Monthly Archives: September 2012

Small grains?

If we were farmers 90 years ago, we’d be resting up after the small grain harvest and getting ready to pick corn.

As the Kendall County Record reported on Aug. 25, 1920: “Threshing in Kendall county is about over and returns are gratifying to the farmers. The small grain turned out exceptionally well.”

What, you may be wondering, are small grains?

In old-time farmer talk, small grains were wheat, oats, rye, and barley. They were called small grains to separate them from corn, which was both planted and harvested differently than the small grains.

As can be determined from the note in the Record above, small grains were harvested by threshing, sometimes called thrashing. As the name implies, the grain was originally literally beaten off the stalks with tool called flails after it had dried. Later, mechanical threshing machines took over that work, first powered by horses and later by steam traction engines. By the end of the threshing era, tractors with internal combustion engines powered threshing machines.

Before threshing, the grain had to be cut in the field and tied into bundles, which were then stacked to dry before they were taken to be threshed. American ingenuity first led to mechanical harvesters that cut the grain so it could be bundled an stacked, and then binders that cut the grain and bundled it so it could be stacked to dry.

Eventually, combined harvesters were invented and produced that cut the grain and threshed it, separating it from the stalks, and dumping the clean grain into wagons to be hauled to storage. These combines, as they were eventually called, are still the main harvesting machinery used today, although modern combines are astonishing large and technologically advanced.

American ingenuity struck again by building combines that can be used for both the small grain harvest and for the corn harvest by simply replacing the “head,” the part of the combine that actually works with the grain. Grain heads are for harvesting small grains, and corn heads for picking, husking, and shelling corn.

Although the machinery has changed, the farm year hasn’t. Small grain harvesting is largely over, except for soybeans, and farmers are looking towards the corn harvest, another cycle of the farm year coming to a close.


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Filed under Farming, Food, Illinois History, Kendall County, Science stuff

Got a little Indian in your family background?

Elizabeth Warren, who is running for U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, got into a bit of trouble earlier this year. Warren, apparently, always claimed she had some American Indian in her family background. That was the tradition handed down by her family.

But since this is the political silly season, her claim soon came under fire, and people started accusing her of a) not having any Native American blood in her veins and b) that she had used her supposed Indian heritage to advance her academic career. Now it looks as if Warren has been vindicated and that she does indeed have some Native American connections in her genealogy.

Lots of people claim to have American Indian roots. My family has claimed for years that there was an Indian somewhere in our background. However, all I’ve been able to find is that one of my ancestors was captured by the Indians, and held for awhile, but later released. High cheekbones, like some of my Lantz family line boast, are no evidence of Native American blood.

I don’t know if you’ve watched any of Henry Louis Gates’ “Finding Your Roots” episodes on PBS (you really  need to watch every one of them if you already haven’t), but he discussed this theme of American genealogical history during at least a couple of his series’ episodes. I was surprised to learn that the Indian blood story is very common among African Americans, as it is among many white Americans. But just like whites, the actuality of finding a Native American ancestor is pretty rare among blacks.

Here in Kendall County, we had a few whites who had Indian wives and children who made there homes here during the pioneer era. Frederic Countryman and his wife En-Do-Ga lived down near modern Newark, while David Laughton and his wife, Waish-Kee-Shaw, lived in what became known as AuSable Grove along modern Reservation Road. Both the Countryman and Laughton families had children, although it seems as if Waish-Kee-Shaw had only one child, a son, named Joseph Laughton.

But in the 1820s and 1830s, people didn’t boast of the Indian blood in their veins. Early settlers and characters such as Peter Specie, who were of mixed-blood, described themselves as French, not métis. And, of course, south of the Ohio River and west of the Mississippi, Indian blood was not considered any kind of something to boast of.

Actually finding that drop of Indian blood in your veins (if it exists at all) through genealogical research is often a challenge. But the good news is that if you become the candidate for high office of a major political party, the media will do all the genealogical heavy lifting for you.

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Filed under Fur Trade, Illinois History, Kendall County, Oswego, People in History

Romney for…Congress?

One reason Mitt Romney may be sinking in the polls is that he seems unsure for which office he ought to be running. I see the other day he gave a speech, where he promised, if elected as President, to make sure “In God We Trust” is not removed from U.S. coins. According to the Constitution, though, Mitt as President doesn’t have much to say about coining money; that’s the baliwick of Congress:

Article I, Section 8: The Congress shall have Power…To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures.

He might be doing better in the polls if he’d stick to spelling out things he could actually do if he’s elected.


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Filed under People in History, Semi-Current Events

History now!

Oswego High School senior class trip, 1954. Photo taken at Ethel’s Old Heidelberg restaurant (“Home of the Famous Rathskeller”), 14 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. IDs by members of the Class of 1955, September 2012.Left to right, back row: 1. Janice Friebele; 2. Ruth Reynolds; 3. Elizabeth Jane Goudie; 4. Bill Strukel; 5. Roger Schillinger; 6. Jerry Cowger; 7. Jim Plocher; 8. Dean Shoger; 9. Elnathan “Pokey” Claassen; 10.Jerry Traughber; 11.Herb Behrens; 12.Ron Schlapp; 13.Dan Rebhorn; 14.Russell Turner; 15.Kathryn Gowran; 16.Barbara Davis; 17.Leah Baker; 18.Regina VanDeventer; 19.Bill Lewis; 20.Barbara Dudman; 21.Wilma Penn.Front row: l. T.Lloyd Traughber; 2. Mrs. T. Lloyd (Georgia) Traughber; 3. Ron Akerlow; 4. Bill Betzwiser; 5. Bob Nelson; 6. Gene McDowell; 7. UNKNOWN; 8. Connie Smith; 9. Pat Smith; 10 Lois Risser; 11 Donna Ritter; 12 Ken Pickerill; 13 Jackie Pickerill.Absent from the photo: Sandra Nutt, who died in an automobile accident on Ill. Route 25 at Bereman’s Curve before graduation, plus David Rogerson and Ralph Smith. Bus driver at the head of the table is Stanley Peterson.

It’s nice to have historical relatives. This morning, when my two sisters stopped down at the Little White School Museum to chat, I showed them two photos Marge Traughber had donated a couple weeks ago. One was of the OHS Class of 1954’s senior trip to Chicago and the other was of the 1952 Junior-Senior Prom. And both figure thy can identify all the people in the two pix, with a little help from their friends (and some magnifying glasses).

I love instant historical gratification!

Best part of the 1954 senior class trip photo: Ken and Jackie Pickerill as a VERY young couple. They’re so young that Pick still has hair! Best part of the 1952 prom pic: a very young Stephen and Thelma Paydon attending as chaperons.

Update: By popular demand…which means whining prodding from Bert Gray, I’ve now included the 1954 photo, mostly to prove that Ken Pickerill really did have hair and that Jackie was beautiful, and that all those people in the photo were once young. Even T. Loyd is looking pretty slick in this photo.


Filed under Kendall County, Nostalgia, Oswego, People in History