Threshing required lots of help. Albert had six hay racks each pulled by a tractor and a tractor to power the thresher. Four men were pitching bundles from the shocks in the fields up onto the racks to be stacked and unloaded by the men on top of the hayracks. Young boys from eleven to fifteen were driving the tractors which pulled the racks from shock to shock to be loaded. When full they drove to the threshing machine where the man on top of the hayrack unloaded the bundles while the boys sat on the tractors waiting to go out into the field again.
Twenty years ago, Otto had told him, all of the hayracks would have been pulled by horses and the fields would have been quiet as the bundles were loaded, stacked, and hauled to the threshing machine. Now “horsepower” had a different meaning.
Most of the tractor drivers had come with their fathers. Except for his brother and his close neighbors, the rest of the crew was being paid top wages by Albert for this threshing job. Three dollars a day for the boys who drove the tractors and eight dollars a day for the men who loaded and unloaded or who were pitching bundles in the field.
It was hot. Maybe 103 in the shade and there was no shade except under the umbrellas that were open on each tractor. Eastern Colorado was always hot in July. That was what made the wheat ripen and the farmers’ skin dark and leathery. We are all a bunch of rednecks, he thought to himself, until the necks become as brown as mahogany.
Raymond threw the last bundle onto the belt and gave the pitchfork back to him. Their eyes met for a moment.
“Let’s go!” he shouted to his driver, holding to the front of the hayrack for the ride back to the wheat field. The tractor and rack swerved suddenly and he would have fallen had he not been holding on. His driver had turned quickly to avoid a swarm of gnats. He wondered how gnats were able to stay in a universe the size of a basketball and move as one, bouncing across the land, moving up and down always together and never alone.
He felt renewed and ready for another load as they pulled up to the first shock. Raymond’s trick was OK, he thought, even if he had felt angry at first. The first bundle arrived and he placed it on the front corner to begin a row of bundles that would be held in by the second row and so on and on until the hay rack looked like a large loaf of homemade bread with a rounded top and complete with flanks that hung over the pan’s sides.
He could feel his muscles. Especially in his back and stomach. Each bundle was picked up and placed quickly in its proper place where it was held in by another and held another in. His mom had said, “Be sure and wear your gloves,” as he left that morning after breakfast with his step-father. And for once he had done as she said. He was glad to have them on now for the oak handle of the pitchfork, though smooth, was capable of making blisters on unprotected hands no matter how tough.His mom thought he would be driving one of the tractors with the other boys, and had suggested the gloves to keep the black rubber of the steering wheel off, but Albert had been one man short, and he had volunteered to handle a rack.
It was almost noon now and he started to think about dinner. The half-hour break for dinner at noon was a welcome thought. “After unloading this one it should be time to eat.” His driver must have realized that too, though he had no watch, for the trip back to the threshing machine was a fast one. Lying on the bundles on top of the load and clinging to his pitchfork jammed into the center, thinking about fried chicken and mashed potatoes and corn-on-the cob, he found the jaunt to the thresher soon was over and he started to unload.
As they washed up for dinner by the windmill there was a lot of talk about the weather and a few jokes aimed at the boys.
“We almost lost you there this morning, Bob,” said one of the tractor drivers.
“Yeah, my whole life flashed in front of my eyes.”
“That didn’t take long.”
Bob’s step-father laughed as he handed him the towel.
“Did you see any girls?”
“A couple,” he said while drying his hands and arms on the towel, “a cou-ple.”
As they finished washing in the cool water from the windmill the men talked and joked about the government.
“Ever see so many department of agriculture guys?”
“Ever since the war was over they just keep coming to town.”
“Like an army?”
“Yeah, there’s an army of them all right.”
“I saw three of them measuring my summer fallow the other day.”
“What did you do?”
“I took my shotgun out there and asked them what the hell they were doing.”
“What did they say?”
“They said they were measuring all the fields around so they would be ready when the government starts telling us how much wheat we can plant.”
“So, they were armed with A-sticks and you with a 12-gauge?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t have Old Bessy loaded!”
“We’ll soon have more people working for the government than farming.”
“They have some good programs too. I heard they’re going to be offering us $3 an acre to fertilize.”
“But then they want us to plant less. It don’t make any sense.”
“Whoever said the government makes sense?”