Early homesteaders used a "binder" to cut down the ripened grain before harvesting. This machine was a huge improvement over doing things by hand. A reel with boards rotated forward, pulling the grain toward the mower blades on the header. The machine wrapped a bundle of grain with twine. The operator collected about six or eight bundles, then stepped on a pedal that dropped them into the field.
Photo: Courtesy of Debbie Niemitalo Aho, taken by her grandfather Charles Niemitalo near Belden, North Dakota.
On the right of the above picture is a horse-drawn binder. In the foreground, a man is "shocking," putting bundles of grain into groups (the shocks) with the heads up to protect the grain until threshing time.
These next two photos were taken from the "Tales of Mighty Mountrail" book. Unidentified men in a shocked field, ready for the threshing crew to arrive. (The guy in the suit probably didn't do the work--it was a hot and dusty job.)
Putting the grain heads-up into cone-shaped "shocks" had a dual purpose. The heads of grain were protected from the damp ground, and they also cured and dried while in the shocks. Often a bundle or two would be draped across the heads to protect them from rain.
A binder at work. The binder was invented in 1872 by Charles Withington. The first binders used wire, which caused many problems. William Deering invented a binder that used twine, with a "knotter" on it.
The reel of wooden boards batted the grain toward the mowing blades, the "sickle bar." The cut grain fell onto a canvas conveyor which moved it back to the binding mechanism. Once tied with a piece of twine, the binder collected about six or eight bundles into a rack made out of rods, then the binder operator dropped them from the back of the machine.
A binder operator had a three-fold job. He guided the horses with the reins in his hands. He had to raise and lower the sickle bar to the right height for the ground. And he had to dump the bundles off after collecting a bunch, stepping on the pedal once to release them, and a second time to re-set it back to collecting bundles.
Combines replaced binders and threshing machines by the 1930's. My uncle John Niemitalo (Charles Niemitalo's son,) said that Fred Harstrom bought the first combine in the area. People thought it would never work for a harvester to go up and down the hills, since threshing machines needed to be on even ground.
(Thank you to my uncle John Niemitalo, and my brother Carl Kannianen--from information he learned from a neighbor Wayne Evans--for the information!)