Page 12 of 19
A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued
I think that April and May are the best months when the browns and greys of winter are transformed into many shades of lush green, gardens are full of spring flowers and the birds are in full song. With the corn now growing, there was no work to do in the cornfields but there would be the thrashing of the last stacks of last year’s harvest. The stacks would usually be built side by side and the distance between them would be the same width as a thrashing machine, so that both stacks could be thrashed without having to move the machine.
The thrashing tackle, which consisted of a steam traction engine, a thrashing machine (locally called a drum) and an elevator, always came with two men, the engine driver and his mate. The mate would assist with the driving when travelling and it was he who fed the sheaves into the drum. There would be three men on the stack that was being thrashed. The first would work himself round the stack, picking the sheaves up one at a time with a pitch fork and throwing them to a man at the centre of the stack. He would then pass them to the third man who would be standing on the side of the stack next t o the drum. The third man would pass the sheaves to the driver’s mate on top of the drum who would then feed them into the machine.
Inside the drum were the beaters which were similar to the cylinder on a mower but instead of blades they were bars of steel. The cylinder was the width of the drum and would revolve at high sped in a “concave” which also had steel bars. As the sheaves of corn were fed into the drum, the beaters would thrash the grain from the ears of corn. The grain would then pass through several sieves and discharge down chutes at the front of the drum. The best grain would come down one chute, the small grain down another and the chips of grain and weed seed down another.
The chutes had hooks to hang the grain sacks from. It was one man’s job to be in charge of the sacks and when they were full, he would wheel them on a sack barrow to a weighing machine, where he would adjust their weight to eighteen stone. After tying, it would be moved on to a sack elevator, which was a steel platform in a steel frame. There was a handle with a ratchet on the side of the elevator, which when turned, would raise the sack to shoulder height. The sack could then be pulled on to the shoulder and carried to the barn. The distance they had to be carried could often be thirty yards or more. The man had to be very strong and fit to do this job for eight hours each day!
At the back of the drum and to one side, was another chute which discharged the husks of corn (the chaff). This was caught in a large sack, then taken to and emptied into a barn called the chaff house and used for feeding the farm animals. This was a dusty job but the sacks of chaff were not very heavy and would often be carried by boys, if available.
The thrashed straw would drop from the back of the drum on to an elevator which would discharge it on to the straw stack. Usually two men would build a straw stack.
The corn stacks were often infested with mice and rats and would often be enclosed with a small mesh wire netting before thrashing commenced. A gap of about four feet would be left between the stack and wire and terriers would be put into this compound to kill the rats as they tried to escape from the diminishing corn stack. All farms had a couple of farm dogs who were good “ratters”. I have known some stacks to have so many rats (fifty or more) that towards the end of the day, the dogs would be so fed up with catching them that they would hide up for a sleep!