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Steam Threshing

Threshing! Few words from the early western Canadian agriculture experience bring back more memories than this one. Although the work was back breaking and the hours seemed endless, 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 money 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 your 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 your farm to do your 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.