Threshing with 27 mule-power

At a time when reaper-binders and threshing machines still predominated in Europe, trailed combine harvesters already existed in the United States. This article comes from the pen of Bonnie Shields, an American painter who 27 years ago reported on the re-enactment of a cereal harvest with 27 mules as it actually happened in Washington State on August 7th 1932.

On Don Thomas?s farm stand twenty seven mules. Seventeen are his; the rest he has borrowed from friends all over the northwest of Washington State. Hard to imagine, but Thomas hauls 27 harnesses from his storage shed. Experienced hands swiftly apply themselves to the tangle of buckles, belts, chains, hooks, collars and reins. Some of the men still remember from their own experience how it?s all done.

An old John Deere combine waits before a sea of corn. Don and his family have spent countless hours getting it into its present state of perfection. Every cogwheel and every belt is in impeccable condition; every bearing is greased. It?s been a long time, but today it?s ready once again. As it used to be.

Twenty-seven mules will ensure that the harvest is safely brought in. It says something for the mule?s nature and the helpers? skill that it all works. Three mules lead the way, followed by four rows of six mules each, harnessed one behind the other. Two reins to the leading mules and that?s all, apart from a system of yokes, poles and shafts with which the mules are steered.

Don Thomas climbs up to the coachman?s seat, which stretches out over the drawbar mules. ?Katy! Beck!? The leading mules hear their names and react promptly. The draught chains tauten; the armada is under way. In no time the whole co-ordinates itself and becomes an entity.

Photo: Cheney

A 2008 re-creation of a similar feat can bee seen in a video clip on YouTube.