In chapters XIII-XV of Hamlin Garland’s Boy Life on the Prairie (Nebraska, 1961) the stacking of wheat is explained in enough detail for the book to be usable as an instruction manual, and he also describes the various technical changes wheat harvesting went through during his lifetime. (From when I was about six I just barely remember the kind of crew-operated threshing machine that left a big pile of chaff; it had replaced hand stacking and would soon be replaced by the combine). Stacking wheat was a difficult and critical job, and good stackers were in high demand during the harvest season, though not really afterwards, since they were just farmworkers after all.
Things were about the same in Bretagne:
My father would contract to cut certain fields of rye or oats, the only grains grown in our area at that time. When the grain was brought in, my father was much in demand for that particular job, setting the sheaves up in rounded stacks called groac’hel. He was a past master in the art of constructing such stacks. Stacks had to be very well built; because the winnowing was done entirely by flail, it took a long time, and if during that time it should rain heavily on poorly constructed stacks, the water would get inside and everything would be ruined, grain and straw.
Memoirs of a Breton Peasant, Jean-Marie DeGuignet, Seven Stories Press, 2004 (more…)