Articolo disponibile anche in: Italian

Before the invention of the thresher, the separation of wheat grains from straw required an exhausting and time-consuming process. In those days, the wheat plant was at least a meter tall.

Those that didn’t bend to the ground during maturation left a tall and yellow stem, the ears brown, hard and full of seeds. The “segatura” consisted in reaping the stems by hand with a sickle and gathering them in bunches like flowers.

They were then tied with some stems of wheat and left to dry in the sun. Then they were put in bunches in a “trullo” form and when the wheat was sawed, these were brought to the threshing floor and the threshing began.

If you watch a documentary on regions in primitive areas, you can see that many populations still use draft animals to complete the operation. Our farmers used to hit the sheaves against an inclined surface, usually a concave olive tree trunk, and the threshers finished the job with a spiked club.

The stems that came out of the operation almost untouched were then chosen to make straw hats and other items. At this point, there was another big job left to do: divide the seed from the slag (little pieces of straw and capsules where the seeds were located). This could be done when there was a breeze which caused the slags to fly. The wheat landed nearby, the slag further away.

This was done until the heap was finished. I saw this operation done in 1944-1946, at the end of WWll. Machine threshing had not yet restarted. Threshing by machine was considered a more acceptable job, both for time consumption and for the hard work. The operation required the presence of many people, recruited among nearby farmers.

All of the sheaves of grain were gathered on the threshing floor, often in a type of house called a “wheat boat”. It was sometimes large enough to require an entire day of threshing. On the chosen day, the “macchine” was  pulled by a powerful tractor positioned next to the heap. The tracto had a rotation pulley, and with a large belt, gave motion to the macchine.

The workers surrounded the operation: ten or so on the “boat” who helped those on the machine untie the sheaves with a sickle. The assigned worker tucked the the sickle into the jaws of the machine.

Four people stood by where the wheat (already chosen and ready to be bagged) exited. Another ten stood in front to grab the wheat and bring it to the haystack. Dust and straw bits flew all around, landing on the workers.

The operations were simplified by the intruduction of a transporting ribbon on the thresher and by the straw press which eliminated the need of some of the workers. The dust was omnipresent. The workers removed it as best they could with water that the farmer accumulated in various containers.

Then came the meal; goose broth and boiled meat with vegetables for lunch, sometimes pasta for dinner. The day after, the operation was repeated.

This continured throughout the period of sharecropping. After this period in history,  the combine harvester did the job. The dust is a memory. The new machine is air conditioned. The group lunch is a memory….

Roberto Borghi