Roadside Revelations

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A McCormick-Deering tractor

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A traveler in the Canadian prairie lands is likely to see dozens of modern combines working alongside the highways as farmers harvest their fall crops. The process of harvesting grain before World War II, however, was a much different process. Crews of men with threshing machines did the work of separating the wheat from the chaff.

Today, those old threshers have all been retired with the exception of the special few that perform at threshing days in rural areas. These lucky threshing machines demonstrate the mechanical methods of processing grain crops to those too young to have witnessed that kind of event first-hand, or they remind those of us old enough to remember how things used to be. Still other threshing machines have found their way into museum collections.

Surprisingly enough, some of those old machines are still parked just out of sight around remote prairie farms. Others are even prominently displayed beside front gates to farmyards. A few have even taken on a new job.

Some of those threshers still sit along the Trans-Canada Highway just outside Virden, Manitoba. One such thresher, accompanied by a McCormick-Deering tractor, is parked prominently on display by a retired farmer. The tractor and thresher are lined up, and the long drive belt is squarely connected between them. The wheels of the tractor are blocked, and as motorists quickly fly by along the highway, it appears as though the unit is simply waiting for a wagonload of grain to thresh.

On closer inspection, however, a few repairs are in order before any such work could proceed.

The threshing rig's owner has now passed away, and the display remains in place awaiting a new caretaker. A neighbor recalls that the tractor had been in the retired farmer's family for many years, but finding anymore information about the thresher's past is close to impossible. No model number is attached to the tractor, and even less information is found on the thresher.

About 15 minutes west along the same highway, another thresher found alongside the road has spent several years holding up a billboard advertising a gas station and campground. The antiquated thresher served its purpose long ago, and some enthusiastic advertiser apparently thought it might attract curious rubberneckers to read the billboard. Unfortunately, it didn't attract enough shoppers, because just like the thresher, the station has now been out of business for a few years.

This thresher is a Hart-Cooper. It's owned by a local automotive and agricultural museum. The museum used the thresher for revenue by renting it out as a backdrop for an advertisement. No one from the museum has come by to pull it home yet.

Parked just on the edge of Horest Schmidt's acreage near Moosomin, Saskatchewan, another example of these solid, old machines exist. Horest purchased the old Case thresher at an auction near his home. This machine is in remarkably good condition. It's just one of several antique farm machines this collector has acquired over the years. Although threshing machines are harder to come by as time passes, they continue to show up at farm auctions on occasion.

This past June, a McCormick-Deering threshing machine - complete with a full set of drive belts - was auctioned near Wawota, Saskatchewan. The thresher was also in remarkably good condition, but even the most intact of these machines has a limited market today. This one only sold for $42.

The quality of North American workmanship in the early 20th century is apparent in each and every threshing machine that still remains in remarkably good condition today. It's important that when threshers are found alongside roads and pastures that they are saved and restored for posterity, not left by the wayside for cheap billboard supports or left to rust and rot.

Hopefully, collectors and enthusiasts will continue to search out and care for these old relics of the threshing days. With good care, these machines will still be around for many more generations to participate in local fairs and old-iron shows, showing new and old generations alike what farm life was like at the turn of the century.

- Contact antique farm equipment collector Scott Garvey at P.O. Box 452, Moosomin, SAS, Canada S0G 3N0.