J. I. Case Threshing Barn

A basic foundation of human culture is the achieved ability to grow, harvest, and store grain (which was later used to make porridge, breads, and mead or beer). The museum now has a new exhibit of how that was accomplished. The whole history of the tools of threshing and combining is now displayed in the J. I. Case Threshing Barn.
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Among the earliest grain gathering tools were simple handheld curved knives, called sickles. Gathering a bunch of grain stalks in one hand and cutting it free with the sickle in the other was back-breaking work. Those early curved knives eventually evolved into long-handled knives, called scythes. Scythes made the labor much easier and faster by allowing the gatherer to stand upright, and swing the scythe in a long sweeping motion that cut much larger quantities of grain stalks, without being very uncomfortably bent over with a sickle. The cut stalks were then gathered into piles by a second person, and then picked up and carried to a collection point.
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Then scythes improved again to become cradle scythes or a scythe with several long sticks attached to create a ‘cradle’ to catch the cut grain stalks. The harvester of grain could then take several swings of the scythe to cut larger quantities of grain, and then dump all the cut grain into one pile. This made the follow-up gathering much easier. The second person could just pick up the pile of grain stems, wrap a couple of loose stems around the pile and create a tied bundle of grain called a shalk or sheaf. These shalks were then arranged throughout the field into rain shedding piles.
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The next step in grain production was removing the grain from its stalk. The earliest way to do this was to use a flail. A flail was a simple long wooden handle with a free-swinging attached shorter wood piece. Folks would gather the grain from the field and place it on a building floor or large cloth and use the swinging flail to beat the grain seeds from the stems. Then the separated grain would be placed in a winnowing basket and tossed in the air to allow the wind to blow the grain chaff away in order to clean the grain for use.
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Later machines were invented that made the separating and winnowing much easier. Among the first of these was the J. I. Case hand-powered threshing machine. An operator turned the crank, which in turn turned a drum that had spikes or teeth on it. A second person then held the bundles of grain stems against the drum and the fingers plucked the grain from the stem.
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A second machine soon followed called a fanning mill. A fanning mill was also hand-cranked. The plucked grain, which was still contaminated with stray dirt and chaff, was poured into the top of the mill. As the handle was turned, the grain fell onto screens that shook back and forth to separate the grain from dirt. At the same time, the large wooden fan at the back of the machine blew air across the grain to remove any chaff. The cleaned grain then fell through the machine and was gathered in a box at the bottom of the fanning mill. The introduction of these two machines greatly sped up the production of grain for feed and food.
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With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, threshing became even more easy and efficient with the invention of flat belt/steam engine powered stationary threshers, and then tractor-pulled and powered combines that did all the work at one single pass through a stand of grain.
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All the machines and tools of threshing can now be viewed at the J. I. Case Threshing Barn at the museum.
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