Mennonite farm in Bloomer Township the scene of old-fashioned practice

By Daily News • Last Updated 10:44 am on Thursday, August 01, 2013

Teams of draft horses line up wagons heaped with bundled wheat chaffs harvested from the field during a threshing bee July 26 at the Marlin Martin farm in Bloomer Township.

By Rosemary Horvath | Daily News correspondent

BLOOMER TOWNSHIP — A typically placid area of Bloomer Township became drenched in an atmosphere of intrigue July 26 as spectators watched a crew of 100 or more recreate an old style farm practice of threshing, or separating grain from straw.

The threshing bee got started soon after daybreak on the Mennonite dairy and chicken farm of Marlin Martin on Miner Road west of Carson City, and ended into evening, luckily beating a downpour.

Out-of-state members from families of Marlin and wife Anita toiled alongside adult males and young boys from local Mennonite communities. The women produced a feast of home cooking for two meals.

Men quickly feed bundles of wheat into the threshes to separate grain and straw during a threshing bee July 26 at Marlin Martin farm in Bloomer Township. — Daily News/Rosemary Horvath

Word spread through the “English” community to visit the Martin farm to witness the vintage wood-burning steam engine and thresher (sometimes spelled thrasher).

“There’s no internal combustion,” said one man to another. “It’s like a pressure cooker.”

Gaylin Bogart of Butternut, who transports logs by trade, brought his family and a supply of cut wood to feed the 1890s-style steam engine owned by steam engine collector David Kemler of Stanton.

Charlie Wagner came to witness the spectacle. Wagner, best known for 15 years of running Charlie’s Wag-n-Train Opry jamboree on Cedar Lake near Sheridan, said he wanted to see the machinery in action.

Kemler’s steam engine from the 1890s was manufactured by Advance Threshing Co. of Battle Creek. Duane Paulsen of Weidman owns the McCormick-Deering brand of thresher built in 1930s.

Kemler and Paulsen have been regulars at the annual Blanchard Millpond Steam and Gas Show in Isabella County.

Kemler will set up a steam engine and a threshing separator for demonstrations at this weekend’s Montcalm Heritage Village Festival on the grounds of Montcalm Community College.

While many farm operations today, even among the Mennonites, use combine equipment to reap and thresh grain in a single process, Kemler still swears by the old way to harvest his 80 acres of heavy wheat.

“Oh, we do have a combine,” he said, “but, even though it is more labor intensive, the old way is a better way of harvesting your crop. The grain is dried naturally.”

Cost of machinery and labor are often too much even for people who customarily prefer a simple way of living. Some Mennonites and Amish pay “English” farmers to harvest their fields with modern combines.

Scores of Mennonite children and young adults among the spectators Friday witnessed for the first time the old-fashioned process.

A reaper had shocked or cut the wheat and left the Martin wheat field dotted with standing sheaves of grain drying during the month of July. The scene reminded people like Mary and Ike Lazarus of Crystal growing up on rural farms.

“They wanted to teach their kids how their forbearers took care of grain,” said Lazarus, a friend of the Martins, explaining the nature of the event.

Upward of 800 bushels of grain were taken to the grain handler Michigan Agricultural Commodities in Middleton. A bushel of wheat weighs about 60 pounds.

Correspondent Rosemary Horvath is a Crystal resident.

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