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Zistel bee threshes Ladino clover

Culver farmer Walt Zistel puts his 1953 thresher to work

by: Photo by Susan Matheny - Jim Hanson, left and Walt Zistel check on the threshing machine’s production as chaff and dust fly everywhere.

An old-fashioned threshing bee, featuring a crop of Jefferson County's once-famous Ladino clover, brought a gathering of friends to the Culver farm of Walt and Cindy Zistel, Sept. 10.
   Back when irrigation first came to the county, Ladino clover was a big money-making crop and nearly everyone raised it.
   Walt Zistel fired up his 1953 tractor, which powered the big belt running the huge threshing machine.
   "It's a 1953 Case thresher, the last year they built them," Zistel said, explaining parts are hard to find. "I borrowed belts from my friend Mike McIntosh in Terrebonne, who also has a threshing machine."
   McIntosh, Jim Hanson, and sons Randy and Jerry Zistel were on hand to help out, while friends Lyle Trautmann, Karen Hanson and Jerry Ramsey came to watch a piece of history in action.
   Zistel had never farmed with the thresher, but bought it at an auction.
   "He's a collector. There are things all over the place," wife Cindy said of their farm.
   "I think some of that comes from the Dirty Thirties -- you never threw anything away," observed Trautmann, referring to the Depression years.
   These days, Ladino clover is a rarity, but Zistel tracked down some seed at a Wilbur-Ellis store in the Willamette Valley.
   He planted and grew a half-acre of it, and when it was ripe, 83-year-old Zistel and his 82-year-old wife harvested it.
   "We loaded the cut clover onto two trucks by ourselves with pitchforks," Cindy Zistel said matter of factly.
   Zistel said he didn't choose to thresh Ladino clover for nostalgic reasons, but because that's what the machine was calibrated for.
   "This machine was set up for clover, so I thought I'd raise clover to put through it. You can't get parts for it anymore," he said, explaining it would need different sifting screens and parts to process other crops.
   At precisely 9:30 a.m., the mysterious, orange contraption sprang to life with a deafening roar and a multitude of whirling belts, wheels and levers.
   Randy and Jerry Zistel climbed a ladder to reach the top of the clover stack on the truck and fed the hungry mouth of the thresher with pitchforks.
   As the machine rumbled, separating out the seed, dust from the chaff flew everywhere, covering Hanson as he checked and adjusted levers. Whatever was happening inside remained a mystery, but somebody mentioned "knives."
   Suddenly, from the far end of the thrasher, a stream of bright yellow seed poured out of a spout into a large container, and by 10:45 a.m., it was all over.
   "It cleaned a lot faster than it loaded!" Cindy Zistel remarked.
   Last year, during a small trial run, they got a five-gallon bucket full of seed, but this year the yield was 20 gallons.
   Just like a traditional threshing bee, Cindy had prepared a lunch for the crew, which included sloppy Joes, chips, tomato slices, a fresh fruit bowl, baked beans, three kinds of cookies and lemonade.
   Her husband said he bought the thresher 15 years ago at an auction in Madras, and they think it previously belonged to Ramsey's uncle, Leslie Ramsey Sr.
   "I saw it and I thought I'd like to have one for a hobby. It's fun to see something like this that's old work," Zistel said with satisfaction.