Talk about farming the way Grandpa did it! Recently, we noticed an example of that as we were traveling down eastern Geauga County. And while it is the Amish way of farming, and I respect that, I'm not sure we would all want to go back to that way of growing our food. It might be OK if 60 percent or 70 percent of us would like to go back to the old way of farming, but that is doubtful.
It was a pretty scene we saw, a bright sunny day with a three-horse team pulling an old-fashioned grain binder down through a field of golden, ripe oats. The crop was fairly heavy, so the bundles or sheaves of grain coming from the binder were many. With his broad-brimmed straw hat, the farmer was handling the team with ease, except it was one of those days when temperatures approached 90 degrees. For that reason, both the team and the farmer had to take frequent rests to avoid getting too hot. Lots of water was required for both man and beast.
It was a good field of oats, fairly weed free, and was indeed a beautiful sight. Following the grain binder was a crew of Amish neighbors shocking the bundles of oats. Shocking is the job of setting the bundles of grain upright in groups with a cap sheaf spread out on top to help shed the water when it rains.
Shocking oats or wheat after it is cut and tied into the bundles can be a boring, hot, dusty job. And the heads of the grain are prickly, as are the bottom ends where the grain was cut. This means arms, if they are not toughened up from hard work, can get many small scratches from the grain. So most of the shocking crew were wearing long-sleeved shirts. On a near 90-degree day, this didn't look too comfortable.
My guess is these shocking crews find ways to visit and kid each other as they work to make the job a bit easier and the day not so long. Regardless, it isn't easy work and frequent rests are called for.
One labor-saving device on this grain binder was a bundle catcher, which collected the bundles of grain until it was full. Then the binder operator would trip a lever that dropped the bundles in one spot. As he went around the field, he always dropped the grain in the same spot so those doing the shocking didn't have to walk all over the field picking up individual bundles. The bundle catcher saved a lot of walking.
Cap sheaves were important because they did help shed the rain, so they had to be spread out just right and set securely on the other grain. There was always some satisfaction when the cap sheaf was put on because that meant they were one more shock toward being done.
Seeing a field of shocked grain is another beautiful sight. It takes some of us back many years when all of our grain was harvested with binders and had to be shocked ready for threshing. Yes, I remember those hot, hard, dusty days.
After the grain sets in the shocks for several days or weeks to dry and cure, it has to be loaded on wagons to be hauled to the barn for threshing. One or maybe two men on the ground pitch the bundles up to the man on the wagon, who loads them so they are tied together with each other and won't slide or tip off.
When such a rare accident does happen, and no one is hurt, the wagon loader can take a lot of good natured kidding.
Threshing is another job that requires neighbors working together, and the Amish do a good job of that. Belt power to run the threshing machine usually comes from a tractor that is used just for belt power, no field work. It may have steel wheels or hard rubber tires on the wheels.
How our Amish friends do their farming is always interesting - and more so when compared to today's modern farming.
Parker is an independent writer for the Tribune.