| October 2004

Fall brings sweet memories of Alberta threshing days

Mid-September was threshing time in eastern Alberta. We could always tell it was coming by the signs. From the very first of September, the morning air became crisp. Many mornings the frost turned the green grass a foggy white, while fog hung in the hollows in back of the barn.

The leaves on the old poplar tree by the windmill had begun turning yellow and buckskin brown. The breeze bore the odor of freshly cut barley; oats and wheat mixed together like a Mulligan's stew. Each had its own distinct perfume, yet the fragrance was never separable. In the fields, long windrows of shocks stood at attention like dumpy little soldiers. Each shock was golden yellow - a color that made them look appetizing and edible to me even as a boy.

Everything had a sense of urgency on the farm, and farmers moved as though expecting the next north wind to bring snow. Winter was fast closing in.

In the kitchen of the old farmhouse, Mom was busy making pies, cakes and cookies for the day the threshing crew would arrive at our small farm. I loved to sidle into the kitchen, drawn by the aroma that kicked my boyish taste buds into full bloom. 'May I have one of these?' I asked before running off again.

One Monday morning at 5:30 a.m., Dad hitched our horses - Bill and Jess -to the hay wagon and headed off to Greg Waters' place to begin threshing.

The threshing crew

A threshing crew usually consisted of nine men, with nine teams of draft horses. Like the men who drove them, the horses came from every breed -there wasn't a thoroughbred among them. Most horses came fresh from the pasture ready for work. But, for the first day or so, the noisy threshing machine always spooked one team of 'old faithfuls.' Then the scared horses hightailed it to the far end of the field, running over dozens of shocks as they galloped.