Wheat Harvest and My Dad

Pendleton PetticoatsSince my Pendleton Petticoats series is set in Pendleton, Oregon, in the early 1900s, it seems fitting to include scenes of wheat harvest in the stories.

Back in the early years of the twentieth century, Umatilla County produced approximately one percent of the nation’s wheat crop. Wheat harvest brought workers to town, provided income for families, and was quite an event. It was also a lot of hot, sweaty, backbreaking work. Growing up on a farm, I write from experience about the dusty, itchy chaff that makes the air thick and hard to breathe.

When I was working on Ilsa’s story, one scene in particular finds her out in the field where Nik, Aundy’s adopted son, shows her a combined thresher harvester.

I looked online for some visual inspiration and found a few photos that were exactly what I was searching for.

combine 2

This photo was taken in 1903 in Sherman County, Oregon. (If you’ve read the Grass Valley series, it is set in Sherman County.)

Although I had a general idea of what each piece of equipment on the machine did, I had no idea how to describe it.

Combine-harvester-pulled-by-a-thirty-three-horse-teamThis was another photo that provided a great visual of exactly how I pictured wheat harvest at Nash’s Folly. Taken in 1902 in Walla Walla, WA, this photo shows not only the machine, but also the deep dip in the hill as well.

32 mules

This photo, also from the oldoregonphotos.com website, shows the team of 32 pulling a hillside harvester in 1900. Because of the rolling hills, the farmers needed a machine that wouldn’t tip over on the steep inclines.

combine thrashing arlington 1900And here’s a crew in the early 1900s sitting with bags of golden kernels  near Arlington, OR. The woman on the end doesn’t look particularly excited to be there- but if I had to cook for a threshing crew in the unbearable summer heat dressed in layers of petticoats and long sleeves, I’d probably look really, really grumpy.

harvested wheat sacksI also found this awesome photo that shows walls created with 100,000 sacks of wheat near Pendleton. Mission is on the Umatilla Reservation.

After gathering the historic photos and studying them, I still had no idea how to describe the equipment, so I contacted my dad and asked his sage advice. Emailing him a couple of the photos, he called me and told me what all the parts and pieces were as well as giving me the names of the different jobs each men did.

The jigger sewed the sacks shut once they were filled. The tender made sure the cutter was going where it was supposed to while the skinner drove the team. I had no idea!

My dad, who comes from a long line of farmers, also spent several years after he and my mother first wed working in Pendleton in the early 1950s. He had first-hand experience with the terrain, the hillside harvesters, and even told me why so many of the farmers preferred mules to horses (because the mules could go all day without a problem and the horses often got sores or sick.)

Dad and shortyThis is a photo of my Dad and his friend, who he’s only ever referred to as Shorty. (Don’t you love the farmer’s tan!). My dad’s about 5’11”, so Shorty was indeed of small stature. But Dad always talks about him with fond and funny memories.

Dad also sent me a photo taken during the 1915 wheat harvest at my great-grandfather’s place.

Great Grandpa Jackson threshing crew 1914It looks like they had gone “uptown” and invested in a steam tractor to do some of the work.

I had so much fun studying these old photos – especially the people in them.

I hope you enjoy them, too!



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