That fall, after work was completed, I had been in correspondence with the J. I. Case manager at Regina, and through his efforts arrangements were made allowing me to go to the factory at Racine for the winter, to work on boiler construction. It was a real chance for my apprenticeship, and always will I remember that winter. It was the first time away from home and everyone was so good to me, which was typical of the older days. That was one winter that taught me a lot, and opened the way for two more to follow at the Case works. Later, in 1911, the winter was spent at the Reeves boiler factory.
Came 1908, and that year made up for the losses in 1907. The crop was equal to two average years, and even the fall weather was grand. Threshing started August 29 that year and we threshed until the September 21st storm without a break of any kind. At that time the weather stopped us for ten days and then we started again and ran steady until December 23rd. Everyone wanted a week off, so as the grain we were threshing was stacked, Dad decided to close down until January 2nd. By that time the weather had gotten cold, so arrangements were made with farmers to change work and we would put on a three fourths day running from 9 A. M., to 5 P. M. which was done until we finished on March 3rd, 1909. Ten days later I was called in for examination by the local Boiler Inspector and being successful, was then a full-fledged engineer with a certificate. Previous to that, I had operated on a temporary paper to comply with the act.
By this time, considerable interest was coming to the front in steam plowing, and although we had used the little Case for some light work, it was decided to go on until the end of 1909. By doing that it gave us the chance during the summer to attend the Winnipeg Exhibition where all types and sizes of every make engine, both gas and steam, was in operation, and by seeing them operate, would help us decide on what was needed or more suitable. This helped us pick out the first Reeves 32-100 cross compound.
The fall of 1909 came and that fall we had our first fire. It had rained during the night, just enough to make it tough in the morning at the start. The machine was at a new set at the edge of a coulee where there was a heavy covering of grass and the engine was really barking and using straw for fuel. A spark had gotten to smoldering in the grass and with the wind blowing it got a start. However, one thing that had always been done at the very start of each year, came in good this morning. Each man had been trained and told what to do and where to go. We always had at least two practice drills during the first week and our standing instructions were to double the men's pay that day to save property. So this morning as the fire gained headway, four men took the separator tongue and slowly pulled the machine out of the belt and then everyone turned to the fire. By that time I had the engine over by the bin and the pump did the rest. We lost half art hour in time, and half a load of bundles. Later on this same year, we had a second fire, but no toss except a stack of straw. The fire started right on top of the pile, and there was a lot of foxtail in the straw, so it went very quickly. But there were no losses.
That fall work was finished up by the end of November and as a great demand for grinding grain seemed to come, the old Case 20 was run into town and put in a shed and ground grain three days a week until the end of January in 1910.
Early in 1910, an order for a new Reeves 32-110 cross compound was given, to be followed later on toy an order for an Avery 'Yellow Fallow' 40 inch thresher. No we were in the plowing game. The first plows handled were 12 bottom Cockshutt breaking sod. By now was had two crews running night and day from midnight Sunday until midnight Saturday. The water was quite a problem, and sometimes we had to wash out on Wednesdays to keep our boiler is shape. On the average, one and three quarter tons of steam coal were used each 12 hour shift. We had 2 water teams and a coal team going and a blacksmith on hand, a cook in the cook house, and included a sleeping car with the outfit. Generally we would break new land until the end of June and then would back set two year old land for the next years crop.
Starting in 1910 a bunch of young engineers would get together and charter a sleeper from Regina to Winnipeg for the Exhibition week in July. Twenty of us always went together and the cost of the Pullman sleeper was $200.00 for the week. This gave us a porter and we could have the Pullman run in on a siding and have the whole week for $25.00 each which included all our fun.
This was worth a lot. It gave us a holiday and we could see all the latest to steam engines and were often given the opportunity to operate one under a test or plowing, or the brake test. Those were the days. If only they could be again. By the end of July, it was time to get ready for harvest and threshing. This year, we had the new thresher and a lot of flax to thresh. The wheat was different now. The old 'Red Fife' had given way to Marquis, an earlier grain but hardier to separate. We had bought a new thresher to go with the old Case steamer and used it on small jobs in the districts of parkland nature and kept the big thresher on larger jobs. The seasons by now were shortening up as many farms were purchasing outfits to do their own work and gas engines were coming to the front. The old Hart Parr and Rumley 30-60 were starting to show up in ever increasing numbers.
The following years of 1911, 1912 and 1913 were the last of the top notch years far steam breaking up of raw prairie sod. They were all much the same. Each year saw improvements in engine performance and boiler construction came to a higher standard. The tractor engine with cut steel gears in enclosed cases, boilers with 175 pounds of steam were coming out by 1914 and were general in 1915 and on. The engines were easier handled in the field. In the early years when we started the hard grind in the spring, for the first week, a mans shoulders and neck were so sore from the steering, there seemed no rest and then your fit and hard for the summer. By this time most of us younger men had considerable experience not only in field work, but in. general upkeep and general overhaul and maintenance work. Nearly all engines were fitted up with electric lights and good headlights for night work. I still have one of my old acetylene headlights with tank and burner. I remember well one night while plowing with an Avery 30 the headlight went out for the want of carbide. As it was moonlight, and the plowing was a full mile, I thought I would make another round. The sod was gumbo and heavy. I came upon a spot where an old flax stack had been. Before realizing it, all 14 plows had a roll of old stack bottom four feet high under them. The rest of the night was spent pulling those plows backwards over a section'.
The year of 1914 had come in after a good winter and an early spring gotten the crops away to a good start. One fairly good job of 1120 acres of back-setting and seeding to flax had been done, and the summer was hot. We still used the steamer and a 30-60 Rumley Oil Pull for summer-fallowing. The Exhibition that summer was a grand one. and we all had a real time. Little did we realize that for many of us it was the last time we would be together.
On the morning of August 4th when the mail came, it stunned everyone. The great red headlines--WAR. It seemed to knock our world all to pieces.
As nearly every one of us young men had taken some form of military training we decided to go in a bunch. Forty-six boys all went up to Regina and all were accepted but given leave to so back and finish the threshing.
From then on our lots changed. During the next four and a half years, often' did I long for the days that we all knew were likely gone for good. In all the time we were away, each in dice rent branches, some in infantary, artillery and later in air force, I know it came to mind so often with all the boys as it did me; we had one thing in common, that every one could cherish in memory-the good old days.
And so when those of us who returned home, only seven out of forty six, we found that after all we were not too unsettled, as many were, to start where we left off, although it was so much harder for war did take its toll of our strength. But during those years we could still smell that grand old steam and oil. And it was good! But on returning in 1919, the world picture had changed.
And so, in 1920-21 and 22, we still did some threshing with steam, but only for about three weeks. But the plows had been put in a corner for good. It was small outfits now and nearly all gas.
However, in 1923 and 1924, we still bad a good run for threshing. In 1924 we rolled for 47 days and that was the end of the good run. In 1925, I went out to Kindersley and threshed there with a Waterloo steamer for 30 days. When the outfit pulled in that fall it brought to an end a span of threshing years I do like to look back on now.
One fact, each year has had some compensation for the experience in steam still gives me a living. Each year has had an opportunity to build up a business line in boiler repair work of all kinds. Since the Alberta oil fields opened up there has been a good demand for all the good old traction engine boilers. Many lovely engines have been dismantled and the boilers only are now in use.
Now it brings to a close one of those times in life that will ever be dreamed of, and a real pleasure to know that all the men who had a hand on a throttle and felt the glory and pride that came to every one who beard his engine pant its way down the long furrow, and felt the throb of an engine under the belt or even heard the crack of a water glass go; all these things come to the one family, the traction engineers.
Possibly the traction engineer is much the same as an old soldier. 'He has seen a day of glory and now the day is done, in time he just fades away.'
It is with that thought in mind that I would like to pay tribute to a magazine that strives, and is, doing a good job to keep the spark alive. Good luck to it, and to every man who has shared in the part, and especially to women who so nobly helped. They were wonderful.