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Threshing, Part Two: Regulations
As farms became more established in Alberta in the early 1900s, the demand for custom threshing exploded.
No individual farmer could afford the luxury of owning his own steam thresher, so, every fall, threshing crews moved their equipment from farm to farm, helping to bring in the crops.
But as historian Pat Myers explains, moving the equipment was not an easy task.
Well, the poor custom steam thresherman, because his steam traction engine was so large and so heavy, was blamed for a few things, and one of that was the feeling that he was damaging roads. And, occasionally these heavy machines did cause the bridges and culverts to collapse.
Road building was a major activity in Alberta at the time, and people feared destroying what was newly constructed.
In response, the government instituted what were among the first of a series of regulations, quaint as they were, to control industrial activity in the province.
So the custom thresherman was required by law to carry planks to put down on the road or bridge and then drive his engine on these planks to distribute its weight.
And there was a $50 fine, which could be levied if you didn’t use planks when you were crossing a bridge or culvert.
Along with protecting roads, people were also concerned about weeds that could lower the value of their grain.
Now the poor thresherman was also often blamed for spreading weed seeds, and he was required to clean his machine thoroughly between jobs by running the machine at high speed when the threshing was done. And he was also supposed to sweep the machine with what the legislation called a "good, stout broom."
Whenever they occurred, prairie fires were devastating events. And the settlers had few resources with which to fight fires. Steam trains were often blamed, and so were steam threshers.
And the third thing that the poor thresherman was often blamed for was fires. Threshermen were required to have a spark arrestor, which was just a spark trap covering the top of the engine stack while it was running. They were supposed to keep a pan of water under the engine to catch cinders and ashes as they were threshing. And he was also supposed to have a barrel of water and two buckets nearby, so he could have a quick response to any fire that did start.
Once the threshing crew was in place on a farm, everyone had a job to do to bring in the grain before bad weather set in.
On the Heritage Trail,
I’m Cheryl Croucher.