Mighty engines, which in bygone days performed staunch service on Canadian farms, now help tell the story of the past at the splendid Ontario Agricultural Museum at Milton, an easy jaunt from Toronto.
When you go, allow yourself plenty of time for a full visit. There is a tremendous amount to see and enjoy, to study and to chat about.
On 80 acres, the museum displays 15 steam traction engines and about 100 gasoline tractors; stationary gas engines, and much other machinery and equipment.
You can see early Ontario farm homes, moved in from their original isolated locations, and furnished in the style of their times; costumed guides talk about furnishings and customs.
You can walk through a tremendous octagonal barn, a landmark in rural construction, housing many exhibits.
You can see a windmill with a diameter of 14 feet, the largest in the province.
You can study the evolution of farming from the early 1800s; view old time farm tools and re-created shops or offices of persons associated with the farm community, and have yourself a totally pleasant and informative time, at your leisure.
Curator, Peter M. Led with, a tall red-headed young man in a straw hat, conducted my wife, Margaret and me through the museum this past summer. Margaret grew up on a Montana ranch, so she was very familiar with much that she saw on the tour.
Steam traction engine collectors find this a very attractive showplace for their hobby. That goes for tractor and stationary gas engine buffs also. In tracing farm history, ample attention is given to machinery.
On the front lawn is a very well preserved Goodison threshing machine, 1928, made by the John Goodison Threshing Company, Ltd., founded in Sarnia, Ont., in 1881. It was donated by Glen Grice, Mississauga, Ontario. Also out front is a huge Wheelock stationary steam engine.
Among the restored engines is a Champion portable, made by the Waterous Engine Works Co., Brant-ford. Near it is a poster showing an engraving of an engine at work in a barn yard.
While we were there we watched Dave Hooton, restoration specialist, firing a 1912 Case 12 HP which was belted to a Massey grinder which had been converted into a speed jack. This was hooked up to a Vessot grinder made in Joliette and sold by International Harvester. Nearby was a huge Sawyer-Massey in excellent condition.
One of the gas engines on the grounds was a real 'what is it?' Larry Healey, an expert, had said he never seen anything like it. He estimated year at 1900. It is a 3-valve job, about 8 HP, with wheel 36-42' in diameter, and a pendulum governor.
Many of the engines are housed under cover in barns built with bays, many with just one machine in a bay. This gives the visitor--whether he be an engine specialist or a city slicker--welcome opportunity for close-up inspections.
Memories come back for old-timers when they see the re-creation of an early harness maker's shop, or the interior of a veterinarian's office.
The museum covers six generaleras: Pioneer, Horse Power, Steam, Gasoline Tractor, Depression Years, and Power Farming.
Behind the scenes, we were deeply impressed with the care given to restoration of valuable farm machinery and artifacts. Led with said the museum was planning a seminar on restoration for the spring of 1982, and we urge readers to attend.
Restoration can be done the right way, or it can be bungled. Research is very important before an old machine or any other antique object is touched. And, if any work is done it should be performed with greatest care.
Robert W. Carbert is director of the museum, which looks to the future as well as to the past and the present. It is now merely a little over 8 years old.
The museum is open from mid-May until mid-October, 7 days a week, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. An admission fee is charged.