64 Gourok Ave Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada B2X 2W8
‘Hae ye ever driv afore?’ Or to translate from the
farmyard Scottish dialect, ‘Have you ever driven a car at some
I of course answered, ‘Och aye A’ve driv offen in the
boss’s oul’ Morris.’ Or, in modern English, ‘I have
been allowed to drive my employer’s Morris car.’
The questioner was the owner and operator of the local threshing
mill and he was inviting me to drive his car to the next farm where
we would be setting up to thresh several stacks of oats. I got into
his old Vauxhall car, and after two or three attempts, managed to
get it on the road to the farm we were going to work.
My total driving experience at that time was sitting on top of a
double decker bus and putting my foot on an imaginary clutch and
moving the equally imaginary gearlever into the first gear
position, and then with considerable adroitness managing to take
off with the appropriate movements of feet and hands, all the time
trying to think of what the real driver was doing in the seat
directly below me.
That same day, because of my new job with the threshing mill and
my new employer’s poor eyesight, I was destined to put the
traction engine in the correct position to be able to get the belt
on the drive pulley. To my great astonishment, I was able to do
this on the very first try. From then on, for a whole winter, it
became my job to set the mill and baler up, and also on occasion to
drive the complete outfit from one farm to another.
The rig consisted of a traction engine followed by a threshing
mill followed by a baler, and attached to that was either a living
van or the owner’s Vauxhall car.
In Scotland the engine was a Burrell and the thresher was a
Ransomes, Simms and Jeffries, and behind that was a baler to bale
up the straw.
If the grain to be threshed was oats, most of it was for
consumption on the farm, as it was rolled into a meal and mixed
with rolled beans and bran etc. to make a 16 to 18% mixture for the
If we were threshing wheat, then the bags were what was known as
railway bags and when full weighed 280 lbs.; we often had to carry
them and load them on a truck to deliver to the railway.
When threshing rye, the straw was more valuable than the grain,
so when feeding the thresher it became important to make sure that
all the heads of the sheaves were pointed in the one direction. Rye
straw had two main uses: because it was so effective a water
repellent it was used for thatching houses, and because it was not
easily compressible it was also used to cover wine bottles to stop
them from hitting one another and possibly losing their
When the mill moved to a farm to thresh, the farmer would call
on the neighbors to either send over a man, or sometimes a man with
a horse and cart or a tractor and wagon, if the stacks were not all
handy to the barn.
The crew consisted of one man on the engine to fire and water it
and one man on the thresher to feed it, with two cutters cutting
the binder twine for the feeder. Two men or sometimes even three
were at the grain end where grain was sorted out to first, second,
and third quality. One person bagged the chaff, which was always
used for cattle bedding, and if the straw was to be baled it would
need a feeder, two people on wires and one, two or three to stack
bales according to the distance they had to be moved.
If the straw was to be bundled, and oat straw often was because
it was fed to the fattening cattle, then a team to stack it was
The farmer’s wife supplied mid-morning tea and scone break,
a full dinner, then an afternoon break around three o’clock;
the helpers from other farms left about half past four to go home
and do their own chores.
The mill crew then got their rig on the road and moved to the
next farm and set up so that on the following morning all we had to
do was get the belt on and steam up.
I still love steamers and traction engines, but thanks be to Him
who guides our lives I no longer have to slave like I did 45 years
ago. Sorry, I didn’t own a camera in the 40s, so no photos.