WITH STEAM THE SEED WAS SOWN


| November/December 1985



Reeves compound engine

Melvin Hellwinckel

Box 55 Gray, Saskatchewan Canada S0G 2A0

In a letter to IMA concerning the plight of farmers in southwest Minnesota who have been forced to sell out because they were unable to finance their operations for 1985, Mr. Meluin H. Hellwinckel, 1022 North Elm, Luverne, Minnesota 56156, reminded us of an article in the March/April 1974 issue of the magazine on a similar situation in the 1930's. A portion of that article is here reprinted for the inspiration it may provide those farmers who are experiencing financial difficulties.

During the dry and dust laden years of the thirties, Saskatchewan farmers were losing ground, not only through soil drifting but financially as well. The general crop failure in 1937 was a final blow that forced many farmers to leave the land and their chosen occupation. The stories of those who were able to remain, often by sheer will power, uncanny ingenuity and Herculean effort, almost sound like fairy tales when recounted today.

One of those stories concerns Mr. George Routledge of Delisle, Saskatchewan. Early in April of 1938, George came to the Department of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan to discuss his problem with us. He had been one our regular visitors, who had become accustomed to talking over farm mechanization problems with us. I must confess that Professor Evan Hardy and I were always happy to sit down and work with people like Mr. Routledge, because quite often we learned more from the discussions with practical farmers than they learned from us.

George Routledge and his boys had been farming on a rather large scale, requiring three McCormick-Deering 22-36 tractors for power. Their 1937 crop was a total failure due to drought. They did have enough seed to sow the 1938 crop and they could get their machinery in shape to do the job BUT they did not have enough money to buy fuel and oil for the three tractors. They could not get credit at the bank and the oil companies would not sell them any more fuel without cash payment. They could get relief vouchers to purchase fuel for a very small part of the farm that the relief officers ruled was the maximum amount to give any farmer. George felt that the relief offer was ridiculous and that all of the well prepared summer fallow at least should be sown to crop.

He told us that he would lie awake at night thinking about the problem and had realized that they had an abundance of good soft water from the spring run-off, they had three old stacks of wheat straw from the threshing of the 1936 crop, they had plenty of help and the old 1912 Reeves Cross Compound 40-140 steam engine was in the shed where it had been in storage for the past twelve years. George was pretty sure that they could get the old steamer in shape to run again, but wondered, would it be too heavy to roll into the soft fields in the spring of the year? Would it pack the soil so much that nothing would grow behind it anyway and, even if it could be made to work, could we hitch his three ten foot one-way discs behind it so that they would work right?