By Shanna Hatfield
Wheat harvest came a few weeks early in our part of the country this year. Most farmers are just finishing up, if they aren't already done with the harvest.
In my Pendleton Petticoats series is set in Pendleton, Oregon, in the early 1900s, several of the stories include scenes of wheat harvest.
Back in the early years of the twentieth century, Umatilla County (where Pendleton is located) produced approximately one percent of the nation’s wheat crop. Wheat harvest brought workers to town, provided income for families, and was quite an event.
It was also a lot of hot, sweaty, backbreaking work. Growing up on a farm, I write from experience about the dusty, itchy chaff that makes the air thick and hard to breathe.
When I was working on Ilsa’s story, one scene in particular finds her out in the field where one of the characters gives her a first-hand look at a combined thresher harvester.
I looked online for some visual inspiration and found a few photos that were exactly what I was searching for.
1903 in Sherman County, Oregon. (If you’ve read the Grass Valley series, it is set in Sherman County.)
Although I had a general idea of what each piece of equipment on the machine did, I had no idea how to describe it.
oldoregonphotos.com website, shows the team of 32 pulling a hillside harvester in 1900. Because of the rolling hills, the farmers needed a machine that wouldn’t tip over on the steep inclines.
golden kernels near Arlington, OR. The woman on the end doesn’t look particularly excited to be there- but if I had to cook for a threshing crew in the unbearable summer heat dressed in layers of petticoats and long sleeves, I’d probably look really, really grumpy.
After gathering the historic photos and studying them, I still had no idea how to describe the equipment, so I contacted my dad and asked his sage advice. After emailing him a couple of the photos, he called me and told me what all the parts and pieces were as well as giving me the names of the different jobs each men did.
The jigger sewed the sacks shut once they were filled. The tender made sure the cutter was going where it was supposed to while the skinner drove the team. I had no idea!
My dad, who comes from a long line of farmers, also spent several years after he and my mother first wed working in Pendleton in the early 1950s. He had first-hand experience with the terrain, the hillside harvesters, and even told me why so many of the farmers preferred mules to horses (because the mules could go all day without a problem and the horses often got sores or sick.)
Here's a little excerpt from Ilsa:
“Oh, Ilsa,” Aundy said, trying hard not to smile as she carefully put her hands on her sister’s shoulders and turned her toward the house, knocking eggshells out of her hair as they walked. Garrett winked at his wife and a giggle escaped. Soon everyone was laughing.
Ilsa glared at Aundy then marched herself around the house to the kitchen door.
Mad at her sister for laughing and the rest of them for joining in, Ilsa stamped her foot and dislodged a flurry of eggshells on Aundy’s clean floor. As she yanked her apron over her head, more broken shells and slimy yolks dislodged themselves from her head.
When the back door slapped shut behind her, she let her temper have free rein.
“How could you? It’s bad enough I made a fool of myself, but you set off all the laughter. It’s just mean.”
The sound of a muffled laugh made her even angrier. Trying to reach behind her back to undo the buttons of her dress, she needed to take a bath and have a fresh start to this awful day. It wasn’t even yet six in the morning.
“Don’t stand there like a hysterical ninny. Help me get out of this,” she ordered, resisting the urge to stamp her foot again. She felt fingers working at the buttons of her dress but the musky, masculine scent that reached her nose made her fully aware Aundy didn’t stand behind her.
Spinning around, she looked into the smirking face of Tony Campanelli.
Shanna creates character-driven romances with realistic heroes and heroines. Her historical westerns have been described as “reminiscent of the era captured by Bonanza and The Virginian” while her contemporary works have been called “laugh-out-loud funny, and a little heart-pumping sexy without being explicit in any way.”
She is a member of Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, and Romance Writers of America.
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