Contents © 2016 Harold Pfohl

This post illustrates the planting and harvesting practices in broad use in the upper Mid-West/German-America in the early part of the 20th Century.  The technological advance from the 1850s pioneering days to the early 1900s was incredible. 

The advances were a Godsend to the farmer for improving his quality of life. Low-cost machines reduced arduous labor and greatly increased productivity. Although steam power had been widely available for over a generation, the mass-produced internal combustion engine was far more suitable for the average farmer in affordability, instant operation (no warm-up period), size, flexibility, and ease of fueling.

Change was gradual. Horses remained in common use for decades after the popular adoption of gasoline-powered machinery, and the gathering of farmers to share a major task such as threshing of grain ceased only with radical innovations such as the “combine,” which cut and harvested the wheat as it was pulled behind a tractor




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Casey & Dixie – Lueder’s team for twenty years –  Source – family picture

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Charlie Nieman photo – around the turn of the century

Otto Lueder with mare and foal at the Lueder horse barn – in use until the late 1920s.


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Edgar, Rover, and the Samson – May 13, 1923 – Source – family picture

The occasion of the photo warranted coat and tie!

Lueder’s first tractor, a Samson, was purchased in Cedarburg on April 24, 1922. It was a great labor saver.  The invoice from G. W. Wirth was:

Fig 105 Edgar, Rover, & New Samson May COST 13 1923_032 copy_resize.jpg

This Samson tractor was a primitive beast.  All gasoline-powered vehicles at that time were hand cranked. This writer had the miserable experience of trying to start a Samson in the 1950s.  This can be envisioned by imagining a stubborn, hard-starting lawnmower engine with several cylinders and high compression, plus the ability to backfire and break a wrist or an arm.

The Lueder family kept a team of horses for another twenty years, partially out of habit and affection, but also because of the real utility of a team.


Source – foroactivo

Edgar loved animals, and to him the tractor was not only a great labor saver, but was also a Godsend because it reduced the abuse of beasts of burden.

As noted in a previous post, walking back from Sherman School one evening, Cordelia and Viola witnessed the Bridge St and Granville Rd creamery owner working in his garden with his horse, screaming curses at the animal and whipping it unmercifully. Going to school the next morning, the girls passed the poor beast dead in the garden, still in its harness.

Had the owner been abusing a tractor, he would have paid for the repairs in cash at the local mechanics shop. Edgar liked the fact that abuse of machinery only hurt the owner.



Plowing with a single bottom plow and a team of horses – Source – yourkamagraguide.com

William prepared the land in this laborious manner for many years.  He had two teams of horses.  One team would become exhausted by the labor and he would switch to another.  Unfortunately for him, there wasn’t a clone, a second William that he could switch with for his role.


A more accurate depiction of plowing – really! –  Source – farmcollector.com

The cartoon gives a more accurate sense of the labor involved by both man and horse.  At the end of the row crossing a field the farmer would give the horse a rest, then turn around and return plowing another row.  This exhausting and consummately boring task went on for many days in the autumn and spring.

Cordelia: “I can still see Papa walking behind the hand plow (one furrow) the reins around his waist steering the plow with his hands back and forth all day long.  He must have been very tired after a day of walking.”



Sulky (riding) plow with a three horse team – Source – yourkamagraguide.com

Eventually William purchased a sulky plow.  That saved many miles of walking in the fields.


Viola:  “All summer long and into the fall, as long as there was fieldwork, Ma always prepared lunch for the men and women who were in the fields. For the afternoon lunch she would either have sandwiches or freshly baked muffins or coffeecake… We children carried many a basket of lunch to the fields for the laborers. In the summer fruit drink was brought from the Raleigh man and mixed with water. It was quite a refreshing drink. In the fall Ma would often make hot cocoa.”  


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Edgar & Rover with the “drill,” a grain planter – Source – family picture

This device was later adapted to use with a tractor and served the farm for many decades, well past mid-century.  The durability was remarkable.

* * * * * *

While the region made splendid farmland, the retreating glaciers had deposited an infinite number of stones. Every year after plowing, after the land had been worked and prior to planting, all members of the family including children would go to the fields with a horse or tractor drawn stone wagon.

Viola: “Stones were picked up and put into pails and then dumped out on the…wagon and taken to the…fence and unloaded by hand.”  The hard labor included the older children.


Little that we do is more important than growing and harvesting grain, and few sights in nature are more beautiful than a bountiful ripe, golden, grain field.

Threshing was a time of excitement and tension. Neighbors gathered to speed the harvest before bad weather might ruin it. The work was intense, hard, and dusty, but it was shared by willing comrades and, therefore, was also fun.

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Binding grain – 1929 – Source – family picture

Edgar Lueder is shown undertaking the first step in harvesting grain (usually oats or wheat, occasionally barley and flax) which was to cut and tie the grain into bundles with twine using a horse-drawn “binder.” All of the bundles were then picked up and stacked in “shocks” of grain as shown in the foreground.

The binder enabled William to cut the grain at the peak of ripeness and food value. The shocks protected the grain against rain until neighbors, and Theo (known as Tim) Dobberpuhl with his steam engine could come for an intense day of threshing.

Viola: “It took almost a day to get the grain binder ready for cutting the grain. Grain cutting started in July. Barley was always the first to be cut. When the older ones worked with Pa in the field those hot summer days it was the younger ones who had to bring water…for the rest to drink. Lunch (a midafternoon refreshment and snack) was also taken to the fields. All day long the three horses pulled the binder around and around…”

I can picture my father sitting on the grain binder guiding the horses… a large straw hat covered his head. As soon as we were old enough we were taught the art of setting grain into a shock. It had to be done right or the rain would get into the shock.…The grain bundles were picked up and set up right to together six or eight in a row, four on each side with heads together. The bundles had to dry out before they could be hauled into the barn.

We girls did most of the shocking. As soon as Cordelia and I were old enough we had to help.… We always tried to keep up with the binder.

We all wore large straw hats, also jackets for no one wanted to be sunburned. We also wore stockings. Needless to say it could be uncomfortably warm at times.

* * * * * *

Although individual Wisconsin farmers could afford a binder, few could justify the purchase of a steam engine and thresher for their sole use. Tim, who lived just west of Wauwatosa Rd on Western Ave., served the threshing needs of many farmers in the area with his machinery.


07 Loading Grain Bundles Last Load of Oats 7 30 1931.jpg

Equal pay for women!  Loading grain bundles – the last load of oats, July 30, 1931 – Source – family picture

Elda Lueder is on the wagon, her brother Edgar is on the ground at left. The farm was an equal opportunity employer; when necessary, women joined the men to do field work and both received the same pay – nothing.  It all went into the common pot.

* * * * * *

One of the benefits of working with experienced horses (vs. a tractor) was that they knew their job, and responded to simple oral commands to move the wagon ahead to the next group of shocks.


The excitement began with Tim Dobberpuhl blowing his steamer’s whistle a quarter mile away at Granville Rd as he approached the farm with his chuffing iron monster, towing the threshing machine behind.

Viola: “Threshing days were always something to look forward to for us youngsters, as we did not have any work out of it.… The neighboring farmers all help each other. The threshing rig would go from one farm to the other.”

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Pushing the threshing machine into Lueder’s barn – Source – family picture

Fire was a huge concern for all farmers.  Note that the steam engine smokestack shows no smoke.  The damper for the air going through the firebox was shut to prevent smoke and any sparks from flying out as the engine approached so close to the barn.  The engine had plenty of steam pressure to accomplish this task.  The white cloud is steam. 

Lueder’s barn shown in the photo was new in 1923.  The prior barn burned in 1922 – more on that in a future post.

Mr. Dobberpuhl, his helper, and his equipment served numerous farms. The threshing machine was in the barn because the grain bundles had been piled in the loft there.  The grain had to be kept dry to avoid spoilage in the field.  It could easily have taken two or three weeks before the threshing equipment could schedule Lueder’s crop into the threshing service.

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Threshing at Lueder’s barn, August 30, 1927 – Source – family picture

Likely Tim Dobberpuhl at the engine and his helper at the water wagon.

The coal-fired steam engine was parked a good distance from the barn, the threshing machine was in the barn, and power was transferred by means of a long, wide, flat belt. It was very effective and an enormous improvement over their grandparents’ harvesting tools, which were hand and horse-powered. As a young adult in the 1850s William’s father, Joachim, used a hand-held scythe to cut grain and flails to separate the kernels. (see: EARLY YEARS – PIONEERING LABOR)

The team of horses and the water wagon beside the operating steam engine kept the boiler filled.


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Building the straw stack in the cow yard  September 3, 1928  – Source – family picture

Viola: “our Pa was an expert at building a weatherproof straw stack.” The threshing machine separated the straw and chaff from the hard kernel of grain, and blew the straw and chaff onto a large stack. Creating the straw stack was not a random act. It needed to be built up into a shape that would minimize water damage and rot over a period of many months as it was consumed for bedding for the animals in the barn.

The inside of the barn was reserved for hay. The grain fields were infested with a multitude of weeds. Ragweed and goldenrod, in particular, made threshing miserable or impossible for a hay fever sufferer.

17 Fig 97b hp 020313 7 sepia_resize copy.jpg

Building the straw stack –  Source – family picture

Edgar, as blower tender, is directing the end of the spout that is blowing out the straw.  Not a pleasant job.  The amount of chaff, straw dust and weed seed was incredible.

Viola: “after the threshers work on {sic – meaning  work onward} we kids played in the clean new straw that lay loose around the stack. Even Elda played in it. We would jump from the barn floor to the straw near the stack.”


See the previous picture above.  The bucket hanging upside down from the rail in the foreground was used to build a manure pile or to unload manure into a “manure spreader” to carry it to the fields for fertilizer.  The rail continued into the barn along the gutter.  The bucket was lowered and the gutters shoveled out into it.  The bucket was then raised and rolled along the overhead rail to the cow yard where it was overturned and dumped.


21 Fig 98 MM BK 080 0098 Blowing Harvested Grain into the Grainery (samson tractor) crp1.jpg

Blowing the harvested grain into the granary  – Source – family picture

Grain flowed from the threshing machine into a small hopper wagon.  This was pulled alongside the barn near an opening to the granary on the second story as shown in the photo.  The wagon was emptied into a blower powered by a belt and pulley from Lueder’s Samson tractor, which then blasted the grain upstairs into bins.

Grain flows readily, and having a granary on the second floor was a labor saver.  As the grain was needed, a spout running from the second story to the ground floor was opened into whatever container or bag was being used.  The container was filled with minimal labor.

THE COOKS10 Fig 099 cooks for threshing 1927_edited-1b-1.jpg

The cooks, August 30, 1927 – Source – family picture

L-R: Elda, Cordelia, cousin Eleanore Lueders, Viola Lueder and a cousin’s wife, Ann Nieman.

Viola: “The women on the farm on threshing days also had much work to do in preparing the meals for the men. There must’ve been around fifteen men that help with threshing and they had to have a good meal. Some of my aunts helped Ma.”

“Very early in the morning Pa would go to the butcher and buy a large piece of beef, so large it hardly fit into the oven. This had to be done (baked) by noon. Then there were potatoes to be peeled, vegetables to get ready, and pies to be made. Pies must have been baked the day before for the beef roast was in the oven in the forenoon. If the threshing crew was there yet by evening they were served supper. Then sausages were served. Sometimes Tim and his helper stayed overnight.”

* * * * * *

Appetites generated by the heavy labor were huge, so wives and daughters got together and made suitably huge meals, having lots of fun in the process. The entire affair had a social and celebratory sense to it. The abundant harvest was safely home, and a granary full of the golden, life-giving treasure gave great joy and comfort.


18 Fig 097d hpscan 04062014 img057 crp1.jpg

Task completed, end of the day, departing from the farm – Source – family picture

Tim heads out with his steam engine and threshing machine in tow.

Viola: “When Tim had finished at a farm he would give three blasts on his steam horn and let the next farmer know that he was on the way.”

 “The days when threshing was done usually in August and the weather was hot. The work was dusty and sweaty. The men were tired and when they got home there were their own chores to do. Needless to say the days were long and hard.”


planting corn with horses.jpg

Planting corn – Source – agrariannation.blogspot.org

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A two row corn planter – Source  – agrariannation.blogspot.org

The two buckets hold the seed corn.  The wheels turn gears that work with the buckets to drop the seed into the ground along the furrows made by the blades.

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Work on the land – Source – Cordelia’s diary

“June 4, – 1926 – Friday – Clear outside all day S.E. wind.  In forenoon Edgar cultivated corn.  Pa spring toothed.  In afternoon Ed. planted corn and Gerald harrowed.  Pa was to town.  Peddler was here and sold kettles and dishes.”

“Spring toothing” works the plowed land prior to planting.


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Pride in the tall corn crop – Source – family picture

L-R:  William, his nieces Erna & Anita Lueder, Alice Heckendorf fiancé Edgar.

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Cutting the corn for silage – Source – family picture

William on the left, Edgar with the horses in the distance.


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Hauling corn from the fields to make silage, which is chopped and pickled corn and stalks, winter fodder for the cattle – Source – family picture, fall 1927

L-R: Cordelia and Elda on the wagon, Edgar on the ground, Harold and father William on the next wagon, Gerald on the Samson tractor.

The corn was collected into bundles called shocks that were heavy and hard to handle.  The wagon beds were very low to facilitate the laborious loading of the heavy bundles.  This loading was all done by hand.


Fig 115 C MM BK 125 00115 C hp 04-23-2013 36_resize crp1.jpg

Chopping corn for silage, blowing it into the silo – Source – family picture, fall 1927

The corn wagon is pulled next to the chopper, the bundles unloaded onto an auger that carries the stalks and corn to the chopper which minces it and blows it to the top of the silo.  The Samson tractor provided the power.

Ollie 3 ring bndr img082_edited-1 crp1.jpg

Hard work – the silage crew – Source – family picture, fall 1927

L-R: ?, ?, Oscar Weichert (neighbor), William Lueder, Harold Lueder (the boy), Pipkorn’s (neighbor) hired man Tony, Erich Heckendorf, Viola Lueder.

* * * * * *

A silo is simply a large pickle jar with the pickled item usually being chopped green corn stalks and cobs, and less often, peas and pea vines. The pickling makes fodder out of the stalks that would otherwise be wasted, and provides, together with hay, a balanced diet for the cows.  When the silo is full all openings are shut and fermentation begins.

The whole affair was very hard work, and in the interests of comradeship and shared labor, neighbors often worked together to complete the task.

Unlike threshing, this process did not have the urgency associated with the potential spoilage of grain standing in the fields during rain.


The chopped corn ferments and in the process gives off gases.  A very large amount of carbon dioxide is formed, displacing oxygen.  It is odorless and extremely dangerous in that oxygen is not present in sufficient quantity to sustain life.  The safe practice when opening a silo to begin using the contents as feed is to let the silo vent for a time before entering to throw down fodder.  Direct, immediate entry would and did result in fatalities.


Ollie 3 ring bndr img091 crp1.jpg

Harold Lueder cutting hay – Source – family picture

Hay was cut when the weather promised to be good for a few days

Viola: “Pa would start the haying around 23 June. It took a long time to mow a field of grass for hay with a team of horses and the mower. Often we youngsters would follow the mower walking barefoot in the track the mower wheel had made.… New mown  hay fills the air with a sweet fresh fragrance.”

“After about three days that hay was raked into rows with the hay rake pulled by horses. Before there was a hay rake,…the hay was raked together with a wooden rake by hand.”


It was an absolute rule that damp hay was never, ever stored in the haymow.  A volume of damp hay would mold.  It was covered by a great deal of other hay and the heat generated had no way to escape given the insulation provided by the surrounding hay.  The result was spontaneous combustion and a barn fire.  The ability to fight a barn fire was nil, and the barn was invariably a complete loss, too often along with livestock.


13 Elda 3 ring bndr img055 hayloader fm thresh.jpg

Source – family picture

Viola: “in 1918 Pa bought a hay loader and side rake. Even with the hay loader it took three people to load a load of hay. Two were on the wagon to pack the hay and one had to drive the horses.”

The equipment on the right in the clip from a threshing photo is Lueder’s hay loader – a device that picked up the hay from the rows and elevated it to the hay wagon, saving a great deal of labor.  It was towed behind the hay wagon as shown below.

hay loader 2.jpg

Hay loader – Source – coachhousemuseum.org

Absent the hay loader the hay on the ground would have to be forked by hand onto the heights of the wagon – more hard labor.  William’s Father, Joachim, as a young man, pitched the hay onto the wagon from the ground using a three pronged “pitchfork.”  The hay loader was a most welcome improvement saving time and labor.

YouTube link to a video:  horse-drawn hay wagon and loader

old pitchfork2.jpg

Pitchfork for handling hay – Source – yourkamagraguide.com



Loading hay into the hayloft of a barn – Source – marionpress.com

hayforks tines fred H.jpg

Source – Timeless Lumber Co – and thanks to Fred Haseley

At the barn the large pronged “hayfork” was sunk into the load of hay.  The clamped/secured portion would be lofted into the barn using ropes, pulleys and overhead track arrangement.  Once the clamped hay was overhead inside the barn moving along the track to the desired location, a release was triggered and the hay dumped into the haymow.

Fred Haseley:  “I remember using these hayforks…. they consisted of two pairs of tines each approx. 4.5 ft. in length from tip to eye. The loads were so heavy that a horse was used to pull the load vertically into the loft… Once it reached the trip lever at the top it was fairly easy to pull it on the rail into position in the loft. Another rope attached to the trolley was used to release and drop the load. That’s where I was…. pulling the tines out of the hay.”

Viola: “it was always very hot up in the hayloft, but the work had to be done.”


Haymow – Source – danielrupp.wordpress.com


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In the clover field – Source – family photo

L-R: William, Alice (Edgar’s wife) Glenrose (William’s granddaughter) Viola, and Harold

William planted clover and harvested it to sell the seed which was a valuable cash crop.

Viola: “Pa would raise red Clover seed to sell. Clover seed always had a good price. When it was in bloom in late summer we kids would run through the cloverfield and try to catch butterflies. There are always plenty of butterflies around flitting from blossom to blossom. As soon as the clover ripened we could not go into the field. Ripe clover heads have to be handled with care so no seeds would be lost.”


Viola:  “The fields are empty and ready for plowing, granaries are full and so are the hay mows.  Cool winds softly drifting across the stubble fields, apples picked and stored.  The sun sets in a blood red sky and creates a picture no artist can paint.”

There was a deep sense of satisfaction and security at the end of a good harvest season.  Rural churches held “Harvest Festivals” with the front of the church filled with portions of the harvest – corn stalks, pumpkins and gourds, apples, grain, etc.  The service was an expression of thanks.


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Edgar Lueder sends the Samson to the Junkyard – Source – family photo

The Samson wore out and was consigned to a junk pile.

* * * * * *

Horses in old age continued to burn very large quantities of hay and oats without returning much for their upkeep. This was a luxury that most farmers could not afford, and after as many as 15-20 years of mutual labor and affection, the horse wound up at the knackers, which, locally, was the Nieman fox farm.  This caused a degree of emotional misery to the Lueders that was not experienced in junking a worn out and obsolete tractor.  No doubt the horses probably had a low opinion of that situation as well.


It is the writer’s guess that there were very, very few overweight, fat farmers in that era.





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