Looking Back: Threshing days of old

dollyviscardiMany people are so used to seeing newly baled hay out in the fields, that they can’t imagine the White River Valley any differently. Yet, this area of northwestern Colorado was filled with buffalo grass and sagebrush in the late 1800s. Many individuals stories in the local history series, “This Is What I Remember, Volume II,” look back at “bringing in the hay” in the early days of the White River Valley. While the core of each story concerns only the family and friends who gathered each summer to harvest the hay crop, the details give a great picture of what farming was like at the very beginning.
The oral histories often included poetry and stories by family members, and Fred Riley wrote a number of recollections about valley events and traditions in story form. The interviewers listened to his stories and wrote a biographical note about his relationship to Meeker as well
“Mr. Riley moved from Missouri to Meeker when he was 4 years old in 1885. He was engaged in the threshing business for a number of years. In those days, the grain in the valley was threshed by big separators powered by huge steam engines. They would start out early in September and threshing season often lasted until after Thanksgiving. The farmers bound their grain and it was usually stacked, awaiting the threshing crew. All the neighbors would join each rancher in his threshing operation, moving from one ranch to another.
“The farmers traded work, their wives fed the threshers. We would have breakfast about 5 a.m., a banquet at noon, and supper all hours of the night. By 1908, the valley was producing from 300,000 to 350,000 bushels of grain per year. It found a ready market and a good price – 100 bushels of oats and 40 bushels of wheat was not uncommon.”
In addition, Riley wrote a few stories about growing up here, and remembered that while Meeker was a cattle ranching community first, farming came to the valley with the “nesters.” His story, “From Open Range to Grain Fields,” gives a great picture of what it was like in those early days.
“When this valley changed from primarily cattle ranching to a farming community, (when the big outfits cleared out by the turn of the century in the 1900s), Grant Purcell brought in the first threshing machine: a horsepower thresher. It consisted of a power unit with four sweeps, which was hitched to a team of horses. They traveled in a circle, providing the power which was transmitted to the separator through a trundling rod.”