Wheat Harvesting & Threshing Early 20th Century

Wheat Harvest and Threshing

In the Early Twentieth Century

Pearl McBurney owned the threshing equipment and farm depicted in the pictures below. In addition to threshing his farm south of Calista, Kansas, in western Kingman County, he also did custom threshing for his neighbors.

Wheat (and oat) harvesting and threshing were very labor intensive. Note from the photos below that 10 - 15 neighbors and hired hands were needed for the harvest and threshing. Feeding this large crew required the cooks wagon to go to the fields for the noon dinner so harvest meals could be served to the hungry harvesters. Frequently farm wives and daughters did this essential work.

(Click on photos below to get a larger 800 pixel image. Larger resolution photos are available. Email donh at yesteryeartreasure .com)

 Reaping Wheat

Six horses push the wheat header. The header’s turning wheels drive the sickle cutting bar and the reel which moves the cut wheat stalks back to a conveyor belt lifting the stalks up to the header wagon traveling alongside the header. In front of the header reel another full header wagon is moving toward the wheat stack to pitch its load. The wheat stacks will later be pitched into the threshing machine to separate the wheat berries from the heads and stalks.
 Header Front View

A front view of the header which shows the horses pushing behind it. Also seen is a front view of the wheat barges carrying the wheat stalks.
 Moving with Trailer

The steam engine pulls the threshing machine and cook shack into the field toward the wheat stack to begin threshing. Behind the steam engine two horses pull the water wagon.
 Another photo of moving to the next field

Another photo of moving the equipment to the next field. 
 Steam EngineThreshing Machine with Grain Wagon

The steam engine drives the threshing machine through the long belt. As seen from the direction of the smoke in these photos the door to the firebox on the steam engine is positioned upwind to improve the draft to the fire. This puts the threshing machine downwind increasing the danger of fire in the wheat stack and straw. Using a long belt to increase the distance between the machines decreases that danger, and the additional belt weight also reduces slippage. On the right of the picture is a grain wagon.
 Threshing with Cook Wagon

Pitchforks constantly feed the intake of the threshing machine which will separate the grain from the wheat stalk by the same process of a cylinder, concave bars, and straw-walkers. This process will later be used in internal combustion engine tractor pull combines and in self propelled combines which will end the era of steam engine tractors and threshing machines. The twist in the long belt helped keep the belt on the pulleys and gave the right rotation for the threshing machine. Horses are hitched to the cook wagon ready to move to the next field.

Click here to go an external website with an animation of a threshing machine.
 Threshing with 2 Wagons

Pearl McBurney sits on his steam engine as his threshing crew poses for the camera. In addition to the engine man at least one man was required to run a water wagon to keep the steam engine running. The threshing machine required an operator, men to feed the wheat stalks into the threshing machine from the wheat stack, and men to scoop the wheat coming into the wheat wagons and then take the wagons to the bin.
 Steam Engine, Water Wagon and Crew


Part of the harvest crew poses by the water wagon and steam engine with the rest of the crew feeding the threshing machine in the background. Water was as essential as fuel for the operation and safety of the steam engine.
 Threshing with Family

Pearl McBurney’s family comes to visit, and he poses with them and his crew for the photographer.
 Threshing with Grain Wagons

The crew takes a break for this photograph with two of the grain wagons shown to the left of the steam engine on each side of the belt running to the threshing machine and another wagon to the left of the threshing machine.
 Threshing Crew Moving

Another field is finished and the threshing machine is hitched behind the steam engine for the trip back to the home place. The thresher in this photograph is a “Port Huron Thresher".
 Threshing Crew

The threshing crew takes a break and has their picture taken by the photographer.
 Threshing Stacks

The threshing machine spews straw out of the blower pipe into the straw pile as seven men use pitchforks to feed the machine. And to the right of the steam engine a water wagon brings in more water for the steam engine.
 Steam Engine w/ Water Wagon

Another view of a different steam engine driving the threshing machine with a water wagon ready to supply the steam engine with more water.
 Port Huron Steam Engine

Pearl McBurney’s new Port Huron steam engine manufactured by the Port Huron Engine & Thresher Co. in Port Huron, Michigan stands ready for threshing to begin.
 Steam Engine Pulling Threshing Machine


A photo of a Steam Engine Pulling a Threshing Machine.
   Another Steam Engine Pulling a Threshing Machine 


A photo of a different Steam Engine pulling a Threshing Machine in another harvest year.
 Steam Engine Moving Home

On that rare calm day in Kansas noted by the smoke rising straight from the steam engine, the steam engine pulls the threshing equipment into the yard of the home place as another year’s harvest ends.
This threshing machine is labeled “Red River Special".
 Wheat Stalk Lift

A rare photo of a lift to load wheat stalks into the threshing machine.
 Steam Engine Pulling Disc Plow

Another  rare photo shows a steam engine pulling a disc plow with the water wagon pulled by horses behind the implement.