64 Gourok Ave Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada B2X 2W8
'Hae ye ever driv afore?' Or to translate from the farmyard Scottish dialect, 'Have you ever driven a car at some earlier time?'
I of course answered, 'Och aye A've driv offen in the boss's oul' Morris.' Or, in modern English, 'I have been allowed to drive my employer's Morris car.'
The questioner was the owner and operator of the local threshing mill and he was inviting me to drive his car to the next farm where we would be setting up to thresh several stacks of oats. I got into his old Vauxhall car, and after two or three attempts, managed to get it on the road to the farm we were going to work.
My total driving experience at that time was sitting on top of a double decker bus and putting my foot on an imaginary clutch and moving the equally imaginary gearlever into the first gear position, and then with considerable adroitness managing to take off with the appropriate movements of feet and hands, all the time trying to think of what the real driver was doing in the seat directly below me.
That same day, because of my new job with the threshing mill and my new employer's poor eyesight, I was destined to put the traction engine in the correct position to be able to get the belt on the drive pulley. To my great astonishment, I was able to do this on the very first try. From then on, for a whole winter, it became my job to set the mill and baler up, and also on occasion to drive the complete outfit from one farm to another.
The rig consisted of a traction engine followed by a threshing mill followed by a baler, and attached to that was either a living van or the owner's Vauxhall car.
In Scotland the engine was a Burrell and the thresher was a Ransomes, Simms and Jeffries, and behind that was a baler to bale up the straw.
If the grain to be threshed was oats, most of it was for consumption on the farm, as it was rolled into a meal and mixed with rolled beans and bran etc. to make a 16 to 18% mixture for the dairy cattle.
If we were threshing wheat, then the bags were what was known as railway bags and when full weighed 280 lbs.; we often had to carry them and load them on a truck to deliver to the railway.
When threshing rye, the straw was more valuable than the grain, so when feeding the thresher it became important to make sure that all the heads of the sheaves were pointed in the one direction. Rye straw had two main uses: because it was so effective a water repellent it was used for thatching houses, and because it was not easily compressible it was also used to cover wine bottles to stop them from hitting one another and possibly losing their contents.
When the mill moved to a farm to thresh, the farmer would call on the neighbors to either send over a man, or sometimes a man with a horse and cart or a tractor and wagon, if the stacks were not all handy to the barn.
The crew consisted of one man on the engine to fire and water it and one man on the thresher to feed it, with two cutters cutting the binder twine for the feeder. Two men or sometimes even three were at the grain end where grain was sorted out to first, second, and third quality. One person bagged the chaff, which was always used for cattle bedding, and if the straw was to be baled it would need a feeder, two people on wires and one, two or three to stack bales according to the distance they had to be moved.
If the straw was to be bundled, and oat straw often was because it was fed to the fattening cattle, then a team to stack it was required.
The farmer's wife supplied mid-morning tea and scone break, a full dinner, then an afternoon break around three o'clock; the helpers from other farms left about half past four to go home and do their own chores.
The mill crew then got their rig on the road and moved to the next farm and set up so that on the following morning all we had to do was get the belt on and steam up.
I still love steamers and traction engines, but thanks be to Him who guides our lives I no longer have to slave like I did 45 years ago. Sorry, I didn't own a camera in the 40s, so no photos.