The Harvest of '95

Steam threshing

David Strong at the steam threshing.

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R.R. #3 Shawville, Quebec J0X 2Y0

Well folks, another year has rolled around and it sure is great to look back on 1995. We had a good summer, and the fall was not too bad either. The grain was a fair crop.

We had set the 19th of August as the day to thresh, and the day was great, not a cloud in the sky. Some of the boys from Ontario came over to help set up the machinery the day before we were to thresh. We had it all set to go for the next morning. It takes time to set up three complete steam threshing outfits, as you all know, getting water and wood all lined up. I had gotten wood out of a bush that had been cut out the year before. It was a pine bush and the limbs of the big pine were dry, with the bark hardly left on them. They sure made a hot fire for the engines. The grain had been cut ten days before and was in very good shape. We loaded some of the grain three or four days before we were going to thresh, and had the loads in the shed. Well, the boys started to show up at six-thirty a.m. to fire up. Ken Barber had smoke rolling out of all the engines by seven a.m. Ken looked after the Case engine. Ken, of course, is a Case man all the way.

Tom Quinell from Huntingdon, Quebec, was supposed to be at their Fair that day, but he sneaked away and landed up here in the morning to help. He's a real Case man, too. When they got going, they had the Case belted to the 28-48' International threshing mill. I saw three men pitching bundles into that outfit. Sure made that old Case snort! Tom, Ken and Bill Barie from Almonte, Ontario, were pouring the wood into that old Case. The smoke was something to behold. There were times I thought they had a chimney fire!

One lady came along with a little dog. It looked like a mop without a handle, so thought the three guys running that Case engine. They thought it should be put in a bird cage.

They were sure smoking up the place. Then Bill Barie from Almonte started helping David Strong from Perth, Ontario, to run the wooden-wheeled Sawyer-Massey portable engine. They had a real ball doing that. Sawyer-Massey engines are so easy to look after that they had nothing to do at all. Next year, I think we will set up a cot for each of them. The rest will do them good, I'm sure. David Strong has run the little Sawyer-Massey for four or five years now, and he does a real nice job of that, too.

Keith Miller from Eganville, Ontario, looks after the Sawyer-Massey traction engine, and he is one of the younger crew. Keith likes steam engines very much. I think Keith would like to get the Sawyer-Massey on the sawmill for a day. Keith always brings some wooden shims from the railroad. They have creosote in them and they sure make a smoke for the people taking pictures. Sometimes you can see the boys and sometimes you can't! But in all, these boys are a careful bunch and help make this threshing such a great success each year when they show up.

Getting back to the grain, this was an unusual year with big rains. Sometimes three inches of rain fell at once, making it hard to dry stooks, but we made it okay. We had a fellow from Ottawa, Ontario, Brian Farr, making a video of the day. He was there at seven a.m. and did a great job of the video. Now we have a history of threshing for years to come! I think the old threshing that we did should never be forgotten. It is something that is part of our past. It's where that loaf of bread came from, all the grain for our cows and horses, also the seed for next year's crop. It feeds a hungry nation of people, a definite part of our life. Threshing should always be part of our shows and fairs, anywhere there is old equipment on display. I can't think of a better way of showing our young generation how it all came to pass.

Just this year I had a fellow from Montreal. He was a lawyer and a notary. He didn't know anything about threshing. Anyhow, he knew what a farmer should look like. So, he went and bought a new pair of coveralls, new straw hat and a new pair of boots. He asked my daughter, 'What can I do?' She said, 'I'll get you a fork and you can pitch sheaves.' So, she sent him up on the wagon and he got a hands-on chance at threshing right then and there. I am sure he will never forget that day!

We had a great crowd at the threshing. We served 400 meals and had music all afternoon and evening until 12:00 p.m. We had people from British Columbia, Canada, also from down east in New Brunswick, and nearly all of the provinces of Canada. We made a lot of new friends and saw a lot of old friends as well. What better way is there to have a holiday? Work and play do go together after all! I had set up the sawmill for the day and I was running it with my 55 Massey-Harris gas tractor. I didn't have time to put on a steam engine for power, but it made a nice showing. We had lots of help with the sawing. I had the tops out of that bush that was cut out the year before and we sawed some nice boards out of the stuff too. Maybe someone will want to build a picket fence or something. Too bad to let the logs rot in the bush. Next year maybe I will get a steam engine on the sawmill. I will send some pictures of all this. As the saying goes, 'a picture is worth a thousand words.'

Here goes with some old stories as told to me many years ago. A neighbor who lived beside me for many years told me about the old Sawyer-Massey traction engine that I have. It came to Alex McLaed's at Bristol, Quebec, in about 1904. He did custom threshing and barn threshing at that time. That means all the grain was drawn in with horses and wagons, put in the barn in the summertime until some date in the fall, when your turn would come up to thresh. Maybe it would be in October or November, or even as late as a few days before Christmas. This neighbor, Mr. Harry Wilson, who lived a mile or so from me, said that if Alex McLaed came to thresh for him, it would be a four mile trip to Harry's from Bristol. Harry said it snowed about one foot of new snow and Alex had a hard trip with the engine and mill. Steel wheels and snow don't mix too well. This was very late in the fall, maybe in December. Harry said they had quite a time getting the mill placed in the barn.

I can remember my mother talking about threshing in her area 80 years or more ago, barn threshing, too. She said they would come to thresh in the morning and would come for breakfast. And all the men walked there across fields or through the bush to get there, always before daylight. They all came with lanterns. They would thresh from daylight until dark. She said the women served breakfast. After the men went out to work, the women would get the dishes washed by hand. Then they would have to clean each man's lantern for him to use to go home. The men would thresh until dark, have supper and they would chat for a while in the evening. Then they headed for home. Quite a difference from stook-threshing, isn't it?

One must remember that these women had only wood stoves to cook on, no 'fridges', and had to go outdoors to pump water from a well, all by hand. And we think that times are hard now!