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Threshing grain

To bake bread, you need flour, which you can obtain by grinding grains. These are the simple truths. Now the crops are harvested and threshed with combine harvesters, the grain is ground in modern mills. But it was not always like that.

Steam comes to the rescue

In the past, crops were harvested with sickles or grain scythes and tied into bundles, then dried in threshing floors and threshed with threshing wheels. With the introduction of steam engines, farm work became easier at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. If before that threshing machines were powered by horses, then they could be equipped with steam engines The crops were already harvested with a special cutter, which was also a mechanical bundle maker. In the fall, the threshing machine and steam boiler were moved from farm to farm, selling its services. Neighbors were invited to help with grain threshing. They turned into significant events of public life. It was an opportunity for neighbors to meet at the feast table after joint work, where songs and jokes sounded, and dances also took place.

Threshing events

Alsunga resident Valdis Galbāliņš shares his memories of threshing events: The steam engine that operated the threshing machine was called dampis. It took eight horses to pull the dampis from one farmstead to another. After that, the same horses also pulled the threshing machine. Threshing required a lot of people, so special events were held. Neighbors went to each other’s aid. First there were three men who bring the grain up and three men for the straw. Why three? Two worked, and one rested – warming himself by the cauldron and smoking a pipe, then they changed. Then there were still three grain men. One hung the sacks and took them off, tied them up, and two loaded them into carts and took them to the granary. We still needed a porter, a waterman, a couple of watermen – they brought water to the boiler all the time, they also heated it. Two women were up on the table – one was waiting for the grain that was placed above and was cutting the bundles of half bunches, the other was handing them to the person who was putting them into the machine (it had to be a man). Three or four wives carried away the chaff, depending on the distance.

Big wind, little wind

First, the grain was threshed more coarsely, V. Galbāliņš continues, separating the fine chaff (they were blown away by the high wind) and straw (they came out upwards). The rest – coarse chaff and grain – first went to the lower part of the threshing machine, then through the elevator back to the top, where it entered the grainer – an iron drum, where the husks were removed from the barley, and the grain was peeled from the husks, if they had not yet been separated by threshing. Then there was the little wind, which blew away all kinds of chaps. Next, the grain went to the sorter, it was a drum made of wire, which could be stretched longer or screwed shorter. The longer the drum, the better the separation. Three classes came out. The grain came out clean, all that was left to do was to pour it into the granary.

Water and firewood were needed

Dampis was heated with wood. The water had to be added all the time because it boiled, Valdis remembers. The steam pressure was seven atmospheres. For rye, even more – eight, because they went through harder. Two-stroke and four-stroke engines are known. The dampis had two working strokes per one revolution of the crankshaft. The piston was pushed by steam. When the piston went to the middle, the steam distributor let it out through the chimney. Further rotation was ensured by a flywheel weighing about 200 kilograms. Then the steam again came in from the other end, and again drove the piston to the middle. And a steam engine with a long belt drove the threshing machine. It was the way we threshed 50 years ago. And threshed much better than with all kinds of combines.

Machine or Siberia

We had an English threshing machine, V. Galbāliņš continues the story. It belonged to my father – Pēteris Galbāliņš. When the Russians came in, they took it away for nothing. The only good thing was that we didn’t have to go to Siberia. There was such a local boss, Dunduru Jānis, who called his father to the Aizpute district and told him that he could choose to go to Russia or to return the threshing machine. Well, there wasn’t much to think about, he gave it back. That Dundurs had lived here. He was so poor, four children, they had to be fed, they had no money. My father had probably at some point threshed him for free once, you see, it paid off.

Juris Lipsnis