MISTY MEMORIES OF THRESHING

Threshing on Crandall's Farm

Threshing on Crandall's Farm. That's Glen facing camera. Picture by the Crandalls. Courtesy of Clinton C. Reed, R. R. 1,Teis, Alberta, Canada.

Clinton C. Reed

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R. R. 1, Teis, Alberta, Canada.

A psychiatrist has told us that a person's pets are a projection of his own personality. If this is true, perhaps it can also be said that the hobbies of an individual are a reflection of his values and attitudes toward life. Stamp collecting is the hobby of a traveler; coin collectors indicate an interest in history; Indian artifacts take us back into the misty past. Happy the man who has cultivated a hobby in his youth. It will make his declining years much more interesting for himself and others.

A hobby which involves much more effort and trouble, however, is the one collecting the memorabilia of pioneer farm machinery. A couple that has made a good start in collecting machinery of the pioneering era is Glen and Dorothea Crandall who farm northwest of  Ponoka, Alberta. Not only do Glen and Dorothea spend considerable time and money in acquiring these mementos of the past, but they put them in running order. They are also willing to go to considerable expense and trouble to share them with the public. To date they have obtained a George White steamer; a Rumely steel separator and an Avery wooden separator. These have all been completely reconditioned. They have several old gas tractors to tune and paint up as well as some other pioneer machinery.

Last fall the town of Ponoka put on a carnival of sales. The feature attraction of the week was Crandall's 80 horse power George White, steamer and their old thirty-six inch, steel, Rumely separator. These were lined up on the main street of the town, with two large trucks behind to catch the straw; a smaller truck beside the separator to hold the grain; and a rack load of bundles on each side of the separator. This paraphernalia of yesteryear attracted hundreds of people who lined the side-walks. Today's traffic had to give way and find another route.

The spectators reacted according to their generation. The children had a 'heyday,' perhaps I should say a 'strawday,' tramping down the straw in the trucks. To the old timers, it brought back a flood of memories. Small groups gathered to discuss 'way back when'. For two afternoons, the Crandall's shared their fascinating hobby with all who came to see, hear, and smell the romantic power of the pioneering era, steam.  

During Canada s Centennial celebrations, the Mecca Glen Consolidated School district put on a birthday party that lasted from Sunday to Thursday. On the eleventh of July, a picnic was held at the Red Deer Lake Recreation Center. The feature attractions were the Crandall steamer and the Bud and Ada Huston's team of oxen. The latter hauled in a rack load of bundles to the feeder of a locally owned separator. In order to bring this memento of a former era to the generation of today, it was necessary to load the steamer on their low-boy trailer and haul it nearly thirty miles. The Huston's brought their oxen from Delburne, a distance of forty miles. Neither party wished any remuneration for all of their expense and trouble, other than the satisfaction they must have felt in demonstrating that the 'good neighbor' spirit which prevailed in the pioneer days is not dead after all.

About a dozen old timers took turns pitching the bundles. I mentioned to a friend, Bill Fuerst, what a pleasure it was to be around an old steam engine; to smell once more the mix of steam and oil; to hear again the smooth power of one of the old 'monarchs of the plains.' My friend became quite sentimental over the old hulk and said, 'Why Clint, it is a part of us, it is in us, it is just the past brought back to life again.' As indeed it was.

What a flood of happy memories an old threshing machine can evoke. Sure, threshing was hard work but it was also a lot of fun, and somehow the memories of the fun have endured while the sweat, toil and disappointments have been forgotten. Every crew had its pranksters, and practical jokes were played on everyone. The greenhorn was the favorite victim. His education came hard and fast but he was usually equal to it and took his ribbing in the spirit it was given. Pity the person who could not take a joke on himself.

Many a time a tired bundle hauler went to sleep on his load during a breakdown and when he went to drive in, found out that his tugs had been un-hitched. Occasionally a novice on the job had the front wheels on his wagon exchanged with the back wheels, and it took him some little time to figure out what was wrong. Sometimes his lines were crossed with the check reins on the outside with the result that his team drove about six feet apart.

The separator man who didn't keep his eyes on the blower was in for trouble. Once a couple of jokers were at the feeder, when they noticed the straw pile getting close to the blower. Of course, they did not wish to appear to have any knowledge of the situation about to develop, so they turned their backs on the separator man who was sitting on the tool chest, on top of the thresher. After a few minutes everything ground to a stop. The machine was plugged from the feeder to the end of the blower. Result? One very angry and embarrassed separator man and the crew had a nice long rest!

After the advent of the gasoline tractor, one threshing outfit had an engineer, who, occasionally, on a warm day, took a cat nap, if everything was going smoothly. One of the bundle haulers considered that it was very unfair that the engineer could take a nap while the crew worked so hard, so he proceeded to set a match to the bundle that served as a pillow. It was a hot idea and it served its purpose!

The threshing crews worked as hard as they played and when bed time came they were often asleep before they hit the pillow. Sleeping accommodation was shared and there was no electricity on the farms in those days. One young crewman was told, 'You will have to sleep with the kid. He is in the room at the top of the stairs.' The thresherman was too tired to light any lamp. He fell into bed as usual, and slept the sleep of the just and the weary. When he lit the lamp the next morning, however, he was considerably perturbed to find he had occupied the same bed as his host's mother an old lady of ninety some years who was completely deaf!! It was a long time before the thresherman lived that mistake down.

Fortunate was the crew if the women who cooked for them were extremely competitive. One breakfast I remember was good old fashioned oatmeal porridge and rich cream. Then there was placed before us about a bushel of waffles and all the whipped cream you could pile on. Can you imagine what time the cooks were up in. order to cook for a crew of ten or twelve, and don't forget these were cooked on an old fashioned cast-iron waffle griddle over a hot stove.

Crews were made up of local youth and transient labor from the East who came out of harvest excursion trains. Many of the latter stayed in the West and established farms of their own with the hard earned dollars of thresher's wages. The farm women of the West, 'mothered' the transients along with the neighbor's son, bandaged cuts, gave good advice on how to spend their money, and looked after the crew as they would their own. No finer women ever lived and we will not see their like again. God bless them all.

And we mustn't forget the hired girl. Many a romance began during the afternoon coffee break, that point of the day when coffee tasted at its best. It didn't pay to get too fresh or rough with her as she had all the chance that was needed to put salt in your coffee, as well as chaff or thistles in your bed. Or even some strong laxative in a highly spiced dish, as I heard of in one case. To say the least, not a very high sense of humor.

And now there comes to mind the first threshing outfit that moved on to our farm. It was an old one lung stationary engine and a straw conveyer on the separator, both being pulled by horses. What a hero I thought the separator man was!

I wonder how many small boys have built a box with some shafts through it, discs cut off the ends of fire wood and spools for pulleys, binder twine and shoe laces for belts, and syrup for belt dressing. That is if 'Mom' wasn't looking. Then the old grindstone was hauled out to the garden as a source of power and the 'crew' threshed the corn, peas, and potato tops. Of course about three o'clock, everyone tracked into the kitchen with the request, 'Mom, we just gotta have lunch. We've been threshing.'

But why go on with incidents out of my own past when you who read will have more pleasure wandering down your 'Own Memory Lane?'

Yes, they are just memories now, an era has passed. While I never experienced it on the prairies, in mind's eye, I can see the hissing, steaming, smoking, 'monarch of the plains,' as it hitched up to the separator and then backed them both up to the cook and bunk house and started off for a new setting. They and their water and fuel wagons and all of the bundle racks, when moving to a new setting, looked like an institution on the move.

And do you know it was an institution, this community threshing outfit, and it added a great deal of color and character to our pioneering era. You might say that in a way it was being to a degree, 'Your brother's keeper.' It contributed to the overall outlook on life with the fabric of the whole district being enriched by it. A man's character was truly and accurately assessed after threshing with him for a few years. Many a life long friendship commenced in the harvest field. True, roaring rows did occur on some occasions, but they were the exception, not the rule.

The excitement and the fun of the threshing machine is gone forever. Its place has been usurped by the more efficient combine. Only in museums do we see the 'monarch of the plains,' with its attendant, cookhouse, bunk-house, and water wagon. When the threshing machine went, it took some-thing valuable with it. The self-sufficiency of the modern farm unit has contributed to the decline of community life in rural areas.

Community halls and churches are disappearing from the rural scene. Men no longer have to work together, so they show less and less desire to meet together for community projects.

We cannot turn back the hands of the clock, but we can live again, for a few hours at least, the happy 'days of yore.' Each fall, Glen and Dorothea Crandall hresh about one hundred acres of grain. They do this for two reasons. (1) for the straw, after all you can't beat a straw stack for the cattle in the wintertime, and (2) they enjoy sharing their hobby with others who are interested in pioneer machinery.

Are you interested? If so, comes next fall, sometime around the middle to the end of September, just dial 783-2037, and Glen or Dorothea, their son Miles, or daughter Carla, will tell you when to come and how to get to their farm. It's not a show, it's just threshing.