Reaping - Encyclopedia

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REAPING (from O.E. ripan, rypan, probably allied to "ripe," mature, i.e. " fit for reaping"; the cognate forms are found in other languages), the action of cutting ripe grain crops. Till the invention of the reaping machine, which came into practical use only about the middle of the 10th century, sickles and scythes were the sole reaping implements. Of the two the sickle is the more ancient, and indeed there is some reason to conclude that its use is coeval with the cultivation of grain crops. Among the remains of the later Stone period in Great Britain and on the European continent curved flint knives have occasionally been found, the form of which has led to the suggestion that they were used as sickles. Sickles of bronze occur quite commonly among remains of the early inhabitants of Europe. Some of these are deeply curved hooks, flat on the under side, and with a strengthening ridge or back on the upper surface, while others are small curved knives, in form like the ordinary hedge-bill. Among the ancient Egyptians toothed or serrated sickles of both bronze and iron were used. Ancient Roman drawings show that both the scythe and the sickle were known to that people, and Pliny makes the distinction plain. 1 Although both implements have lost much of their importance since the general introduction of mowing and reaping machinery, they are still used very extensively, especially in those countries like France where small agricultural holdings prevail. The principal modern forms are the toothed hook, the scythe book, the Hainault scythe and the common scythe.

The toothed hook, which was in general use till towards the middle of the 19th century, consisted of a narrow-bladed curved hook, having on its cutting edge a series of fine close-set serratures cut like fileteeth, with their edges inclined towards the heft or handle. The curve is that known to mathematicians as the "cissoid," where tangents at any point form equal angles with lines drawn to the middle of the handle: it has been called the "curve of least exertion" because experience has shown that it tires out the arm of the worker less than any other curve. Sickles were formerly made of iron edged with steel; but in recent times they came to be made of cast steel entirely. Towards the middle of the 19th century the toothed hook was gradually supplanted by the scythe hook or smooth-edged sickle, a somewhat heavier and broader-bladed implement, having an ordinary knife edge. Both these implements were intended for "shearing" handful by handful, the crop being held in the left hand and cut with the tool held in the right. A heavy smooth-edged sickle is used for "bagging" or "clouting," - an operation in which the hook is struck against the straw, the left hand being used to gather and carry along the cut swath. The Hainault scythe is an implement intermediate between the scythe and the sickle, being worked with one hand, and the motion is entirely a swinging or bagging one. The implement consists of a short scythe blade mounted on a vertical handle, and in using it the reaper collects the grain with a crook, which holds the straw together till it receives the cutting stroke of the instrument. The Hainault scythe was extensively used in Belgium. The common hay scythe consists of a slightly curved broad blade varying in length from 28 to 46 in., mounted on a bent, or sometimes straight, wooden sned or snathe, to which two handles are attached at such distances 1 "Of the sickle there are two varieties, the Italian, which is the shorter and can be handled among brushwood, and the two-handed Gallic sickle, which makes quicker work of it when employed on their [the Gauls] extensive domains; for there they cut their grass only in the middle, and pass over the shorter blades. The Italian mowers cut with the right hand only" (H. N. xviii. 67).

as enable the workman, with an easy stoop, to swing the scythe blade along the ground, the cutting edge being slightly elevated to keep it clear of the inequalities of the surface. The grain-reaping scythe is similar, but provided with a cradle or short gathering rake attached to the heel and following the direction of the blade for about 12 in. The object of this attachment is to gather the stalks as they are cut and lay them in regular swaths against the line of still-standing corn. The reaping scythe, instead of a long sned, has frequently two helves, the right hand branching from the left or main helve and the two handles placed about 2 ft. apart. The best scythe blades are made from rolled sheets of steel, riveted to a back frame of iron, which gives strength and rigidity to the blade. On the continent of Europe it is still common to mould and hammer the whole blade out of a single piece of steel, but such scythes are difficult to keep keen of edge. There is a great demand for scythes in Russia, chiefly supplied from the German empire and Austria. The principal manufacturing centre of scythes and sickles in the United Kingdom is Sheffield.

It was not until the beginning of the igth century that any attempt was made to invent a reaping machine on anything like the lines that have been adopted since. In 1826 the Rev. Patrick Bell of Carmylie in Fifeshire brought out the first successful machine. He had worked at the making of it when a young man on his father's farm, and the principle he adopted, that of a series of scissors fastened on the "knife-board," was followed for a long time. There had been many trials during the thirty or forty years before his time both in this country and in America, but his invention was the first practical success.

After many modifications, however, the present or recent form of the common reaper was evolved by C. H. McCormick in America in 1831. A truck or carriage is carried on two travelling wheels some 30 to 36 in. high, with spuds or teeth on the circumference to make them "bite" the ground and thus give motion to the machinery without skidding; two horses are yoked in front with a pole between, with martingale and surcingle belts as part of their harness, to ease the backing of the machine by the horses; the knife-board is fixed out at right angles to the side of the carriage and in front, while the knives consist of a series of triangular "sections" on a bar which travels backwards and forwards in slots in the "fingers," as the dividing teeth are called. The motion was given to the knives by a connecting rod and crank driven by suitable gearing from the truck wheels. The cutting was thus done by a straight shearing action and not by clipping like scissors as in Bell's machine.

There were many modifications tried before the favourite form was ultimately adopted: thus the horses were yoked behind the truck or carriage of the machine so that they pushed it before them; a revolving web of cloth was placed behind the knives so as to deliver the cut corn in a continuous swathe at the side; revolving "sails" or "rakes" pushed the standing grain against the knives as the machine advanced - some of which arrangements have been revived in our modern stringbinders - and so on.

In the early days - from about 1860 to 1870 - machines were fitted with a tilting board behind the cutting bar which caught the corn as it fell, and it was held there until enough for a sheaf was gathered, when the load was "tilted" off by a suitable rake handled by a man who sat and worked the tilting board simultaneously with his foot and dropped the corn, to be lifted and tied into a sheaf by hand afterwards. The same machine was generally used for mowing (grass) by an interchange of parts, and the "combined" reaper and mower was in common use in the 'seventies and 'eighties. Later, various devices were adopted to do the tilting or sheafing mechanically, and the self enddelivery and self side-delivery have long been in use whereby through the adoption of revolving rakes on frames the sheaf-lots are delivered in sizes ready for tying up by hand. The subsequent tying or binding was done variously in different parts of the country. In the south of England it was customary for five men to make bands, lift the sheaf-lot, place in the band and tie, and leave the sheaf lying on the ground to be set up afterwards, the gang of five being expected to keep up on a reaper cutting round the four sides of a field. In the north and in Scotland the cutting was only done on one side at a time, the machine riding back empty, and three boys made the bands ("straps"), three women lifted the lots and laid them on the bands, and three men bound the sheaves and set up in stooks. Thus three gangs of three each were required to keep a machine going, and only about five acres per day could be reaped in this way.

FIG. I. - The Hornsby String-binder.

The development of the modern binder to reduce all this labour has been a very gradual process. There was no great difficulty in cutting the corn and delivering the. stuff, but the tying of it into sheaves was the problem to be solved. As early as 1858 Marsh in America designed and carried out an arrangement whereby the cut grain crop was caught on revolving webs of canvas and carried up on to a table, where two men stood who made bands of its own material and bound it into sheaves as it fell in front of them, dropping the sheaves off on to the ground as made, while the machine travelled along. The invention of a tying apparatus was the next advance, and in the 'seventies the American firm of Walter A. Wood & Co. brought out an arrangement for tying the sheaves up with wire. So slow and expensive had been the process of evolution, however, that it was reported at the time that the above firm had spent 20,000 in invention and experiment before they had even a wire-binder fit to put on the market.

Binding with string, however, was the aim of all, and it was reserved for J. F. Appleby, an English inventor, to hit on the arrangement now in use, or which was the prototype of all the knotters now to be met with in different varieties of the string-binder throughout the world.

While the string-binder is now in universal use in Great Britain, the British Colonies, America and all countries where farming and farm work are advanced, and hand labour is only followed where peasant-farming or small farming obtains, it must be noted that in certain regions the system of reaping or harvesting of corn crops has developed a good deal beyond this. In Australia and some of the hotter districts in the west of the United States the "stripper" is in use, an implement which carries long grooved teeth which are passed through the standing grain crop and strip off the heads, leaving the straw standing. The heads are passed backwards to a thrashing (rubbing) arrangement, which separates the corn from the chobs, chaff, &c., and the grain is sacked up straight away. The sacks are dropped off the machine as the work proceeds and are picked up by wagon for transport afterwards. It is a significant fact that strippers worked by hand, though pushed through the crop by oxen, were in use on the plains of Gaul in the first FIG. 2. - The Hornsby Knot as tied by the String-binder.

century of our era, though this system seems to have been lost sight of till re-invented by the Australians.

Again, in the Western states of America, where the climate is not hot and dry enough for stripping purposes, the method followed is to cut the straw as'short as possible - just below the heads - and these fall on to a travelling canvas and are carried up into a thrasher and the grain separated and sacked as the work proceeds. An immense combined implement is used for this reaping and thrashing purpose, taking a width of up to 40 ft. of crop at a time, and being propelled by a 50-horse-power traction engine running on broad roller-wheels, though smaller machines pulled by, say, 20 horses are also common. Sometimes the "heading" only is carried out, and the cut heads carried on a canvas up into a wagon travelled alongside, and then carted away for subsequent thrashing, the "header" thus being the form of reaper adopted also in the Western states of America. In these regions, as in many other places on the prairies in general, the straw is of no value, and therefore the whole is set fire to and burned off, thus returning a certain amount of fertility to the soil in the ashes.

In the normal and ordinary system of reaping with the string-binder in Great Britain the rule is to "open up" a field by cutting "roads" round it: that is, a headland or roadway is mowed by the scythe and tied up by hand. Then the stringbinder is started to cut around and continued till a finish is made at the centre of the field. Sometimes the crop is partly lodged and can only be cut on three sides of the field, and the binder is "slipped" past the fourth side. It is customary in some parts to yoke three horses to the machine and keep these at work all day with an interval for the midday meal only, but a better plan is to allow two men and four horses to each, and put one couple on and one couple off for meals and resting alternately. By this means the binder is kept going continuously without any stoppage for perhaps 14 hours daily in fine harvest weather. With a six-feet cutting width an acre per hour is fair work, but some have exceeded that, especially with wider cutting widths. A ball of twine weighing 3 to 4 lb is the usual requisite per acre for binding the sheaves, and it ought to be of Manilla hemp: "sizal" fibre (derived from the American agaves and named after the port on the coast of Yucatan) is not so strong and good, though cheaper. Good twine is desirable, as otherwise frequent breakages leave many sheaves in a loose state.

The sheaves are dropped off on to the ground as tied, but some farmers use the "sheaf-carrier," which catches these as they are shot out from the binding apparatus, and dumps them in lots of six or so - sufficient to make a stook or shock. The stooking - that is, the setting up of the sheaves on end to dry - is a separate operation, and from two to three men can set up an ordinary good crop as fast as the binder can cut it. In this work the sheaves are set with their butts wide apart and the heads leaning against one another like the two legs of the letter A: a full-sized stook or "threave" is 24 sheaves - a relic of the days when the crop was all hand-reaped by piecework at so much per threave - but in practice now seldom more than 6 sheaves (3 each side) are put to each stook. When sufficiently dried or "fielded" the sheaves are then carried by cart or wagon to the stackyard, where they are built up sheaf by sheaf into round or oblong stacks: that is, they are stored until required for thrashing or foddering purposes. The drying may be a tedious affair, and wet weather in harvest time is a national disaster from the spoiling of the corn, both grain and straw.

The tremendous development in labour-saving in the matter of reaping the corn crops is well exemplified in a comparison of harvesting with the hand hook or sickle as compared with the string-binder. With hand-reaping six men (or women) cut the corn and laid it on the bands in sheaf-lots: one man came behind and tied the sheaves and set them up in stooks. Thus a gang of seven worked together and harvested about two acres per day. With the binder three or four men handle say twelve or fourteen acres daily: in other words, there is only one-tenth of the manual labour required now in reaping that was necessary only a generation ago, for the string-binder has revolutionized farming as a whole, and given the nations cheap bread. (P. McC.)

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