Grant County Threshing Outfit, ca 1908
Even though it does not have the official logo, this historical postcard was produced for the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition held in Seattle in 1909. The Fair had demonstrations and exhibits that featured both modern manufacturing and farming or agricultural practices of the early 1900s. The activity shown on the card is known as threshing and is performed at harvest time. The scene photographed is an example of the transition period between man and horsepower to machine power. In this case at least one machine is using a steam engine but horses and men are still playing important roles.
The Thresher was invented in 1784 by a Scottish mechanical engineer, Andrew Meikle. Prior to the threshing machine it took several men with flails to separate the grain from the stalks, husks, and chaff. The mechanization took much of the drudgery out of farming but it left many men unemployed. This in combination with higher taxes and low wages eventually led to the Swing Riots of 1830 in the United Kingdom and to the destruction during the riots of threshing machines and threats against farmers who used them. These early threshing machines were hand-fed grain and were horse-powered. The size of the thresher was compared to an upright piano.
In 1834 John Avery and Hiram Abial Pitts made significant improvements to the basic threshing machine. They were granted a United States patent in 1837 for their thresher. An Australian inventor, John Ridley, also developed a threshing machine in 1843.
More improvements continued to be made and around 1910 the first horse drawn combines were introduced. These machines could combine the binding of wheat stalks with the act of threshing or separating the grain out from the stalks. Today huge combine harvesters work the fields doing a variety of jobs such as cutting, binding, threshing, and separating but the basic design has stayed almost the same. The modern combine harvester has an air-conditioned cab and can be operated by one skilled person. An unforeseen disadvantage was the accumulated dust and debris that sometimes gets into the engine compartment of these huge machines has been responsible for fires that have been known to cause millions of dollars of damage. Dragging chains are used to reduce the static electricity and help lower the risk of fires.
On the reverse of the card it gives information about 1907 crop production in several states that grow wheat including Washington and provides addresses for additional information.
Grant county is located in eastern Washington State and is in the heart of the wheat growing area. The county seat is Ephrata. I can remember driving through this part of the state when I was a little girl and being amazed at what seemed like endless miles of golden wheat growing on the rolling hills. As early as 1902, when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was formed, this part of the state was being considered for irrigation because the rich volcanic soil is especially good for growing crops but the climate is extremely dry and needs water. Grand Coulee Dam was built between 1933-1942 to provide water from the Columbia River for irrigation. It is the largest water reclamation project in the United States. The dam also provides hydroelectric power.
I thought this was a particularly interesting postcard since it shows a way of life and farming that is so far from the way the majority of farming is done today on the large agribusiness holdings. Note the women standing at the door of the chuck wagon or cookhouse and all the men and horses it took to accomplish the harvest. Although there are what look like a couple of steam driven machines there is still a great deal of manual labor in the operation shown. The picture would date from 1907 to 1909.
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