CHAD HOBBS Messenger Staff
As harvest season continues to be in full swing, many of you have more than likely encountered a farmer and his combine either in a field you have driven by or on the roadways themselves. If you have got stuck behind one of these large, oversized machines traveling from field to field at a snail’s pace compared to your own vehicle, you may have had time to wonder things like “Why are they so large?” or “Why are they called a combine?”
The answers to these questions are really one in the same. The reason they are so large is that they are basically an automated grain harvesting factory on wheels, operated by a single person. This leads us to how they got their name – combine.
When one understands the history of grain harvesting, the name begins to make a whole lot more sense.
The early days of American agriculture were far different than today. Grain harvests used to require many more steps and workers. We will use wheat for an example. First, it was cut by a handheld reaper. It then had to be collected and taken to be threshed, separating the grain from the stalk. A “straw-buck” would have to get the straw away from the thresher. The grain then had to be winnowed, separating the kernel from the chaff. There was a “sack-jig” who filled burlap sacks with the wheat. He would then pass it off to the “sack sewers” who sewed the bag shut.
The first self-propelled combine was released by Massey Harris in 1939. These machines became known as combine harvesters (later shortened to combine or harvester depending mainly upon where you are located to determine which name it was shortened to). Simply put, it was because the machine “combined” all these jobs into one. Its header reaped the crop; its feeder house gathered the crop to be threshed, moving it to the rotor; its rotor threshed the grain from the plant; its sieve and chaffer winnowed the grain, removing grain from chaff; a fan and straw walkers or a chopper served as the “straw-buck” getting the straw and chaff away from the machine and grain; a grain elevator and hopper on top of the machine stored the grain until it could be offloaded for transport, removing the need for “sack-jigs” or “sack sewers.”
So, the long and short of it is this: it’s a combine because it combined numerous jobs performed by countless men and horses into a self-propelled mobile grain harvesting factory operated by a single man. The next time you get behind a slow moving combine, maybe you can reflect on the human ingenuity that went into making that huge, agricultural marvel, and just be thankful that you’re following it and not following all the horses and men that it replaced.