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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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Threshing, Part Four: Jobs

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In the early part of the 20th century, it was the farm family who cut and bound their own grain. But then they hired threshing crews to separate it so it could be shipped to market.

Threshing crews were large, and everyone had a specific job.

First was the engineer. He rose early to get the steam going in the engine that powered the threshers.

Under the engineer, as historian Pat Myers explains, came the crew’s next most important person, the man who ran the grain separator.

He adjusted the sieves and cylinders. He monitored the threshed grain to make sure there weren’t too many weed seeds sneaking through. He monitored the straw pile to make sure there wasn’t too much grain being discarded. He was constantly walking around the separator, listening, oiling, checking. And he also had to make sure that the men pitching the bundles into the separator were pitching at an even rate, so the separator wouldn’t clog.

The engineer and the separator man needed the help of a number of labourers to keep the steam engine and separator running. And to keep the activity going, the threshing engineer used a special set of signals.

The engineer ran the whole operation using blasts from the whistle on his traction engine.
He needed men to haul fuel and water to the engine. These engines could burn either coal, wood or straw, so supplies of those had to be brought to the engine, and then someone else had to keep the firebox fed.
Men called field pitchers loaded the bundles into bundle racks in the field, and then these racks were drawn by horses to the separator, where spike pitchers unloaded the bundles onto the feeder that led into the separator.

Threshing was very labour-intensive. The men had to work fast to process a lot of grain in a short period of time. That’s because the custom threshing crews had a lot of farms to visit before the weather turned bad.

But there weren’t enough young men in the west to fill the threshing crews, so the farmers turned eastwards for hired help.

On the Heritage Trail,

I’m Cheryl Croucher.

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