RR1 Dutton, Ontario, Can. N0L 1J0
As I sit here reading stories about threshing with steam engines
and horses, my mind goes back to my childhood days. I am 39 years
old, so steam engines and horses were out of date, but threshing
machines and gas tractors were still in use.
How well I remember sitting on my grandfather’s knee
listening to his recollections of past threshings. My grandfather
was Clarence Patterson. He farmed in Dunwich Township, Elgin
County, in Ontario. I know he owned tractors and threshing machines
prior to 1925, but I can only remember him talking about the new
Allis-Chalmers tractor he bought in 1929 to run his McCormick
threshing machine. He would do custom threshing for farmers in the
area. Grandpa’s Allis-Chalmers was one of the largest tractors
in the area at that time. The hydro company hired him to pull the
hydro towers up into place for a tower line in the area.
My father, Albert Ford, and his brother Ron farmed together in
Elgin County. Although they owned land separately, they jointly
owned the farm machinery. Among this machinery was a
McCormick-Deering threshing machine. I guess it was about a 36′
throat. We threshed wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat and timothy.
My job during threshing was to drive the tractors in the field
while the men threw the sheaves on the wagon. I started when I was
about seven or eight years old (1959 or 60). I was very proud to be
a member of the crew and was treated that way most of the time. The
tractors I drove at that time were a Minneapolis-Moline, an Avery,
an Allis-Chalmers WC, and a 1957 model 950 David Brown (my
favorite). My legs were too short for me to reach the clutch on the
Avery, so Dad wired a 4′ wooden block to the pedal. Even then I
almost had to lie down on the seat to use that clutch.
The Minneapolis-Moline was nice to drive because it had a hand
clutch but was hard to steer. I liked the brakes on that tractor
also because the pedals went up and down instead of away from the
The WC model Allis-Chalmers was a bit of a problem for me to
drive because it took all the strength I had to hold the clutch in
with my foot and hold both hand brakes at the same time. Our land
is fortunately not very hilly.
The David Brown was much easier to drive. I felt pretty good
driving such a new and ‘powerful’ machine. It had a
two-stage clutch which could sometimes be a problem when baling
When dinnertime came (how could it be called lunchtime when such
a feast awaited?), we all gathered around the huge washtub of water
my mother and her helpers had lugged out to the yard. This was
always the time I became a kid again. I would splash water on the
men or steal their shirts and hats and generally behave like a
brat. I usually ended up being tossed in the washtub or at least
having my hat dipped in the water then put on my head. A dozen
threshers can change clear water to brown mud in a hurry during a
washup. I was often dirtier after this performance than before. I
loved every minute of it!
We usually started the threshing circuit at Roy Fraser’s
farm. Roy was always in a hurry to get things done. Sometimes the
crop was cut a little too early and the sheaves were extra heavy.
Roy owned a number of businesses in the area and had a lot of
people working for him.
I can remember sitting in his big car on the last afternoon of
threshing at his farm that first year. Very seriously he told me I
had done a good job for him and asked me how much pay I wanted for
the week’s work. I didn’t know what to say. I had never
before been paid for work in my life and hadn’t expected it
now. He reached in his wallet and pulled out three one-dollar bills
and went to the glove compartment and got two quarters from a jar
full of change. Three dollars and fifty cents for a week’s
work. I was RICH!
Until we started using a combine (about 1962), it was always
important to me for us to start threshing at Roy’s farm because
that money bought a lot of gum and candy for those long hot days in
The memory of those days of threshing will live on in my mind
forever. The value of hard work, of self-worth, and of sharing good
times and bad, are lessons I feel very fortunate to have learned
from working with family and friends. The knowledge will last a
I hope you have enjoyed my story. I have many more to share.