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A Game Changer (c. 1910)

Welcome back. I’d expect that to most of you, this week’s farming images may seem somewhat perplexing. What contraption is this three-horse hitch pulling? At first glance it appears to be a cross between a collapsed outhouse and a clothesline! The caption provides us with a valuable clue. It simply says “Reaping”. So, the farmer must be reaping his grain then. While that is certainly true, that’s only part of what the farmer is doing. This odd-looking machine is not just reaping, it’s also binding. And it’s doing so by rather complex and clever mechanical means.

For countless generations before the Industrial Revolution, harvesting a field of grain was an arduous manual chore performed by swinging a scythe. We’ve probably all seen Winslow Homer’s Classic American painting, The Veteran in a New Field, an image of a Union Army soldier returning home from war and reaping his crop in peacetime. A romantic and thought-provoking image for certain, but make no mistake, it was back breaking work. The only break from your toil was for the occasional need to sharpen your blade with a honing stone. After reaping, the grain had to then be gathered, bound, and stacked for proper drying. All separate tasks, and all time consuming.

The farmer has always had a demanding life, and any reasonable means of making his day’s chores a bit easier and more efficient were always appreciated. The machine seen in today’s images is a Reaper/Binder, and as our title suggests, it was a real game changer, not to mention a real back saver. Here’s how it works. A sickle bar with reciprocating blades cuts a swath of grain some six inches above the ground, while the rotating paddle wheel tips the cut grain rearward and onto a canvas conveyor belt. The belt then feeds the grain up and over the top of the machine where it is bundled into a sheaf, bound with twine, and expelled to the ground for collection.

Surely, my description has made this process crystal clear, no? Not to worry, we have a Plan B. This week’s post contains a link to this very machine in action at a harvesting festival in Country Kildare, Ireland. The only notable difference between our photo and the video is the team of horses has been replaced by a modern tractor; another evolution in farming that has brought us to the cutting-edge technology applied to modern farms across the world. Once you watch the video, I think you’ll have a much better appreciation for just how important this odd-looking machine was in its day.

This week’s photo was scanned by Suz Dyer and she’s now applying artificial intelligence (AI) to her process. Colorized images are apparently just a mouse click away. So, which do you prefer? Let us know. I’m still leaning towards the charm of the original black and white images, but I can certainly appreciate the colorized version as well. I’d say we’re pretty fortunate to have a choice in the matter. We’ll be seeing more of these in the future, so keep an eye out. Great work Suz!

I hope you learned something from this week’s spotlight on early mechanized farming technology. A century ago, such scenes were witnessed all across our town. So, now that you have a solid working knowledge of the mechanics behind the Reaper/Binder, please impress your family and friends by sharing this post. It will surely enlighten them to Monroe’s agrarian history. Thank you all for your continued interest and support, and remember the old proverb, “Make hay while the sun shines!” Until next week.


Kevin Daly
Historian, Monroe Historical Society
Our Past is Always Present

1 - Reaper_Binder.jpg
2 - Reaper_Binder.jpg
3 - Winslow Homer.JPG
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