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EGINNING early in June and to one hundred million bushels to the
extending far into midsummer, as total.
the zone of ripening grain moved It was a bountiful gift to the people of northward, the farmers of the Middle West the great wheat-growing section, and they were engaged in the pleasant but exacting cared for it with a due appreciation of task of gathering a golden harvest. Never what it meant in debt-paying, in the purbefore in the history of the prairies was chase of the good things of life, in prosthere such a wealth of wheat, and, though perity, and in happiness. the methods of its harvesting did not Preparations for the harvest begin a differ materially from those of preceding month before the grain shows yellow. years, it called for greater exertion and The farmers examine the implements more numerous laborers.
shipped in by the dealers, make their purThe fields pr mised well in the autumn, chases of binding-twine, engage as many and grew steadily through the open win- men as possible, and arrange their other ter, while the favorable spring days seemed farm work so that it can be left for a time. fitted especially to mature the crop. This year's harvest came on swiftly. A Though the sturdy straw and heavy-laden few hot days with clear skies changed the heads told of coming glory, such doubters waving green to saffron, and all at once are the Western farmers as to crop con- hundreds of landowners wanted to comditions that not until the broad acres mence work, and the question of help were yellow was the perfection of the yield became a serious one. fully recognized.
Workers came swiftly and recked not The present season saw more grain of the manner of their coming. The railgathered from the fields of Oklahoma and roads were generous—and they could not Kansas than in any single year before. well be otherwise. Not only were they A round million acres in the Territory desirous of having their patrons prosper yielded twenty-five million bushels of win- by saving the grain, but the laborers ter wheat; Kansas, with its older settle- boarded the freight-trains by scores and ment, yet nervously anxious for a large hundreds, and what could the few brakecrop return, had from its four and a half men do? So out to the wheat-lands they million acres fully eighty million bushels rode, dusty and often hungry, but on the more, while the spring-wheat region of whole hopeful and good-natured. Some Nebraska and the Dakotas added close were scarcely more than boys; others were
gray-haired. College students with cheery It has a wide swath and is pushed ahead songs and lively “yells” mingled with of four horses, the driver riding on a tramps of all degrees. The papers had tiller-pole behind the whole outfit. The printed reports that three dollars a day straw is cut just beneath the heads and would be paid, but when the wheat-belt is lifted on an inclined carrier into a large was reached the wages were found to be box—a header-box-drawn alongside on a dollar and a half to two dollars—and a wagon. When one box is filled it is board.
taken to a stack in the center of the field, The farmers were waiting for them, and where it is emptied, another wagon and when a freight-train arrived the new- box accompanying the machine. This comers were speedily engaged and soon method requires very ripe and dry grain. were jolting away in farm-wagons to the The click and rattle of the self-binder claims and ranches. The miles on miles and the whir of the header were first of waist-high yellow grain seemed to heard on the claims of Oklahoma. Less present a tremendous task, but once than a decade ago not a house was built, attacked by the army of harvesters it was not a furrow turned over the broad expanse rapidly conquered.
of sod; now there is an agricultural Two kinds of machines are used on the empire. Claim after claim, each costing prairies for cutting wheat. The self- the owner only an hour's ride on a swift binder is needed where the straw is very pony, has been transformed into a valheavy, as was the case in most of Okla- uable farm that this year produced on its homa this year.
It is drawn by three or wheat-land tweniy dollars' worth of wheat four horses—in rare instances, when the to the acre. In Western parlance, the ground is soft or the land hilly, by five- settlers have “taken the Indian out of the and not only cuts the wheat six to ten soil," and they have found in the abuninches from the soil, but collects the dant fertility and the virgin strength of severed straw in uniform-sized bunches, their possession a veritable treasure-mine. and, tying each with a piece of coarse A few years ago poor and hard-pressed, twine, throws them off behind the machine, in some instances not owning even the ready to be carried to the shock by men horse on which they made the race for a on foot. The header is a swifter cutter, home, these farmers are now prosperous
and smiling, and their store was visibly faced man who struggled hard to do as increased by this year's harvest.
much as the others. He nearly gave up On one Oklahoma ranch twenty-five the second day, but later gained in strength binders were running at once and a small until he held his own well. At the end army of men was busy, but this was the of a fortnight he went to the boss and exception. Nearly every farmer has his
asked for his wages. own machine, or he “ changes work” with “Pay me what you do anybody,” he a neighbor, and so all are harvesting at remarked. “I'm not going to spend this once. Unless the threshing is done in money—I'll keep it to show to my wife. the field at the time the cutting is going She and the girls are in Paris. I'm from on or immediately after, all the shocked Chicago, and wanted to eat and sleep as I grain must be put in stacks that will shed used to when a boy—and I've done it.” water. This requires much work, not He went to the hotel in town, donned alone in hauling the bundles, but in prop- fashionable clothes, and took a Pullman erly placing them so that the stack shall car for a mountain resort. be symmetrical and rain-proof. Even Many are the difficulties with which the then a high wind may so scatter it as to harvesters have to contend. The straw require doing the work anew.
may have been so heavy as to “ lodge" Carrying the bundles to the shock or in the lower portions of the field; the pitching the loose wheat from the header- Hessian fly may have eaten the straw and box is the first task of the harvest laborer. caused the heads to fall on the broken If his hands are soft and white and his stem when the wind blows; rain may muscles unused to toil, the days are very, come when the harvest is on and cause very long, the deep sleep on the fragrant delay and much loss. Some of these hay on the barn floor very, very short. things are being overcome. For instance,
On one farm was an example of this this summer a farm-lad discovered that by sort among the employees—a slender, pale- putting the rake-teeth on the cross-bars of
a header-reel the broken straws would be was soon averted. An absence of dew picked up, and he saved enough grain to gave opportunity for this method, and pay for cutting his father's crop.
never was so much grain harvested in so For the most part it was fine harvest short a time. weather. Day after day the sun rode On the other portions of the farm the through a cloudless sky and the thermom- women and boys of the family managed eter marked close to one hundred degrees things. The girls took the milk to the at noon. It was ideal weather for the work creamery and assisted in caring for the in the fields, even though there were times cows and horses. The boys went to town when the men and horses. of necessity, on errands or drove the teams that hauled rested during part of the long afternoon. the header-wagons. The problem of
On some farms the close of daylight did cooking for the men was in some cases not stop the labor in the field. Three solved by the workers having their own sets of men and teams were engaged, cook and living in tents on the field, but while, of course, the same wagons and not often. The housewife sacrificed herforks and the same machine could be self for the few days of extra work and utilized. The workers were divided into prepared wholesome meals in the farmshifts of eight hours each, two working in house kitchen. Even Sunday was not the daylight and the other in the night. exempt from labor during the height of When the darkness came, lanterns were the harvest. Many a country church hung on the horses and wagons, and by congregation heard the far-off hum of the their light the harvest went on under the machines mingling with the cadence of stars through the clear prairie night. It the hymns and considered it no irreverwas in many ways the pleasantest task of ence. Every day was precious to the the twenty-four hours, for the cool winds farmers. The townspeople drove out to fanned the men's faces and the horses had watch the work proceed, some of them respite from the flies that during the day having a lively interest in the proceeding, made life a burden. Of course it neces- for they owned lands on which tenants sitated extra work at the house, but that, were gathering the rent-paying crop. The too, was made possible by extra help. In chief topic of conversation, in town and that manner the wheat was soon cut and out, was the yield and quality of the the danger of loss of grain by bad weather wheat, and the papers of the Western cities