The Thurlows

Village News & Information

Working on the farm

During the summer months several of us older boys got harvest work on the farms. It was called ‘getting a harvest’. We used to ‘drive away’, which meant leading the horse and wagon from shock (stook) to shock, while the farm men loaded the sheaves on to the wagon with pitchforks. A shock usually consisted of about twelve to sixteen sheaves that had been stood on end to allow the straw to dry. When the wagon was loaded, the horse and wagon was led to the gateway to the road and one of the farm men would be coming back with an empty wagon and sometimes with two horses. The lead horse was called a trace horse.

The trace would be unhitched and transferred to the loaded wagon for the journey back to the farm or stackyard, which sometimes was quite a distance. Us boys would then go back into the field with the empty wagon and start again. I can still remember some of the horses’ names. Mr Tilbrook had Duke and Captain, and Mr Wickerson had Blossom and also a lorry, in which he used to bring up his sheaves from his fields down the Drift. Mr Wickerson was the farmer I sometimes helped.

When the corn was being cut, I sometimes got a ride on the binder. This was considered a privilege, and usually happened when the man on the binder was having either his ‘docky’ or his ‘fourses’. The seat on the binder was a hard cast iron metal one, usually helped to be made a bit more comfortable with a bag of straw. I had to watch that the sheaves of corn were all tied up as they left the binder, as sometimes the twine broke or the ball ran out. If the sheaves were coming out loose and the tractor driver has not seen what was happening, the drill was to hit the metal casing on the top of the machine with a large stick which was carried just for this purpose. The noise attracted the driver’s attention and he then stopped to try and remedy the fault. Sometimes the canvas would break.

When the tractor reached the corner of the corn being cut, the sheaves that were being released had to be caught in a metal scoop operated by a foot lever, so that an area was clear of sheaves and the tractor and binder could complete a turning circle without running over any sheaves. The two main makes of binders were, Massey Harris and McCormack. When a field had almost been cut, any rabbits that were in the field would start running out, and we would chase them with large sticks. With rationing, a rabbit pie was an extra help on the table. There was a coalman who would buy up the rabbit skins, so nothing was wasted.