Threshing! Few words from the early western Canadian
agriculture experience bring back more memories than this one. Although the work
was hard and the hours long, memory has softened those aspects somewhat,
choosing to relive the excitement and teamwork and the flowing grain kernels
that were the product of the farming year.
When settlers came to Alberta to farm after 1900, they
came to grow grain. Fanning out onto 160-acre homesteads, they planted wheat and
oats and barley and watched them ripen under the summer sun. While most could
purchase or borrow small and less expensive agricultural implements like walking
plows or mowers, threshing equipment was another matter. Threshing machines
(also called separators) were expensive, and needed a fair bit of power to keep
them working. Spending scarce resources on expensive machinery that would only
be used a few days a year just did not make sense.
There were several solutions to this problem. One was to
hire a custom operator with a large kerosene- or gas-powered tractor and a
separator to do the threshing. But the most enduring, and the solution that
lives most vividly in the settler's memory, was the custom steam thresherman,
who brought his steam traction engine and his separator to the farm to do the threshing. Farm families paid the thresherman a set rate per bushel of threshed
grain, fed the workers, and, of course, helped out, too. The custom steam
thresherman dominated the grain harvest in Alberta from about 1905 until into
the 1930s, and did not disappear completely until the 1950s.
Patricia Myers. When the Whistle Blows: Steam Threshing
in Alberta. n.p.: Friends of Reynolds-Alberta
Museum Society and Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, Historic Sites and
Archives Service, 1992. With permission from
of Reynolds Alberta Museum.