photos by Kristi Gilman-Miller and Lynn R. Miller
The extended McIntosh family of central Oregon has carefully evolved a family tradition on their farm each end of Summer. They grow four acres or so of grain to bind and thresh with their John Deere binder, Belgian horses and Case threshing machine. The belt drive power is provided by their old Oliver tractor which gives the perfect combination of torque and rpm for the job. Neighbors gather to help with the work and enjoy a pot-luck meal.
While the ‘view’ of old-tyme threshing is most always photogenic, and the beneficial social aspects of a threshing bee – where neighbors come together to share the work and have a good time – are wonderful to experience, we were interested this time around in the mechanical ‘interiors’ of the process. The paths and tension of the drive belts, the adjustments of everything, the mid-work servicings are all things which might escape most eyes. But for any of us who appreciate this decidedly appropriate technology for a handmade farming, such views can be helpful and even critically important.
This publication has always held that it is our responsibility to extend the ‘shelf life’ of technologies, methods and practices which have worked well in the past (as well as the present) but which are threatened with slipping away into the dustbins of farm history. Who knows but what a day might come when we need to know we can separate our grains in such a friendly and effective way with machines that beg to be able to work year after year far, far into the future.
Day one grew cloudy but it didn’t stop the work, not until it actually started to rain. Spirits were high and many people showed up to help. Joanna McIntosh commented that she and her husband Mike truly enjoy the shared work aspect, especially when new people come and want to learn. Mike is the superintendent of the local school district which makes it more and more difficult to find the time for these aspects of farming that are so important to him and his family. Their children James, Jacob and Nellie, are growing up fast but are still committed to the farm. The world is a better place because of the McIntosh family.
Mike uses a small, antique, Starret Tachometer to check the rpms of the thresher at the main cylinder pulley. Case machines are felt to work most efficiently at between 900 and 1,000 rpms. Mike McIntosh chooses to run his machine at 900. The cylinder speed might become an issue if the crop is at all tough. And green materials, such as unwanted weeds, can slow the cylinder down and even cause it to bog out. The ‘cheap’ way to try to avoid this is to speed up the rpms. Mike prefers to protect his machine by running at the slower end of required speed and paying closer attention to the quality of the bundles being fed as well as how fast the job is being pushed.
The tachometer’s pointed end rests in the depression in the end of the pulley and turns with the action. This turning passes through the shaft of the tach and turns a numbered measuring wheel. Mike marks the time on his watch and counts the 100 rpm revolutions of the measuring wheel to see how many stack up in one minute. If he needs to adjust to a higher or lower speed he motions to his mother to adjust the throttle at the tractor. With time the knowledgeable and interested thresher mechanic can ‘hear’ how fast the machine is going and set the speed very close before having to double-check with the tach.
Notice the livestock panel Mike’s hand is resting on. They wire this in place to provide security so that no one fall accidentally into the driving mechanisms.