Writing from Gerard Foote about 1990.
Typed from Gerard's handwriting by Walter C. Scott about 1990.
Scanned by Jess Brown Scott 1998.
DOWN MEMORY LANE BY: GERARD FOOTE
In the early part of the twentieth century, wheat was grown extensively in the midwest. Even in Kentucky it was a major source of income for farmers. After the corn crop was cut and shocked, wheat would be drilled around the shocks or often fields were fallowed in summer and sown to winter wheat. October tenth was considered the earliest safe date because of the hessian fly. The following June the mature crop would be harvested and allowed to cure for days or weeks before threshing started around July 1. Bundles from the binder were set grain heads up in groups of ten; then two bundles were used to cap the shock to protect them from rain until the thresher came. Edwin C. Foote, my father, was a principle thresherman in this area. Others who operated in the county were Robert "Bob" Cox, Nick Mills, Bud Shellman, a Mr. Stall and a few others. All of them were using steam powered traction engines in the 1920's. Dad's rig was a 32 inch cylinder, Garr Scott thresher with a Reeves engine, an Owensboro wagon with a hand crafted frame on which a 188 gallon used wine cask was secured to haul water to the engine. The water pump sat behind the cask. It pumped both on the forward and backward stroke. A strong ambitious man could fill the tank in about fifteen minutes. It took me longer at age twelve when I started my career with the crew. The second summer I was promoted to fireman. Someone else took over the water haul job.
I have never understood the term horsepower. The engine was rated 20/60, 20 HP on the draw bar and 60 HP on the belt. It weighed twelve tons without water or fuel. Today there are farm tractors rated much higher, weighing half as much that will not move half the load that the Reeves would. It was one of the last units built by that company, Emerson, Brountingham Reeves. They filed bankruptcy and went out of business early in the 1920's. The Gar Scott was a very snazzy model for that point in time. It had self feeder, rotating power driver, wind stacker, a bushel weigher with a meter that recorded the number of bushels threshed. It was so accurate that I never heard of anyone coming up short at the mill.
It would take more time and energy than I have to describe the wonderful food we enjoyed on our circuit. We often had three meals a day and slept at the home of whichever customer we were with at sundown. Often we were as much as fifteen or twenty miles from home. It was a community effort. Even farmers who did not grow wheat came and donated their help. Their only pay would be a fabulous noon dinner.
Six or eight hay wagons brought the bundles in from the field fast enough to keep the machine busy. There were usually four men pitching bundles from the shock to the hay wagons. Two men were at the bagger to change and tie bags. There was rivalry as to who had the best teams, hauled the largest loads, etc. Some of the team harness was fancy with red, yellow or blue tassels. A few had a nice sounding bell on the cross checks between the mules or horses. The Reeves had a steam whistle like those on locomotives of that time. We used the whistle to announce starting time, to summons workers in from the field at noon and night. The best days run that I remember was 1938 in the bottom land where Olin Corp stands today. The charge was 5 cents per bushel for oats, 8 cents for wheat, rye or barley.
Steam engines used in the early part of the twentieth century were self propelled or traction type earlier. They were on wheels but pulled from place to place by ox teams.
It was my privilege to see two brothers use scythes and cradles in harvesting small plots of wheat. They were skilled. They had learned the art in their youth before the invention of the reaper or self binder. These men tied the sheaves with straw so guickly one could hardly believe it.
I also saw a steam boat come into Brandenburg landing, lower
the gang plank and roust-abouts carried the two bushel bags of wheat from shore to boat in
a trot. They were all black men of unusual size and strength--others need not try. Each
bag weighed approximately 120 pounds. All of these things have passed from the scene in
the 80 year span that I have been around.