A boilermaker from the Case factory
In 1902 the early harvest had started on the western plains of Saskatchewan, or at that time known as the North West Territories of Canada. The days were those such as one saw only on the great open plains. Each day a blue haze seemed to hang over everything in the quiet fall air which was hot and dry. The crops were good, and everyone was doing their best to get them cut and stacked for, in those days, the 'Red Fife' wheat was a late variety and threshers were scarce which meant long delays at times between cutting and threshing.
So it happened that year that, as a school boy of 11 I had a chance to be one of the men. To drive the binder each day was wonderful, and then came the stacking. That time always meant days of real sport as well for the wild game was on the wing south. Great flocks of geese and ducks came into the fields and generally each late evening or early morning would mean a shoot such is not known now. Quite well can I remember the whooping cranes. It was a common sight to see a flock in their dance which always was in a circle and would last for an hour or so.
However, that year after the grain was all stacked, heavy rain set in and made the season miserable for a while and then it turned cold and the ground froze up in October for the winter, but no snow.
It was one of those sharp October days that Dad stated we would go and look for a thresher to come as soon as possible. That was a day long to be remembered. We had driven with a team and wagon to where we could see one working and arrangements were made for it to come later in the week. It was a small outfit with a straw carrier and horse power.
A week later it moved in and that morning Dad told me to take my place with another man to 'back' straw away. What a thrill! Now I was a thresherman! The days seemed all too short as they slipped by and then one morning, a man who cut bands wanted a change, so that was the next step up, and I finished up at that place until the district was threshed. By then the weather had turned cold, and when I had to stay home and do the Chores for Dad, the time seemed to go slow.
By the next fail things had changed considerably. The thresher that year was a new J. I. Case hand feeder and straw carrier, but a 15 hp. portable steam engine burning straw. That is when life began. By then, as most boys raised on a farm, I was strong and a good size for my age. ('Regular hours and good food always show' is an old proverb.
The threshing had started, and with it I started cutting bands and the odd time would feed by hand after being shown the way to reach for the bundle and then swing it up from underneath to keep a steady, even flow of grain going in and avoid slugging. However, my mind was continually on the engine. That is where I wanted to be as soon as possible. The chance came at last when the fireman took sick. It was for a short time but it was a start. That was when I learned to fire with straw.
The same machine came in 1904 and 1905 and while it was in the district, I fired and hauled water, and oiled the thresher, cut bands and was generally handyman. But in 1906, the break came. Dad and an uncle bought a new thresher. A Case 32-54 thresher with feeder and gear drive blower and 20 hp. engine. I was to learn how to run it!
That year, on September 5th, we started. The engineer was a boilermaker from the Case factory. From then on, threshing was one event looked forward to each year. For 58 days that year we threshed. Our sleeping quarters were a 10x15 tent and as the weather turned colder, two men would set up the tent and get everything in it and warm before night, whenever we moved to a new job. The hours then were threshing from 6 A. M. to 7 P. M., every weekday and wash the boiler every Sunday. Many a stinging, cold finger we would get on that job when the weather was cold.
I think the memories of 1906 will ever be with me for several reasons. I remember well what it feels like when I would get lost going out to find the engine in the morning, for in those days we often moved after dark to a new farm and would leave the machine often a mile or more from any buildings. As we slept in a tent, it was set close to the farmers home.
Often at nights when we were down in the Qa' Appelle regions you could hear the wind at night moaning in the tree tops. There seemed to be something weird about it. In those days, prairie fires were still common and how we all watched the reflection on the sky a night. It generally worked out as the Indiana used to say. If the reflection was low on the horizon, it was three nights away, and if the reflection was high, only one night. Often, every man was called by the Mounted Police to go to save property. There were the odd times, it would rain enough to stop work a day and the old rule was 'Threshers, you dig the potatoes,' or pay your board. But it was always fun. Everyone turned in and did the job in a hurry, and then off to town for a frolic. The bunch always went together.
A man earned his pay in those days. Wages were low. One dollar to a dollar twenty-five a day and board. Of course, we did get some overtime for extra work. Many the night in later years, the young engineer would have to roll out of a warm bed and into a hot fire box take out the brick arch where burning straw and choke in the ashes and heat and then roll flues so you could go the next day. or help the separator man run a new bearing by lantern light for in those days, there were no roller bearings, just the solid babbit type.
There were so many things that were hard, and then when it was over for the year, and everyone had gone home, there always seemed to be a great lonliness take you for days. The rush and excitement, long hours and the great meals we had, all gone for another year. No one could deny that there was a fascination about the work, that nothing else could supply.
However, that year is one never to be forgotten. On the morning of November 18th, I got up as usual to fire up at 4 A. M. When I stepped out of the tent the ground had several inches of snow on it. The storm had just started and for three days and nights it howled and kept getting bitterly cold. When it broke on the morning of November 21, there was three feet of snow, and it was 30 degrees below zero. The engineer had drained the boiler the first day of the storm and we had put everything in shape as far as possible. That ended the threshing until the next May when we put in 22 days more to finish up wheat and oats in the stack.
The winter of 1906-07 was a terrible one for the stock men. Whole herds of cattle drifted ahead of the storm and were found in the spring where they had frozen, standing in the snow, and were then covered over. The fall of 1907 had good promise, but the spring had been late. The. crops were late and still
green. On August 11th, a full moon came in and after three days of cool and cloudy weather, it cleared and that night 8 degrees of frost came. The second night 11 degrees were registered. It was a great set back. There was no threshing that fall, Most of the fields were cut for feed to carry the stock over the winter and burned off in the spring.