The Dufur Threshing Bee, which has featured horse-powered wheat harvest demonstrations every August for the past 35 years, has ended. Replacing the Bee this year is the first annual Vintage Dufur Days.
Like the Threshing Bee, Vintage Dufur Days will include field events and the harvesting and threshing of wheat — but with tractors and equipment made in the 1950s or earlier, rather than horses.
“We wanted to step away from the Threshing Bee name, because we no longer have the horses,” said Nancy Gibson, president of the Dufur Historical Society, in describing the reason for the change.
The horse-drawn equipment will not be in field operation, but will be on display at the museum nearby, and narrated tours will be held throughout the event.
In the field, machines will be doing the work of harvest to show how things were done not so long ago.
“There will be more tractors for the tractor pull, and more displays as well," said Gibson.
Mary Lou Bostick, a Dufur Historical Society board member, said that, although the horses were a big draw, interest in the tractor and mechanical displays has grown steadily over the years as well.
“We have a lot more interest this year in our ‘hit-and-miss’ engines, or ‘one lungers,’” she said. These are early single-cylinder gas engines that operate with a heavy flywheel and emit a loud “pop” at regular intervals. They have been displayed during the festival for a number of years, grinding wheat into flour and powering a water pump display.
The shift from horse to tractor has been gradual, with events like the tractor pull and parade featuring both, and this year Mike Macintosh, who organized and provided horse teams during festival for many years, decided he could no longer participate.
The Dufur Threshing Bee was started in 1971 by Everett Metzentine and Bob DePriest, a 1938 graduate of Dufur High School.
“Everett farmed with horses, mostly. He tried a tractor, but he didn’t like it," said Bostick. "As he was working his fields, people would stop along the road to watch, and that is what gave him the idea for the Threshing Bee."
Metzentine served as the “front man” or emcee of the event, walking visitors through the fields and explaining what the crews were doing, how the equipment worked, naming the many pieces that made up a typical working harness.
DePriest owned DePriest Farm Equipment in Dufur, which is an ongoing business now operated by his son. “He was the background man, he did a lot of the preparatory work,” said Gibson.
“He was the quiet one,” agreed Bostick. “Everett was always the front man.”
Macintosh joined the threshing crew as a young boy.
“Mike has been coming to the Threshing Bee, helping with the horses, since he was a small boy and he came with his dad,” said Gibson. “Then he came with his kids — he ran the header and his daughter ran the header box. His son drove horses as well.”
These days, Macintosh's daughter has married, his son is working as a diesel mechanic, and they couldn’t commit to the festival.
“It takes a lot of hands to get the horses ready, to get the equipment ready,” Gibson explained. “They all came down on Friday night, we fed them dinner there under the tents. It was kind of like a big family.”
"Mike was very close to Everett Metzentine, and it was a very, very hard decision for him,” she added. “But to be honest
he was tired, he had been coming for many, many years.”
Macintosh provided most of the horses for the Bee, and approved all those that came to participate. “The horses had to be trained for the equipment, they had to be ‘bullet proof’ and know what they were doing,” Gibson said.
“I’m going to miss that crew,” added Bostick.
Gibson said she will miss the sounds of the old Threshing Bee, mostly. “I’ll miss the horses, the sounds they made, the way they would swivel their ears when the teamster spoke, telling them to ‘step up’ or turn. And those horses knew just what to do.”
She will also miss the sound of the steam engine, which has also been retired for this year due to the cost of certification. “I love the sound as the steam engine would go down into the field, and the old thresher or separator would come to life. As they adjusted the tension on the belt, they would all watch Wayne Ryan (who operated the steam engine) and when the sound was right, he knew the belts were right and would give them a signal to start," said Gibson.
She will also miss the smell of the horses, wheat and steam engine as the wheat was threshed. “It won’t be the same as that old smell,” she said.
Bostick also said she would miss the sounds of the festival, especially the steam engine. “There is no sound like the sound they make, even before you see it, you know that’s a steam engine.”
In addition to crew problems, both the steam engine and the horses contributed to the cost of liability insurance, needed to cover accidents that might occur during the festival.
Harvest crews participating in the Dufur Vintage Festival will still be harvesting wheat, plowing, disking and running a binder and thresher, but the power will be supplied by a tractors.
The thresher will also be in use, but powered by a “PTO” or power takeoff wheel. The belt to the threshing machine will be shorter, however, because the old steam engine had a long belt so teams and wagons could unload into the thresher without the horses coming to close to the steam engine.
“We will be sewing sacks of grain as well,” Gibson said.
Cutting, binding and gathering the wheat will be done with tractors, wagons and pitch forks.
They are planning to have no equipment in use made after 1950 or 1952.
A PTO driven binder, that hasn’t been outside the barn since the 1940s, will once again — with the help of a tractor — make its way around the field.
Bleachers will be provided for those observing the demonstrations.
Wheat will be loaded into a wagon by a harvest crew armed with pitchforks, as before, but the wagon will be pulled by a tractor instead of a horse team.
Balancing the loss of horses, however, is a whole new world of agricultural history, Bostick noted. “That old equipment, that’s what I grew up around,” she explained.
Gibson agreed, and said she is looking forward to seeing the old equipment working, much of it owned by Mike Hulse of Dufur. Deanna Suddan of Ashbrook Farms, will be leading the threshing crews: She farms some of the fields west of the event site and is president of Oregon Women for Agriculture.
“Any way you look at it, horse or tractor, you are still keeping the farming history alive,” Gibson said.
“That was Everett and DePriest’s vision, to keep that farm history alive.”