Preserving the Past: Dufur Threshing Bee, Deep in Oregon
by Lyndsey Resnick of Dufur, Oregon
Every August, after the wheat harvest, the tiny community of Dufur, Oregon comes together in celebration of traditional harvesting techniques. Using hand, horse, and steam-powered grain threshing demonstrations and a small army of volunteers, the Dufur Threshing Bee delights and educates young and old alike, preserving the area’s farming heritage.
In a town where one is just as likely to see kids walking their 4-H lambs in the warm evening air as their dogs, the Threshing Bee came to life 32 years ago during a conversation between two local men. Back in 1969 and 1970, the Everett Metzentine family from nearby Wamic, along with their friends and neighbors, harvested grain from their fields using horses and horse-drawn equipment. While discussing the enjoyment and curiosity the harvest had generated, Metzentine and Dufur’s Bob DePriest decided a public threshing bee would be met with enthusiasm. Dufur, smack in the middle of dryland wheat country, seemed the perfect place to host the event.
The first Threshing Bee took place in 1971. In 1974, the Dufur Historical and Cultural Society agreed to organize the event annually. Each year, Metzentine, a wheelwright, has lent as many as nine of his own draft teams, hand-built wagons and other equipment to the Bee. As a past president of the Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association, which furnishes units every year, he remains an important part of the yearly festivities.
Forty acres of wheat near the center of town, planted specifically for the Bee, is donated by Stan Ashbrook each year as the site for the field operation demonstrations, the centerpiece of the two-day, community-wide event. The continued commitment to these vanishing farming methods provides a unique opportunity to gather and see the “old ways” for the first time, and learn from many of the area’s elders as they reminisce with one another.
Under a bright blue sky, and with Mt. Hood’s craggy face in the distance, the narrated field operations run both days. Employing horse-drawn equipment from the 1900’s, stunning draft horse teams pull a binder across the field, which ties bundles of wheat and places it in rows on the ground. The bundle wagon follows and men pitch the bundles into the back of the wagon. In a header and header box demonstration, a four-horse team pushes a header, which cuts the wheat and transfers it to the header box. The drivers must keep their teams and equipment in tandem, displaying wonderful team control, especially when negotiating a turn. The full header box makes its way to the separator, which is powered by a Case Steam Tractor. Long belts connecting the tractor to a stationary separator noisily shakes the chaff from the grain. As the wheat travels out the end spout to the waiting grain sacks, sewers close the sacks by hand.
Harnessing, plowing and wheelwright demonstrations round out the field operations. Many types of small engines line the field’s edge, some incredibly old, demonstrating early methods of machine power. An antique tractor pull gives the horses a much-needed break during the heat of the day.
Music, food and fun group activities frame the field demonstrations. Saturday begins with a hearty country breakfast in the City Park. 5K and 10K runs follow. At mid-morning, one can grab a tractor-pulled wagon to Main street and take in a parade, classic cars and the like. Live Blue Grass music is played on the main stage near the Schreiber Log Cabin Museum, a local historical building constructed of hand-hewn logs in 1900. Nearby, the Cascade Fibers Guild demonstrates many forms of fiber craft, including spinning and weaving. They strive to preserve age-old traditional textile methods, by focusing on education and providing information about these fascinating modes of yarn and cloth creation.
In the beautifully restored Balch Hotel, local families share their heirloom quilts. These colorful, hand-stitched works of art express the area women’s creativity and thrift. New quilt designs and color combinations are added each year, evidence of the skillful adaptations of classic quilt design.
The Oregon Trail Travelers encampment provides a glimpse into the lives of the early pioneers. Everything from the creation of bobbin lace to soup and candle making are demonstrated. A blacksmith, carpenter, gunsmith and rope-maker illustrate the skill required to create so much of what is taken for granted today.
Enjoying the evening steak feed while relaxing in the City Park is a pleasant way to end a busy day at the Threshing Bee.
On Sunday, a slightly shorter schedule includes a public church service after breakfast, live gospel music, and the classic car “Show and Shine” parade. Historical horse-drawn wagon tours are available at various times both days.
The Threshing Bee is the perfect opportunity to blend the past and present. Make some new friends mid August in Dufur, Oregon.