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Harvest Datebook


Soon the lush green fields of waving grain will take on a yellow hue and turn to gold as harvest nears. Then the large, lumbering combines will roll out, chewing up the grain and spitting out the straw. Within a few weeks, with good weather, harvest will near an end, but it wasn't always that way. In the early decades of the twentieth century, harvesting grain was labor intensive, more than what the local farmers could handle on their own. And so it was on this date in 1922 that Governor R. A. Nestos announced that almost 25,000 additional hands would be required for harvesting a bumper crop, including an estimated 94 million bushels of wheat, 24 million bushels of rye, 20 million bushels of potatoes as well as record crops of oats and barley.

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture was already advertising for workers and they asked each community to utilize their own resources to encourage farmhands to come to North Dakota. Crop prices were low, so it was advised that incentives be offered to the young men from farms in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin who were trained in this work. So great was the need for threshing crews that all four of the major railroads operating in the state were willing to reduce their fares from August 1st to the 15th to a flat fee of $5.00 for any laborers from the Midwestern states willing to work in the field. The Ag Department even established a headquarters in Minneapolis to assemble crews with each crew consisting of five men. County agents would handle the crews once they arrived, and farmers were asked to provide the agents with the number of men they needed to get the job done. Local bankers were willing to advance the rail fares for able-bodied men.

Wages were set for each job. Those producing the shocks got $3.00 per day, while the per day threshing wages were posted at $3.25 for a field pitcher, $3.50 for teamsters, $3.75 for spike pitchers using two pitchers or $4.00 where only one spike pitcher was used to pitch the shocks into the threshing rig. Workers were expected to deliver a day's work for a reasonable day's pay.

Except for a few regional celebrations, threshing rigs are all but extinct these days. Occasionally, when traveling the back roads of the state, you'll see one them, looking like an old, rusty, prairie dinosaur sitting on top of a distant hill, a mere remnant of the days when the bustle of sweat-soaked men and horses, golden straw piles and clouds of dust dotted the rich farmlands of North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


Ward County Independent July 27, 1922