by Lorrie Wood and compiled by Carol Bender from the journals of Jacob P. Prickett.

Chapter 18

As cultivated land increased, we can see the necessity for inventions that would make the farmer’s work easier and faster. In this chapter Jacob describes the changes and improvements in not only machines for harvesting, but for home improvement as well. He certainly would not believe how advanced things are today.

The other process of threshing wheat in vogue in that early day was with the flail. The flail was a long stick of some tough timber about as large as a heavy fork handle and 6 or 8 feet in length, in the upper end of this stick was a hole. Then a shorter and heavier stick of 2 or 3 feet in length was prepared, and a hole made in one end of it. Through the hole in the end of each of these pieces, they were fastened together by strips of leather, and often by leatherwood bark. Sheaves of wheat were then placed on the barn floor, their heads together, and with a man on each side each armed with one of these flails, they would pound out the grain from the straw. An expert — and all the old pioneers were such — could wield these flails so that the short piece of wood at the upper end would come squarely down upon the sheaves, and much grain would be threshed in a single day in this way. This work could be done during rainy spells when outside work could not be prosecuted. Imagine some of our extensive wheat raisers of today attempting to thresh out their entire crops with the primitive processes I have thus described!

However, the country became more thickly settled and larger areas were brought under cultivation. More wheat was being raised than could be taken care of by these primitive processes, and necessity demanded something better and speedier. Invention went to work, and its product was a machine that was called a “chaff piler.” It was run by horse power. Six or eight horses were attached, and it had a cylinder much like those in the machines of today, into which the sheaves were fed. It threshed the grain from the straw, separated the grain and straw, but piled the grain and chaff in one pile on a large canvas cloth spread upon the ground for that purpose. Of course, all this grain had then to be run through a fanning mill to separate the wheat and chaff.

This was a remarkable machine, the farmers thought, but they demanded something better — something that would leave the wheat clear of chaff as it came from the machine. This was soon provided in what was known as the “traveling machine” — a machine upon wheels, with a large box underneath in which the wheat was caught as it was threshed out. This machine would be driven up to a stack of wheat, and take on a load just large enough to fill the box with grain when threshed, and then start out on its rounds over the field, the straw and chaff coming out at its rear end, while the cleaned wheat dropped into the box below. Of course, no straw was saved in this process, and it was burned after the threshing was done.

Other machines followed rapidly as the demands upon them increased, culminating in the fine machines of today with capacities of hundreds, if not thousands, of bushels in a single day.

Previously we have given an account of the primitive flouring, or “grist mills,” as they were then called, of that day, which ground the grain thus threshed, into flour. When the pioneer’s stock of flour was running short, a sack would be filled with wheat and thrown across the back of a horse, and often a sack of corn on top of this. Then a boy of the family would be foisted on top of this pile and started off to the mill, where he would wait for the grinding to be done. He then returned home with the load considerably reduced in bulk by the converting of the grain into flour and meal.

I have also previously said that the baking of this flour into bread, cakes, pies, etc., was done before the fireplace in large iron ovens and skillets, describing the process. As the families increased in size, and the labor of the pioneer house wife also increased, better facilities for baking were provided in many homes. This consisted in the construction of large ovens for baking purposes.

Posts were set in the ground, extending about 3 or 4 feet above the surface, making a square of about 5 or 6 feet. On these posts a floor was laid, and on this floor, a thick layer of brick or stone and clay mortar was placed. Then dome-like walls and roof were made of the same material, nicely arched, and plastered with clay on the inside. An opening in the front part of this oven was made, probably a foot and a half square.

When the day for baking arrived, the pioneer housewife would prepare enough bread, cakes, pies, etc., to last for a week. Dry wood would be split up very fine, and the oven filled with it, and set on fire, and the opening closed by a sheet of iron of some kind to keep the heat inside. When the wood had been reduced to coals and ashes, these would be raked from the inside of the oven, its floor sponged with a wet cloth, and then the bread, pies, and cake would be placed within the oven on a large wooden paddle made for the purpose, and the entire floor would be filled. The opening would again be closed, and the heat from the floor and walls of the oven was sufficient to bake all these to perfection in a short time, thus saving the housewife much labor before the hot fireplace. And things baked in these ovens were of splendid flavor and quality. Almost anything could be baked or roasted in these hot ovens.

Of the changes in 50 years, someone has said:

How wondrous are the changes

Since 50 years ago!

When girls wore woolen dresses;

And boys wore pants of tow;

When shoes were made of cowhide;

And socks from homespun wool,

And children did a half day’s work

Before they went to school.

The girls took music lessons,

Upon the spinning wheel,

and practiced late and early

On spindle, swift and reel;

The boys would ride the horse to mill,

A dozen miles to go,

And hurry off before ‘twas day,

Some 50 years ago.

The people rode to meeting

In sleds instead of sleighs;

And wagons rode as easy

As buggies now-a-days;

And oxen answered well for teams,

Though now they’d be too slow,

For people lived not half so fast,

Some 50 years ago.

Oh! Well do I remember

That Wilson’s patent stove,

That father bought and paid for

In cloth our girls had wove;

And how the neighbors wondered

When we got the thing to go,

And said “‘twould burst” and kill us all;

Some 50 years ago.

Yes, everything is altered;

I cannot tell the cause;

For man are always tampering

With nature’s wondrous laws;

And what on earth we’re coming to —

Does anybody know —

For everything has changed so much

Since 50 years ago.

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