Alex McKee

Alex McKee of Hartley, Saskatchewan busily firing sheaves into the separator at the Milton, Ontario contest. Courtesy of George Shepherd, Western Development Museum, Box 1910, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

George Shepherd

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Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Perhaps our younger generation and the uninitiated might wonder why all the interest and excitement over the setting up contests. There is a very good reason for these competitions. In the early days of steam threshing with a crew of up to 25 men, the only time any money was made was when the grain bundles were actually going into the grain separator.

When a threshing outfit moved into a field of grain stooks, the engine pulling the grain separator would be unhooked and swung around ready to be belted to the separator. This is where speed and skill counted.

To be the owner of a threshing outfit gave the owner standing and prestige in his community. This was sometimes dearly bought for the operation of a threshing outfit was an extremely hazardous business. There could be wet weather, breakdowns, or sometimes a heavy stand of straw with very little grain. Small wonder that a great many owners of steam threshing outfits went broke at the job. In the early days of steam threshing many engineers secured a well deserved reputation by the speed with which they could make a set and have the outfit earning money in record time.

This tradition is carried out at the setting up contest at the Western Development Museum at Saskatoon, Canada. There is tenseness, excitement and drama at the contests, especially when the finals are being run off. The thrill has now been compounded by competitions between steam and gasoline outfits.

Fifteen years ago the Western Producer, one of the few weekly agricultural farm magazines still serving Western Canada, with a weekly circulation of 150,000, took the setting up contests under its wing by donating a shield for the annual contests. Each year the names of the four or five men winning the competition are inscribed on small plaques which are then attached to the larger shield.

Over the years the contests have become of National and even International importance. More rules and stricter observance of them have been added. During the competitions, a public relations man interprets the rules and describes the operations over the public address system to keep the onlookers fully informed. Briefly the rules are as follows.

Each team consists of four men and one rack teamster and one grain tank teamster. A team must consist of two registered thresher-men, steam engineer, a belt and separator man; also a fireman with steam papers and a field pitcher.

The contest starts with 60 sheaves laid out in a long row. The man assigned to stook the sheaves sets these sheaves up, six sheaves to a stook. The engineer then unhooks from the separator, swings around and belts up to his machine. The driver of the bundle wagon has the 60 sheaves loaded up on his rack, drives them to the machine where they are pitched into the separator.

Competent judges are stationed at different parts of the grounds to see that the rules are properly carried out and penalty points are deducted for any infringement of the rules. Sheaves, for example must be fed into the grain separator head first and one at a time. Infractions of the rules calls for deduction of penalty points and the team that finishes first in point of time may not always be the winner. The ideal time for each contest is ten minutes although this often runs to thirteen minutes elapsed time.

So much interest has been generated by these contests that the Western Producer Magazine organization at Saskatoon very generously donated the airfare tickets for 6 members of the Saskatoon group to fly down to Milton, Ontario to take part in a National Championship setting up contest there. The Ontario contest was greatly hampered by wet weather, but was staged with the Saskatchewan team from the West winning out from the Ontario team from Eastern Canada.

It is hoped that the Ontario team, thirsting for retaliation, will be coming to the Annual Pioneer Show at Saskatoon July 12 - 17 in an effort to take the Threshing Crown to Ontario. This will be well worth watching. Already there are rumors of competitors from the United States coming up to Canada during their Bi-Centennial Year with the fond hope of wresting the setting up contest from Saskatchewan, so, O.K., Saskatoon is prepared to take on all comers, and roll out the red carpet.

For those who may be considering coming to Saskatoon during our week long show, July 12 to 17 inclusive, we might mention that we have a Pioneer Threshermens Club of over 150 members. And these are the easiest men to get to know that you will find anywhere in the world. For the ladies we have the Women's Auxiliary to the Museum of well over one hundred members. With volunteers there are around 700 workers all prepared to make your visit to the show and museum a memorable one.

We are a grass roots organization where at our Museum you are only a stranger once. Cameras are welcome and meals can be obtained on the grounds. The welcome mat is out for you.

For further information write the Executive Director of the Museum, Gordon Wilson, or the Comptroller, Robert Unrah, or, if you wish, Dr. George Shepherd the Museum Curator. The address is Western Development Museum, Box 1910. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Be seeing you.