Wheat Harvest in Russia
Mennonite Heritage and
Let's take a Look into the Past
The Woelk family immigrated to Kansas in 1893 from So. Russia. Maria Woelk was a young woman at the time the family moved. So she had helped with wheat harvest many times back in Russia.
Here she gives a discription of wheat harvest as it was still being done in the 1890s, back in the Mennonite Molotschna Colony of So. Russia.
The Goessel area Mennonite farmers would have threshed wheat in this manner when they arrived in Kansas eighteen years earlier.
Maria Woelk Duerksen tells the story of harvest time in Russia :
So now I will tell you about how farming was done in Russia in the old days. Harvesting of the wheat was done with a scythe, the Russians usually did the cutting and strong Mennonite boys who knew how to handle the scythe helped.
The cut grain was raked together by women into rows and straw was used to tie the wheat stocks into bundles and then our father would stack them together in shocks.
Then the ladder wagons were put in running order. Two men would go on a wagon to haul a load of bundles from the field to the yard at home. One person was on the wagon stacking the bundles while the other man on the ground pitched the bundles with a fork onto the wagon. One man went home with the load of wheat or barley while the man that had been on the wagon, remained in the field. He had to be ready by the time the ladder wagon came back again.
We had two threshing floors; one for threshing wheat and the other for barley. The threshing floor was a circular level piece of ground with straw worked into it while wet, and this ground set up almost like concrete.
One year when the wagon was being unloaded at home, a stork found out that he could grab a quick easy meal by snatching any mouse or lizard that scurried out of the bundles. We loved to watch the small critter pass down the long nesk of the stork.
We could thresh about 8 loads a day. A threshing stone is a large limestone cylinder with seven deep steps cut into it. We had two of these threshing stones that went round and round. Two horses were hitched to one stone and a small child was to ride on a saddle placed on the inside horse. One would have to feel sorry for the child, because they were routed out of bed early in the morning and in the heat of the midday sometimes the ground came up and met them in the face.
The straw was raked into tight rows and my mother was a professional at doing this. The straw had to be turned several times until all the kernels were knocked out. A pointed stick called a "bacurr" was used to spear the row of straw. This long pole was stuck into the raked straw and two feet back from the pointed end was fastened a long belt and when it was full it was raised to the shoulder. While holding the belt and the pole with the straw inbetween, it was then carried to the straw stack.
When the straw was cleared off the threshing floor, the grain with the chaff was shoved into a bin with a four-footed sledge. The floor was now clean for the next load. It took several weeks to thresh the grain. The straw stacks were all put up in the yard. If the Russians did a good job the stacks looked neat. The wheat straw was used for heating and the barley straw and chaff were used for the cattle fodder.
After this the grain had to be cleaned by hand with a fanning mill. The wheat needed to be fanned 3 times and took about 2 weeks to finish the job. The fanning machine separated the grain from the chaff. One person turned the fanning mill while the other person put the mixture of grain and chaff into the mill with a wooden shovel. One person sat in front of the mill to shovel the grain away from under the mill. The chaff was stored upstairs in the barn and the cleaned wheat was stored upstairs in the house.
When we were ready to sell the grain, a Jew would come around to our house and baught the grain. He brought his own sacks which we filled and weighed on a large scale. The sacks were sewn shut and placed outside in the yard. Each sack weighed about 180 pounds. Russian people came to haul the grain to market. At the end of summer we plowed as much land as possible to make it ready again. The seed wheat was put into a bed sheet which was thrown over the left shoulder and the seed was broadcast with the right hand. My father had an injury to his leg as a young man which never healed properly, and so he had a difficult time sewing wheat. Often compassionate neighbors would help.
And so another year begins again, the seed time and then the harvest.
This description of wheat harvest in Russia is from a life sketch Fern Bartel nee Schmidt presented at a Country Theshing Days in Aug. of 2002 at Goessel. It was adapted from differemt family accounts included in the " Genealogy of Abraham and Justina (Friesen) Woelk 1840-1981 " compiled by Elsie Duerksen Schmidt (Fern's mother). Maria Woelk Duerksen is the grandmother of Fern Bartel nee Schmidt.
2014-2020 Mennonite Heritage
and Agricultural Museum
Created by Fern Bartel nee Schmidt
The Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum has several authentic threshing stones on the grounds and in the Turkey Red Wheat Palace.