Early Threshing In Western Canada


| September/October 1969



American Abell

The 28-80 American Abell at the Western Development Museum at Saskatoon. The Museum also has the Big Brother American-Abell weighing 25 tons in operating order, rated at 32-120 horsepower.

Saskatoon,Saskatchewan, Canada

I came to the Province of Saskatchewan in the spring of 1908 as a boy of 18. We were a family of father, mother, six boys and one lone sister, and we were living not too far from London, England. We were going to emigrate to the Colonies and decided that if we went to Canada instead of Australia, we would be able to get back for holiday trips every two or three years. It was sixty years before I did get back as reported in the Iron Men for Nov-Dec. 1968. Some of my most valued recollections of the homestead days of over 60 years ago were of working on the big steam threshing outfits.

There is no question but that when the steam locomotive came off the rails and on to the broad wheat fields of the plains area of North America that a new and astounding page of history had been turned. As the threshing outfits moved from farm to farm, first the tread power, then the horse-powered sweep and then the portable steamers, the outfit of men usually boarded with the farmer. By the early 1900's threshing had become a highly organized, if at times a slightly disorganized business and a cook car and sleeping caboose for the men had been added to the outfit.

Then, with the coming of the smaller gas tractors to the farm and threshing fields, by the 1910 period, the smaller crews could be boarded quite handily by the farmers wife again. And most farmers wives set as good a table as they could, sometimes under pretty primitive conditions. All praise to those early homestead women.

In the fall of 1912, I was working on a gasoline threshing outfit a few miles out of. Calgary, Alberta. At one place, we were threshing for one of those homestead misfit families; a painter and artist just out from Belgium. This man had the wrong idea about threshing. In order to cut the cost of the threshing bill, they cut on the food and we young harvesters were half starved.

On one occasion we came in for the evening meal and the lady of the house came staggering in with a large granite saucepan which she proudly stood in the center of the table. Thinking the tide had turned and that this was a large savory stew of beef and potatoes, one of the crew lifted the lid and peered in, hopefully. To his horror, there was nothing but a thin watery soup with one onion and a small carrot floating helplessly around. The shock was too much. He let the lid fall back on the saucepan with a resounding clang, in desperate frustration. The owner of the outfit was a great chap and sooner than have a row with the artist and lose the job, he used to drive to Strathmore and buy supplies there which we feasted on in the bunk shack.