"Necessity is the mother of invention;" and so the wheat-raisers found a way of harvesting their enormous crops. Our forefathers used the sickle, a very slow and unsatisfactory method of gathering grain. Less than a hundred years ago the "cradle" for cutting grain was invented by a Scotchman, and this created a revolution in harvesting. It facilitated the autumn work of a farmer to such a degree he never dreamed there could be any improvement upon that method. But the "cradle" could not avail much on the vast wheat-fields of the New West. Think of Dalrymple cradling thirty thousand acres of grain! One hundred men could cradle but three hundred acres per day at the most; and one hundred days, at this rate, would be required for harvesting. This would "cost more than it comes to." Western farmers could not afford the expense. It was absolutely necessary that some other method of harvesting grain should be discovered, and it was. A machine for cutting, binding, and placing the bundles in an upright position met the needs of the hour. The problem of harvesting the largest fields of grain was solved by this invention.
A romantic Western story was told about this machine last season. A young lady was intently watching its operation, when, in her eagerness to comprehend the process, she ventured too near its enfolding arms, and was taken up by them, as the grain was taken up, bound, and deposited on her feet. Being about the size of a bundle of grain, she passed through the process unhurt, and found herself standing upon her feet with no change except an additional neat little band about her waist.
The writer, who has spoken to us of California from personal observation, speaks as follows of harvesting wheat and the use of the header:--
"It must be remembered that there is no rain from the first or middle of May to the first or middle of October; the seasons vary a little as to the close of the rainy season and the beginning of the dry. As a rule, the wheat in California is cut with a header. On some of the small farms the farmers unite together and purchase a header and alternate in the use of it. In other cases, farmers hire their grain cut by the acre by men who own headers, and make it a business to go from farm to farm during the harvest time. The general practice now is to have the grain cut and threshed at the same time, and by a man who owns and mans and works both a header and steam thresher. These cutting and threshing rigs are complete. They find all the teams and all the help, and move a kitchen and kitchen fixtures all on wheels along with them. They take contracts to cut and thresh wheat or other grain at so much an acre, bushel, or cental, doing all the work and finding everything, leaving the farmer nothing to do but receive and take care of his sacked wheat, and his wife no more care or trouble during harvesting and threshing time than at any other season of the year. The price per acre varies in accordance with the demand for labor and the character of the grain, but runs from seventy-five cents to a dollar and a quarter.
"The wheat that is standing in the field in the morning is found in sacks, and frequently at the shipping depot, ready to be put on the steamer or cars for market before night. We have known it to be carried to mill and returned to the farm in the form of flour, and cooked, so that the hands who cut it in the morning ate it at supper in the form of warm biscuit. We have in the San Joaquin valley, working successfully, combined headers and threshers. These machines move before the horses, --from twenty to twenty-four horses or mules to each machine, --cut and thresh and sack the grain, and leave the sacks in piles. Four men work them, and cut and thresh from twenty-five to forty acres a day, depending on the favorableness of the ground and the grain. If the farmer is busy when his wheat is threshed, and cannot well carry his wheat to the barn or storehouse or depot, all he has to do is to pile his sacks up in the field, cover them with straw, and let them lay there two or three months, or till he can conveniently move them. The clear blue sky is a guaranty against any damage from the weather, and the no-fence law is a guaranty that no stock shall interfere with it. The advantage secured to the farmer in sowing and harvesting his wheat, is, of course, secured to him in sowing and harvesting all other kinds of grain.
"But one word now in reference to spring and winter wheat. We have no such distinction in California. It makes no difference where our seed comes from, or whether it bears the name of winter or spring wheat. Grown in California it simply becomes California wheat, and in Liverpool, or any other market in Europe, it is quoted white wheat, and bears the highest quotations. We change our seed from time to time from one locality to another, or import seed from other States, to gain the advantages of such changes, but our crops bear in all cases the ear mark of the California climate. We have probably said enough to convince the reader that California can raise wheat cheaper than any other country, and to explain why the ratio of production in California is ten bushels for each man, woman, and child engaged in agricultural pursuits to one bushel for each man, woman, and child engaged in the same pursuits in Illinois, or any of the other States east of the Rocky Mountains. But we have one other advantage to speak of, and then we will leave this particular branch of the subject. It is found by actual statistics that the average yield per acre in California is two-fifths more than the average yield per acre on the eastern side of the continent."
This cut shows the steam thresher of which our California informant speaks. What he says about the rapidity with which the work is done--wheat cut in the morning appearing in hot biscuit at night--may seem as fabulous to the reader as any of the reports burlesqued thirty years ago. But the writer of the foregoing is perfectly reliable, and speaks officially, too.
Eastern farmers cannot understand how it is that North Dakota, with its cold, piercing winters and terrible blizzards, and summers swept by cyclones, can produce more wheat per acre than even California. A scientist explains the matter as follows: "The qualities of climate which bear on wheat-raising in North Dakota, and contribute more regularly, uniformly, and efficiently to the growth of the crop than any found in more southerly climes, are, more daily sunshine, --the days, by reason of the higher altitude, being longer,-- cool nights which always favor the cereal crops, deep frosts which gradually melt and supply moisture to the growing plant, less intense heat during the maturing months, fewer injurious caprices of weather at the critical period of growth, and natural climatic conditions which render possible the production of hard spring wheat, --a cheap crop, by reason of its being a quick crop of only about one hundred days from seeding to maturity."