We'd like to take a look at how modern technology has found it's way into agriculture and has rationalised the working process to such an extent, that now, one worker can do the same amount of work, which in earlier times, was done by up to one hundred people. At the beginning of the 20th century, this work was still done manually, e.g., the grain harvesting, badly paid work but at least the workers (in the fields) were well looked after. Only on farms with a particularly large acreage e.g., in the USA, did the mechanisation begin as early as the 19th century.
In any event, the grain had to be cut by scythe (1st task) and then gathered into sheaves (2nd task). Should the farm not have sufficient storage space, the sheaves were left standing or bundled into shocks (3rd task). The drying is important, for this reason an adequate drainage for rain-water is necessary.
The threshing of the total harvest follows, of course also manually. A threshing flail is a long wooden bobbin to which a shorter piece of wood was fastened with a special leather strap, allowing it to pivot in all directions. Using the flail, several people beat the sheaves lying on the ground in a quick rhythm, thus separating the grain from the ears.
The aim of the development, which took approx. 70 years, was the automation of all these tasks at a high work-rate, in the shortest possible time. It all started with a mower, which was already known in the Roman-era and, by the way, was horse-drawn. The turning of the wheels was transferred to the mowing deck. The process of moving the stalks to the rear so that they could be cut better, was called hand-filling.
This was taken care of in the second stage of the mechanisation by a mower with one or more wings, which at the same time, kept the path free for the next run-through. Thus, the whole field could first be mowed and then all the workers could bind and stack the sheaves. A very important supplement was the windlass, nowadays, it can be seen as a drum or drums, on the front of every combine harvester.
Apparently even simple processes e.g., knotting the rope that ties the sheaves together, is a problem for the machines. Thus, at one end of the harvested field lie only the sheaves, and 90% of the manual labour (particularly that done by women) is saved. The more complicated mechanisms did however, require more draught horses, a separate motor or even a tractor from the word go.
Of course in Germany, with it's comparatively small cultivation areas, one would have liked to have a machine that could also manage the threshing. There were also forerunners of the harvester, where the sheaves were loaded into drums fitted with flails and an outside basket, into which a high percent of the corn was gathered. The final separation and the filling into sacks, was done by vibrating floors.
Very small threshing machines can still be operated manually. Only the larger machines however, are effective. Here, the belt-drive roller on the side of most of the old tractors starts to make sense. It is the first auxiliary drive, the forerunner to the PTO-shaft (Power Take Off). This drives, by means of quite a long leather belt, the stationary machine. Long belts didn't have to be readjusted as often, which meant that the tractor didn't have to be moved further away from the machine.
The predecessor of the tractor was of course, the steam engine, which was somewhat larger and more cumbersome. Together with the threshing machine, a great deal of tonnage had to be moved from one farm to the other. As was to be expected, as the machines became more and more complicated, the mechanism became more and more susceptible to damage and the farmer slowly turned into a fitter or mechanic. Indeed, he did have a lot more time on his hands compared with his previous work with the threshing flail.
The first combine harvesters appeared in Germany around the middle of the 20th century. In the beginning they were not yet self-powered, but were pulled by a tractor or built around it (attached). Now the two operations, mowing and threshing, were finally united, both occured at the same time. Indeed, with the appearance of the combine harvester, the demands made of the tractor performance also increased.
So now, this is what a modern combine harvester looks like: It can mow and process a width of up to 12 meters. To make this as effecient as possible, it is controlled by GPS. All the operator has to do is turn it around. The view from the air-conditioned cabin is fantastic, indeed it is also urgently necessary, because the only thing that one has to fear with such a giant, is a breakdown. No, not so much the repair, rather the down-time expences. Thus, paying attention is, despite all the comfort offered, absolutely necessary.
If you take a look at the technical data above, you may notice that Mercedes is the engine manufacturer. This is not a little truck engine but simply the biggest on offer. Apparently, a great deal of performance is necessary to operate the “sheaf-processing factory”. It's not surprising that the price of the wondrous machine is higher that that of a house! Indeed the working tempo is at it's maximum. The manufacturer even gives the working rate necessary to process the maximum of 12.000 liters of storable grain, just under 2 minutes... 01/12