During the 19th century in the Midwest being a successful farmer meant that you had a successful wheat farm. Every place Charles Ingalls established a farm he was growing wheat.
In Little House in the Big Woods they describe harvesting wheat with a cradle (a scythe with wooden spokes to catch the wheat as it was cut), but both Pa and Father Wilder were interested in new technology so they go the new equipment as they could afford as it came out. This is harvesting with a reaper.
Wheat Today and Yesterday
In old photos you often see wheat in shocks. In order to build a good shock you need taller wheat than is commonly grown today. As there is less need for straw the stem is waste and takes extra nutrients and water to grow so wheat has been bred to be shorter.
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales striving to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.