Riding the sulky plow and the disk and the harrow behind the horses, I was relieved to be preparing the soil for planting. Earl helped a lot with the disking and harrowing. We used both spring tooth and spike tooth harrows to break up the soil into a fine mix, and we usually had two or even three teams of horses working in the field. Grandpa had bought a “Combined Check Row Corn Planter” made by the Chambers, Bering, Quinlan Company at Decatur, and we had to learn how to use it. The planter used wire-tripped check plates and a wheel driven chain to create a planting pattern that made cultivation in more than one direction possible. If it worked the way it was supposed to, we would not have to follow the cultivator with hoes and clear the weeds by hand in the row near the new stalks. We finally figured out how to use it. When we cultivated we still had to do some hand-hoeing and weed-pulling, but the cultivator did more of the weeding than it could do before.
When time came to cut the winter wheat Grandpa brought home a new McCormick Deering mechanical binder.
“What’s going on, Grandpa? You never bought so much new equipment at one time,” I said.
“I’m looking ahead. If these machines can save half as much labor as they say they can, I’ll be able to keep farming and supporting myself after you boys have gone out on your own. You won’t have to worry about your Grandpa when the machinery does the farming. The farm will take care of me, instead of vice versa.”
“That will be the day, won’t it?” I replied. I didn’t know whether there was such a thing as a labor-saving device. Most of the machines that I had seen working soon broke down and took even more work to fix. Yet machines fascinated me, and I enjoyed seeing new inventions operate.
The mechanical binder looked like a platform on wheels, with a windmill apparatus at the front and on top. In front of the platform, a mowing sickle slid back and forth, as the horse pulled the machine. A chain drive from the wheel-shaft powered several pulleys and steel belts that moved the sickle and cut the wheat stalks. The drive also powered the mill as it laid the wheat neatly onto the platform that moved the wheat back into a collector that rolled and tied each bundle of wheat sideways. The bundle either fell to the ground or a man could pick up a completed wheat bundle at the side of the platform and place it on a rack. The machine, if it worked properly, would eliminate the separate mowing with a scythe or cradle, the raking of the cut stalks, the hand tying of bundles, the forking of the bundles onto a hayrack, and the losing of a lot of wheat grain on the ground. Three workers could still help—one to drive the team that pulled the machine, one to pick up the bundles and toss them onto the rack with the seed heads pointed toward the center of the rack, and one to drive the team that pulled the rack and stack the seed as high as it could go. In a pinch, one person could operate the machine by himself, and come back later to pick up the bundles, but that was a lot to try to do by oneself.
The machine operated beautifully through nineteen acres of wheat, while Grandpa, Earl, and I worked. Then the tying apparatus began to malfunction, and the twine got fouled and knotted into such a mess that I had to use my pocket knife to cut the knots apart. We finished the last acre with me hand-tying the bundles that rolled up to me on the conveyor, and tossing the bundles onto the rack. That was still easier than the old method.
Two full racks of wheat, with bundles stacked to three times my height, waited in the shed until the threshing machine was available.