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Published August 01, 2009, 12:00 AM

A war story that took place on our region's farms

WORTHINGTON — This is the time — even a bit earlier — when, through decades, the grain harvest was under way across southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa. Threshing rings moved from neighbor to neighbor bringing in the sheaves. Rejoicing.

By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — This is the time — even a bit earlier — when, through decades, the grain harvest was under way across southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa. Threshing rings moved from neighbor to neighbor bringing in the sheaves. Rejoicing.

Oh, well, they did not bring in the sheaves literally, of course. The sheaves were piled into the carefully stacked shocks in the grain fields. The sheaves were tossed/lifted from the shocks onto the bundle wagons with pitchforks. Teams pulled the bundle wagons to the threshing machines. Oats poured into the grain wagons, straw stacks began to lift. Oats. Barley. Maybe wheat.

The threshing and the threshing crews, sun-browned men wearing straw hats and denim overalls, sweating through blue chambray shirts; sweating teams of horses; fabled threshers’ dinners; wash stands and face towels in the shade; lunches in the grain fields, sandwiches and cake carefully packed into baskets or wash tubs and covered with white dish cloths; the threshing machines; the flow of grain and the fresh straw; lumbering steam engines through one long era; flies everywhere. Stubble fields. These were some of the great and memorable hours of life on a prairie farm.

“‘…Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping, We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves…” A church song inspired by those good days. 

There is a war story here that television producer Ken Burns overlooked in his close look at “The War,” at Luverne.

Even before the United States became involved in World War II the armed services were enrolling farm boys, along with young men from every calling. Work on the farms was heavy, and rewards were often meager. Many young farmers chased the adventure of military service.

There came a day of recognition. America’s farms were as vital to the war effort and to the hopes for victory as were shipyards and munitions factories. (Food Will Win the War.) There was a sudden possibility that reaping in the harvest fields might cease for want of manpower, a possibility that the vital flow of food would falter.

All across the local area, shop owners, store managers, store clerks, attorneys, newspaper reporters volunteered their services for a succession of mid-summer evenings in the grain fields. They set out in crews for farms across the area, volunteering especially to gather up the bundles and build the shocks. Young doctors sometimes worked beside farm grammas in readying the fields for the harvest.

I was checking Daily Globe files on this lately. By noon of July 21, 1944, the U.S. Employment Service office at Worthington had received eight calls for crews, requiring about 50 men. The USES staff was contacting the stores along 10th Street, organizing volunteers and giving directions. Most of the calls were from farms no more than seven miles away.

At the outset — in 1943 — there was no compensation. Drivers volunteered their cars and paid for gas, which rationing put in short supply. For 1944, it was agreed farmers would pay drivers five cents a mile transportation costs. There was agreement harvest volunteers also could receive 65 cents an hour, although many declined to accept this. 

It was in this same year that 20, maybe 30, local mothers and housewives (the number was not recorded) volunteered for the Worthington Red Cross Canteen Corps. Among many things, the women prepared coffee and doughnuts for every young man in those contingents leaving for military service. By mid-1944, the women had logged 537 hours of service to 1,350 servicemen.

One of the women’s big nights came not in the harvest season but on the eve of Valentine’s Day. Because of a military snafu, 38 young soldiers were stranded at Worthington’s depot with no rations. It was a Sunday.

The women volunteers went into action, first making telephone calls to Canteen Corps workers and other women across the town. A menu was laid out, and there was a call for contributions.

By mealtime, the 38 soldiers were ushered to the National Guard Armory. Worthington moms had prepared a spread of scalloped potatoes and ham, vegetable salad, buttered (homemade) rolls, homemade pickles, homemade jam and a choice of fresh-baked apple pie or mince pie.

Farm and town, The War touched closely on the lives of every one.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.

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