Six Thousand Years of Small Grains
Early 1870's model thresher with forward-threshing section and winnower back section

Early 1870's model thresher with forward-threshing section and winnower back section

"Six Thousand Years of Small Grains" was the featured theme at the Pasto Agricultural Museum during Penn State's Ag Progress Days, Aug. 14 - 16, 2001. Visitors saw historic grain production items used for soil preparation, sowing, harvesting/handling, threshing, power, cleaning, and grain handling.

The collection began with a 6,000-year-old clay sickle and concludes with a horse-drawn binder and photographs of horse-drawn combines, according to Darwin Braund, museum curator. The latter items are representative of those that closed the human- and animal-power era in most of the United States by the 1940s.

"For centuries the harvesting and threshing of small grains required more labor than growing them," says Braund. "Thus, much attention was paid to improving the harvest. It was the most important event on earth every year."

In the earliest days, the heads of grain were hand-picked from each stalk and then threshed by rubbing them between the hands, explains Braund. A flint stone with a sharp edge was the earliest mechanized cutter. Clay sickles were made in areas with no stones. Sickles made of bronze - an alloy of copper and tin - followed the clay models. They in turn were replaced when the Iron Age made sharper blades possible. New designs of the tools improved efficiency in their use.

"A large time line on the museum wall will cover the 6,000 years and describe the concurrent developments in harvesting and threshing small grains," says Braund. "Visitors will see a self-raking reaper [1830s] and grain binder [1930s] operating in the museum, as well as a horse-tread-powered threshing machine [1870s]."