The foothills of the Cascade Range begin to close in on the railroad line, and the tracks and the river are soon boxed in between the shattered cliffs and the lichen-covered canyon walls. Through a fringe of trees, the stream may be glimpsed, its foam-streaked waters clear blue or chill green as the channel deepens. Approaching Thornton Creek, the valley widens slightly, and clumps of gnarled cedars appear among tangles of spiny devil’s-club. In the glades along the many brooks are deer fern sprays and the handsome blades of the sword fern. East of Thornton Creek, in clearings overgrown with brush, stand a few log dwellings, moss covered and primitive, built by miners for temporary shelter 40 or 50 years ago.
With hardly a break in the wheat fields the highway crosses Thorn Creek and continues toward the Snake River. Within the experience of the present generation of farmers a major transition has taken place in the methods of cultivating, seeding, and harvesting. Headers, binders, and threshing machines which puffed and snorted as they expelled the chaff from blowers into golden pyramids, marked a definite technological advance.
Large crews continued to be necessary, however, and unless a cook wagon accompanied the threshing outfit, the farmer’s wife, with the aid of extra help, still had to prepare during harvest time enormous quantities of meat and gravy, home-baked bread, potatoes, peas, and corn on the cob, apple pie, and coffee for the hungry harvest hands.
Then came the horse-drawn combine, which made its way along the slopes to the sound of cracking whips. Eventually, on the larger ranches, the one-operation, tractor-drawn thresher would cut its wide swath around the field, threshing as it goes, and pouring the grain into sacks, which were automatically discharged on the ground in piles of five or more. A few men performed the work that had formerly required the strenuous labor of a crew of a score or more, and the migratory harvesters, once known as “bundle stiffs,” had to seek other employment.