It’s Dam Good!

May 18, 2010

Yes, it was literally a dam.  One of the few old mill ponds in this part of Ontario that was still running into the 50’s utilizing water power for a grist mill.  I had almost forgotten about the old mill, but we had been out for a crop dusting ride around the country, when we got to talking about the farmers getting the fields ready for planting.  Then we passed by an old building that was used for a specialty store selling scented candles and porcelain dolls.  The old building was, in a previous life, an old feed mill for the farms in the area.  And then I recalled how many years ago, I helped my father take grain into the mill in Brussels. 

It was on the muddy Maitland River in the town of Brussels.  I have no idea exactly when the dam was constructed on the river, but I would think it was in or around the 1850’s at about the same time that the pioneer settlers established the village, and that was a good source of cheap power for the early flour and feed mill.  It was built near the corner of present day James St. and Market St. in the town of Brussels, and it created a mill-pond,  not unlike the picture I have on the top of my blog.  This picture I have here was taken on a conservation area a few kilometres from the town of Exeter.  However this dam was built much later, and it has a road over the top of the dam.

My mind is wandering again and now getting back to the dam subject in Brussels.  I first became aware of the dam at a very young age, probably around eight or ten years old.  As I had explained in previous blogs, we harvested the grain, and stored it in the granary for use later in the year.  It was used for animal and chicken feed through-out the winter months.  The chickens would eat the oats, wheat, or barley just as it was.  But the grain had to be ground up for the pigs and cows.  I know we had a small grinder on the farm, and it worked well, but only for small quantities of feed.  When you had to feed the whole bunch of animals, then that was when the slugging started. 

From as early as I can remember, all us kids pitched in and helped to take the grain into the grist mill for grinding.  The grain was shoveled into burlap bags, which weighed in at about 100 pounds each, that’s about 44 kilograms, and loaded it on to the back of the old 1/2 ton truck that Dad had.  The truck would hold about 12 or 15 bags of grain, so when everybody piled on to the back for the drive into town, the truck appeared to be going constantly uphill!  It’s a wonder the suspension springs didn’t collapse. 

Then the drive into town to the mill.  I can’t remember the name of the guy who operated the mill at that time, but I’m sure someone will tell me.  The truck was backed up to the loading dock, and then with all the little hands helping, the bags were unloaded and dumped into an elevator bin.  If the machinery wasn’t running at the time, then that was the que for the operator to open the sluice door and allow the water to run into the power wheel and get all the belts and pulleys humming.  I can remember running around to the back of the mill and watching the equipment running and the water falling over the power wheel.   Of course, Dad would tell us kids to stay away from the water and not fall in.  Never did fall, I think we were smarter than that.  But I can remember how fascinated I was observing all the belts and pulleys, power shafts, and the bagging equipment all working in perfect harmony.  If I close my eyes, and listen real hard, I can still hear all the sounds coming from that old mill.  It sends shivers up my back!  Just about all the equipment in use at the time was all made by hand, but it surely served its purpose.

After all the grain was ground up, and bagged, and then reloaded on to the back of the old truck, it was taken back to the farm for the animals.  I never did know how much the operator charged Dad for the grinding job, but I’m sure it wasn’t a lot, even in those days.  After the bags were unloaded into the barn, then it would be ready for dinner.  That is, dinner for the animals.  All this ground up grain was called ‘chop’, and it was fed to the animals.   I don’t know why it was called chop, but it was mixed up with leftover skimmed milk, from the milking operation, and water to create a sloppy mess to feed the pigs or cattle.  I guess chop rhymed with slop, and that’s just about as good as it gets.  This event had to be done every week or two through-out the year.  Just another slugging job that had to be done.  We also had a small rolling machine, powered by a gasoline engine.  The grain was shoveled into the roller, and it just sort of flattened out the kernel somewhat, to make it easier for the animals to eat the stuff.  Some of the farms around the area had what was called a hammer mill.  It was a much bigger machine, driven by the farm tractor either by a belt and pulley system, or a direct PTO (power take off) connection on the rear of the tractor.  It would grind the grain up very good, and a hell of a lot faster than we could with our little machines.  However, we never did have one of those machines as long as I had lived on the farm.  Now-a-days, all the grinding and mixing is done at the big commercial mills, and trucked to the farming operation, where it is blown into large containers or silos, and is automatically fed by computer driven feeders, to all the animals.  Not much slugging in those operations.  More brain, less brawn, I suppose.

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Working on the Railroad

May 13, 2010

And also working up a sweat.  Yes this was another job I took on in the summer of ’58.  I was just turning 16, and I applied for a job at the Canadian National Railway and I was accepted as a section hand.   The pay was a monstrous ‘one dollar an hour’ and I thought I was in seventh heaven!!  I had all but forgotten this job, but I was reading one of the old blogs I had written before and I had mentioned it in passing.  So I thought I could elaborate on the many tasks that the average CNR labourer had to do on a daily basis. 

 However, this job wasn’t a walk in the park, far from it!  Just about every part  of this job was nothing but raw sweat and power.  The only time you got a rest was traveling to and from the work shed to the job site every day.  The area that we were required to do the work extended all the way from Kincardine on the Lake Huron shore, right back easterly through the towns of Wingham, Brussels, Atwood, Listowel, and ended up a Palmerston.  I’m not sure how far it was, but it had to be close to a hundred miles, or one hundred and sixty km’s.

The most important part of this job was to keep the track in perfect alignment, or as close as we could get it.  There was five or six workers in our crew, plus the foreman.  There was several work sheds located alongside the track, so which-ever shed was the closest to the job location, that was where we had to show up for work.  So just about every week of the summer, we had to report to a different job location.  When the work orders came through  every morning, that was where we had to travel to and do the repair work.  Some of the work orders were  from the locomotive engineers, who reported where there was a slight kink in the track that had to be repaired.  In order to straighten the track, all the section hands grabbed a spud bar, which weighed a ton, (at least is felt like it at first) and jammed them into the ballast (gravel base under the railroad ties), and then with the foreman looking down the track from a distance, would tell us which way to move the track and ties. 

And of course there was always sections of iron rail that had to be replaced occasionally as it wore out.  The same with the wooden railway ties.  When they became rotten, they had to be replaced as well.  To replace the ties, all the iron spikes had to be pulled out by a huge spike puller.  It was similar to a claw hammer, only a hell of a lot bigger and heavier.  Then everyone got the pick axes and shovels to remove all the gravel ballast around the old tie.  Then you got the large log hooks jammed into the tie, and like a team of horses, only we were human power, pulled the tie out from under the iron rails.  Then the new tie was man-handled back under the rails, and spiked into place with the spike hammers.  Then the gravel ballast was shovelled back around the tie and packed into place.  It sure took one hell of a lot of sweat to complete this job! 

Replacing iron rail sections was similar, but the ties did not have to be dug up.  All the spikes had to be removed, and then unbolted the flat-iron used to connect the rails, end to end, and with several hand clamps to lift the iron rail, with two men on each clamp and a lot of grunting, the unwieldy rail finally was pulled from the track.  Then everyone did the same thing with the new rail section.  It had to be lifted into position, bolt the flat-iron pieces to the existing track, and then spike it all into the ties again.  Finally, the foreman checked it all out to make sure it was straight, and if it wasn’t, then we had to get the spud bars and do our thing again.  But wait, there’s more!

From one end of the track to the other, and every where in between, there was always brush and weeds growing along  side the track that had to be cut down.  That had to be done at least once a year, sometimes more for visibility.   There was no such thing as chain saws for the workers to use, just hand saws, axes, and sythes.  I can remember a lot of hot summer days when we were cutting brush through the existing bush lots, there wouldn’t be a breath of a breeze.  Talk about sweat equity, it was nothing but pure sweat.

We had a motor car, or a jigger, to haul the tools and material from the work shed to the job location, but the only person to drive it was the foreman.  It also had trailers that could be loaded up with iron rails or wooden ties when required.  Occasionally a work train would come by with a load of ballast to dump at various spots along side the track that required it.  So we would be required to get into the rail car with the gravel and as the locomotive slowly made its way down the track, we made sure the gravel unloaded evenly along side the track.  This had to be the most labour intensive job that I have ever done.

Now-a-days, most of this work is done by powered machinery, and one or two operators making a hell of a lot more money than I was paid.  I have seen these big machines traveling along the track, replacing worn out rails and ties, in a fraction of the time that it would take a crew to do it.   I guess that is what’s called progress.  More to come again.

Its all about the grass, man!

May 11, 2010

I can honestly say I have never tried the pot, but lately I have experienced a brain cramp or more precisely, writers block.  Sometimes it seems as hard as you try, you can’t think of any thing interesting to say.  A lot of people say that about me anyways!  And I was taught from a very early age that if I had nothing good to say about someone, then say nothing at all. Having said that, I’ll carry on.

I was just reading my previous blog, from many days ago, about the old repair shop that we had on the farm.  Dad used to repair just about anything that broke down on the farm, because the money wasn’t always there to go to a repair shop, and usually the repair had to be done as soon as possible so that you could carry on doing the planting, plowing, or whatever.  Never the less, Dad always had all kinds of excess non-functionary machinery lying around and about the work shop.  Most of it had been cannibalized to repair other working pieces, so it would be more commonly called ‘junk’.

Oh yes, getting back to the title, grass!  The cattle would control most of the grass in the barn yard and pastures, but around the house it had to be mowed.  Well there was no such thing as a motorized lawn mower at the time, this still being in the mid 50’s, and the modern rotary mower still had not been invented, at least as far as I could tell.  So we had an old reel type mower that required 2 men and a bull-dog to push it around the lawn.  And of course the blades were dull as a hoe, so you had to go over the same spot several times before all the grass was cut. 

So one day, me and my older brother, Harry were sitting around contemplating life and other important issues of the day, when the subject of grass cutting came up.  We both said there must be an easier way to get rid of the stuff.  So we said, how about a spinning blade mounted on a portable platform that could be pulled around the lawn?  Perfect, but how do we build it?   Well we started looking through the ‘junk’ and lo and behold, we came across an old gear box with a hand crank on it that used to be a part of an old sheep shearing tool.  You cranked the handle on one side, and the shaft on the other side spun like crazy!   So we started to assemble the contraption.

First we had to find 4 wheels and build a small wagon, then find a piece of flat iron for the blade.  Then we had to drill a hole in the middle of it, and sharpen the edges of the iron with the grindstone, and then attach the blade securely to the shaft so it wouldn’t come flying off and take a toe off with it.   Then the whole shebang had to be mounted on the wagon.   We put a rope on the wagon to pull it across the lawn, and it worked pretty well, except it was still a lot of work for the two of us.  One guy had to pull the thing, and the other guy had to crank like hell to cut the grass.  It had to one of the first two-man lawn mowers in existence.   So back to the drawing board.  We needed ‘MORE POWER’ as Tim the tool man often stated!

What do you know, Dad had an old gasoline engine that he used in the shop for grinders, or whatever.  Some-how we convinced him that we could use that engine on our lawn-mowing endeavours.  Now this wasn’t like your little engines that are in common use on our present day mowers, but it was pretty hefty.  It took the both of us to lift and handle the thing.  And it also required a larger wagon to carry it, so that’s what we did.  We found 4 larger wheels, and a couple of wooden planks, made a new shaft and blade for the rig, and attached a drive belt from the engine to the shaft, and then we were in business.  It worked pretty good, but it still needed two people to pull and steer the thing.  Since there wasn’t any steering wheels on it, the whole rig had to be man-handled when you came to the end of the lawn, and had to turn around and go back.  We used that mower for some time, and I have always wondered why we never lost a toe or a foot under the thing as there wasn’t any shroud or protection over the spinning blade!  I suppose because we had built the thing, we were somewhat more careful with it.  We are still here to talk about it anyway.  I’ll see if the brain is starting to come back online, and keep on writing.  Thanks.

Rockin’ and rollin’

April 14, 2010

There was always lots of rockin’ going on at the farm.  On a previous blog, I mentioned about blowing up rocks in the field, well now comes the time to pick-em all up.  We had what we called a ‘stone boat’ which is essentially a large wooden sled, about 4 by 8 feet long, with a logging chain attached to one end.  That chain was then hooked on to the tractor to pull it back and forth across the open fields.  Then while one guy drove the tractor, the other guy or guy’s would pick the stones out of the dirt and throw or roll it onto the stone boat.  After the sled was filled up with as many stones as it would hold, it was then driven over to the stone pile in one corner of the field and dumped off.  It was nothing but raw sweat and muscle power to accomplish this feat.  And it had to be done every year before the planting, as the rocks could damage the farm machinery and hold up the planting process.   I could never figure it out where all those rocks came from.  I had a sneaky suspicion that the Chinese farmers on the other side of the planet were pushing the rocks through the earth to our country.

 And it could be very costly, as Dad always reminded us.  If we missed a rock, and something got broken, we were blamed for it anyway.  The good thing was that the cost to repair the item couldn’t be taken from our wage, as we didn’t get a wage!  Just an allowance, man, just an allowance.  And for the most part, Dad did most of the repairs himself in the work shop.  There was an arc welder, drills, hack saws, wrenches, grinders, and all kinds of tools in the shop.  As well, he had all kinds of old machinery laying about the barn yard, that he would use for spare parts if needed.  He was a pretty good mechanic, but I’m not sure he ever took a formal repair course in any school.  Anyway, after a day haulin’ stone, yes we headed for the river for a dip.  But you saw that coming I’m sure.  Keep on hauling for another day.

Sproing!!!

April 7, 2010

That barbed wire sure makes a fabulous sound when it snaps – SPROING!!!.   Another event that occurred frequently on the farm was that of building and moving fences for the cattle.  A lot of the fences we had were made of cedar rails.  These are the old rail fences that are often depicted in the winter Christmas scenes, and they are very picturesque.  We had a huge pile of cedar rails on the farm, and Dad would determine which part of the pasture had to be fenced off for the new little calves.  It was more of a safety factor to keep the smaller animals away from the old timers.  Once they grew up somewhat, then they would be allowed to roam all over the pasture.  Building the fence was nothing but sweat inducing labour.   You had to load the rails up on to the tractor and wagon, take it out to the location, and assemble it all into a semi straight line, put in some posts, and hang a gate.  Once the calves had grown up, then we removed the rails and posts, loaded all the stuff on the wagon again, and transported it back to the rail pile again.

The rails only did part of the fencing, and barbed wire was the other fencing material.  It looks simple enough, mark out the line where the fence was going, dig holes for the fence posts, or hammer in steel posts as well, then string barbed wire back and forth until it looked like a fence.  And sweat like a pig all the while.  As part of the process, after the barbed wire was strung out along the route of the fence, and the anchor posts had been put in place at each end, then the wire had to be tightened up like a fiddle string to be effective.  The wire would be attached to one anchor post, and a device called a ‘wire jack’, or block and tackle, or ‘come-a-long’, was used to take up the slack.  Once the wire was sufficiently tightened, we would go along to each post and staple the wire into the post at the proper height, or similarly wire it to the steel posts,  and then release the jack after the loose end was attached to the opposite anchor post.  Inevitably, during the process, and not very often I might add, the fiddle string tight wire would snap.  Hence the “SPROING’.  And if your hand was near-by the flailing wire, you would be gashed pretty bad.  I still have a few scars on my hands and wrists as proof.  As I drive around this part of Ontario in the past few years, I notice that the fences that were put up years ago, are disappearing quite rapidly.  The farmers are making larger fields, and all the machinery is so much larger that they need a 20 acre field to turn the thing!  Most of the fields on my Dad’s farm were 10 or 15 acres, and on a recent drive past the old homestead, I saw that most of the fences are gone, and the farm now consists of one large 200 acre field with the house and barns located in the centre.  It just doesn’t look the same anymore.  It’s true, you can’t go home.  But the memories remain, and I am truly thankful for that.   More to come.

Ka-Boom

April 3, 2010

No, I’m not blowing the place up.  I was just recalling some of my experiences that I had as a young boy.  One of them was blowing up things with my Dad.  I’m sure my older brothers did the same thing as they were growing up.  There was a number of things that was on the agenda for blowing up, including stumps, rocks, old concrete or stone foundations no longer required, as well as making barn doors wider.  I’m not sure where my Dad learned the finer art of dynamite, but I suspect it may have been during his participation in the first world war from 1916 until 1918.  It seemed to me like he had a lot of  jobs on the go and I remember picking up cases of dynamite and caps and fuses from the freight yard at the CNR station in Brussels.  Sometimes he would go into the rail station and wait for the freight train to show up.  For safety sakes, the cases of dynamite was shipped on the first car in the train, and then they would have at least one empty car before the caps were shipped usually in the last car on the train.

Blowing up large rocks in the fields was pretty simple.  We would dig out a spot at one side of the monster, and then use a crowbar to punch a hole down deeper and at an angle under the rock.  Then Dad would fix the charge by making a small hole in the stick of dynamite.  Then he would cut off a piece of fuse about 12 to 15 inches long, about 30 to 40 cm, and then place a cap, which was made of metal and had a small bit of gunpowder in the bottom of it, over the one end of the fuse (which by the way was a slow burning type)and then it was crimped on the fuse with a pair of pliers.  The fuse and cap were then inserted into the hole in the stick of dynamite, and secured with some tape.  Then the dynamite, cap, and fuse was inserted into the hole under the rock and packed in with dirt with the fuse left sticking out.  Then the fuse was lit, and everyone ran like hell.  Except Dad, of course, because he knew better than us kids how long it would take to explode.  He just seemed to saunter back away from the rock and finally joined us, just in time for the explosion.  The rock was usually tossed up out of the ground and then the land owner could then haul it away to a rock pile where it could never damage the farm machines again.  The same thing with stumps, but it would usually split it up into many pieces.

One of the big booms took place when someone wanted to enlarge a barn door.  With all the new tractors and machinery becoming bigger,  it was the quickest and cheapest way to complete the task.  Some barn foundations were concrete, and some were stone.  It didn’t matter which, they both succumbed to the blast.  We would use a hammer and chisel to make a score down the foundation wall where the new door was to be placed.  It would be something like using a glass cutter to mark the line where the glass had to be cut, only a little larger scale.  Depending on the thickness and height of the foundation, Dad would place 2 or 3 sticks of dynamite into the groove that was chiseled out, and then stick it there with a mud mixture.   Then light the fuse, and, well you know the rest.

And of course, kids being kids, we had to try this thing ourselves.  At times when Dad and Mom would leave to go shopping or whatever, we would get into the dynamite, and set off a few explosions for the hell of it.  One time we put a stick of dynamite into a ground-hog hole.  Never did see that critter again!  We never did get a chewing out for playing with dynamite, but I suspect our parents knew what was going on.  Crazy fools we were.

The Old General Store

March 28, 2010

As a child growing up on the farm and attending school, the general store was also a part of my life.  It was located in the hamlet of Cranbrook, just across the road from the school.  They sold just about everything required for the community except maybe farm machinery, tractors, cars, and trucks.  There was a small library located in one of the buildings on the property, and I remember spending a lot of time in there, going through the books and magazines after school and on weekends.  And of course you could sign out the larger books and bring them back the following week. 

There was also an egg grading station in another part of the building, right next to the library,  as well as huge freezer section which was divided up into many lockers.  Anyone who processed their own beef, pork, or chicken, could rent the lockers to store the produce.  The egg grading station accepted farm fresh eggs from the surrounding farmers, candled, graded, and packed them into boxes which held 30 dozen eggs.  The eggs were then shipped off to the wholesaler who then sold them to all the retail stores in the area. 

The eggs were also a source of income for our farm.  A couple times a week the eggs were taken to the grading station, and Mom would receive cash for them.  She would then use the cash to purchase food, cloth, boots, you name it, from the general store.  And the store was a favourite place for the ladies to gather and converse while the eggs were being graded.  The men would gather at the old blacksmith/repair shop, on the other corner to mull over the weeks new happenings.

The store had been owned by one family for as long as I remember, but about the mid 50’s, he sold the whole kit and caboodle to another man.  It was during one of my visits to the library that he approached me and asked if I was interested in working part-time for him.  I said sure, and for many months after that I was helping around the store, mostly packing eggs from the grading machine, and loading the 30 dozen boxes, into the truck for transport to the wholesaler.  Quite often I helped load bags of animal feed to be delivered to various farms around the area.  He later on offered me another job, to paint the picket fence around the property,  to be paid separately from the store job.  This was to be done in my ‘spare time’, and the contracted price was $50.  Wow, that was much better than my $10 a week for the store job, and I said yes.  I had never painted a picket fence before, but I soon found out, after many, many days of painting, that the job was grossly underpaid!  It seemed there was no end to that picket fence.  I measured it later and it was nearly 400 feet long!  However I persevered, and got the job done.  Overall, it was a good learning experience for me, and I believe that the following year, I took a summer job with the CNR.   More about that later, and thank you for your attention.

Cleaning up your act

March 26, 2010

Well, maybe not my act specifically.  But all the farm animals and chickens.  Yes all the stalls, pig pens, chicken coups, and cattle runs all had to cleaned up and all that muck had to be shovelled out into a pile outside.  Then later on it had to loaded up on the manure spreader and taken to the fields.  Some farms had electric gutter cleaners, and some had pressure hoses to clean the pens.  Some had front end loaders on the tractors to push and load the manure into the spreaders.  We didn’t.  All manual labour. 

From the time each of us could pick up a shovel, there was a job just waiting for you!  The chicken pen most times had a hundred or more laying hens in it, and had to be cleaned out on a regular basis usually 3 or 4 times each month.  Each time it took the better part of a day to clean it all out, shovel it outside into a pile, and then put down some fresh bedding for the chicks.  And stink!!  You had to tie your old handkerchief over your nose and mouth to try to keep it bearable.  Not nice, but it had to be done.

Same thing with the pig pens.  Most times Dad would have 2 or 3 dozen pigs being fattened up for market.  Sometimes a lot more, sometimes less.  Either way it was still a stinky job, shovelling  the pens out, and it had to be done every week.  You put the rubber boots on, and grabbed the shovel and wheelbarrow and started mucking.  Once the pens were cleaned up, you had to put some fresh straw into each pen for bedding.  I’m sure the pigs enjoyed it, because they would run back and forth through the fresh straw, kicking up their heels.  Again not a nice job that anyone would choose willingly, but necessary.

The cattle barn was the same only bigger.  It wasn’t too bad during the spring, summer, and fall, because the cattle were allowed to run in the pasture.   However during the winter, the cattle were confined in the barn for the duration, and all the muck had to be disposed of.  The milking cows were brought into the stalls twice a day for milking, and they always left their calling cards behind.  Once the cows were milked and let back out to the large pen, then the stalls had to cleaned out and prepared for the next session.  The large cattle runs were not cleaned out as often, maybe 5 or 6 times during the winter.  It was a lot larger area to clean, and we usually teamed up to tackle that job.  Again it was rubber boot and wheelbarrow time, and sometimes it took 2 or 3 days to clean all the manure out of  that pen.  It was all piled up outside the barn until spring came around and the fields dried up enough for the tractor and manure spreader to travel upon.

When the warm days finally arrived, then back to the forks and shovels.  All that muck from the farm animals was again on the move.  You shovelled and forked, and sweated and swore, but eventually it was all spread over the fields for the next crop.  Maybe we and our forefathers were the  beginning of the recycling craze.  No, probably not, it has been going on since God only knows.  One thing I do know, if you asked some of our current younger generation to do those jobs, all you would get is  eeeeuuuuwwww!!  Oh well, keep it up!  Lots more where this came from.

Buck Rakes and Blowers

March 24, 2010

Did he say buck naked and blowing?  No, it was one way to harvest the hay and store it in the barn for the cattle during the winter.  Bringing in the hay was nothing but sweat equity.  A large number of the farms around our place were beginning to purchase balers and elevators to put the hay into the barn, Dad used the old ‘buck rake’ and blower method.  For those who are unfamiliar with a buck rake, I’ll try to describe one here.

Although most buck rakes were hand-made on the farm, some could be purchased as well. Dad made his out of an old car or truck chassis and basically it consisted of the wheels, frame, motor, dashboard, seat and steering wheel.  On the back he built a pickup cage, something like a fork lift, only with 8 or 10 forks made out of 4″ X 4″ X 12′ long pieces of wood, shaved to a point on the front end.  The forks were attached to a metal cross-piece and that in turn was attached to the car chassis with 2 large hinges, so it could be lifted off the ground after it was filled with hay.  There was a back stop to contain the hay, and a couple of side rails as well.  There was a power winch to pull the rake up off the ground.  The winch was hand-made, by my Dad, out of another old rear end from another vehicle.  It had a drum mounted on one axle to wind up the cable, and a brake on the other axle.  When the brake was applied to one axle, the other drum would turn and pull up the cable, which in turn through a pulley system, pulled the hay-fork off the ground for the ride up to the barn.  I’m getting a little ahead of myself, as the hay had to be cut a few days before to allow it to dry in the sun.   Most places had a hay mower powered by the power take off on the tractor, so only 1 person was needed to cut the hay.  We used an old pull mower that was powered by the wheels on it, so we needed 2 people to cut hay, one on the tractor and one on the mower.  As I said before, the hay had to dry out before you put it into the barn, or if it were damp, it could burst into flame in the barn with disastrous results.

Usually my Dad drove the buck rake, but my older brother also drove it as well.  He would go out to the field, let the rake down, and then by standing on the running board, would drive backwards to pick up the hay.  Once the rake was full, he would apply the brake on the winch, and lift the rake up off the ground, and then lock it in place.  Then get back into the seat and drive forward to the barn.  At the barn, we had a large blower set up, with a belt drive to the tractor.  It had about 30 or 40 feet of big metal pipes, about 12″ in diameter, to direct the hay up into the hay mow.   The blower had a big platform in front of it to throw the hay onto, and then it was pushed into the fan blades and propelled up into the barn.  Some what like a modern wood-chipper, only bigger.   Dad would bring the load of hay to the blower, then dump it onto the ground in front, then return to the field to get another load.  We kids would then speed up the tractor so that the blower was literally howling, then fork the hay into the blower.  No sooner was the last fork-full pushed into the blower, then Dad would show up again with another load, and we would repeat the process.   We were always happy when the farthest field was being harvested, as then we could get a minute or two of rest between loads.  After the days work, we then had to go up into the hay loft, and use the hand forks to level out the pile, and fill up the corners of the barn, so it would be ready for the next days hay blowing.  And as I said on the previous blog, everyone worked up a good sweat, we all got dirty and dusty, and we would all pile into the truck and race down to the river to cool off and clean up.  It was all physical labour, but it had to be done.  To-day, if you asked the current generation to do a job like that, you would be told in an instant where to get off.  It was a never-ending job, but I don’t remember complaining about it.  It wouldn’t do you any good anyways!  Press on, more to come.

Bringing in the Sheaves

March 23, 2010

Give us this day our daily bread means a whole lot more on the farm.  Most of the flour we use in Canada comes from the thousands of farms in the prairies.  There was thousands of farms here in Ontario that also grew wheat, oats, barley, and corn.  Maybe not as big, but just as important to each and every one of them.  Dad grew many acres or wheat and oats, but it was used mostly for animal feed.  I was told that the year I was born, 1942, Dad purchased one of the first if not the first combine that appeared in southern Ontario.  It had a 12 foot deck on it, and a chrysler 6 cylinder flat-head engine for a power plant.  It had to shipped from the west in pieces on a train.  My Dad and his brother, Richard, assembled it and put it to good use for many years.   Most, if not all the combines in use today, have large tanks and augers on them to move and store the grain as it was being harvested from the fields.  This combine that my Dad had purchased, had a bagging device on it, so it required 2 men to run it.  Usually my Dad drove the machine, and my uncle Dick bagged the grain.  The bags of grain were pushed down a slide on the rear of the machine, and left there until the combine came to the end of the field.  At that point, uncle Dick pulled a trip rope which opened the gate at the bottom of the slide, and the bags would tumble out onto the field.  That was were the hired help, or us kids, came into the picture.  We would drive either a truck, or a tractor and trailer, and pick up all the bags of grain.  It was then taken to the barn to be put into the granary.  Very labour intensive, and I can remember taking part in the harvesting from the time I was able to lift those bags of grain.  Probably from the time I was 9 or 10 years old, and those bags weighed around 80  to 100 pounds each!  Many times it took two of us kids to lift those bags onto the truck or trailer.

I was told by my parents that during the early years, the 40’s, that the combine was hired by many of the local farmers to harvest their crops.  There was so much work to do, that during many summers of harvesting, Dad and uncle Dick were working 7 days a week!  And since no one had seen this new fangled machine working in this part of Ontario before, hundreds of people would come out to see it operate every weekend.  Mother told us later, that some Sundays, people would be lined up all along the fences, like crows on a wire, watching this behemoth gobble up the crops!  Quite a sight, I would imagine.  I would like to have seen a picture of that.

Many of the farms around us were still doing the harvest by cutting the grain by using a binder, which put the grain into sheaves, then stooking it by hand, then bringing it up to the barn to the stationary threshing machine.  Then the sheaves were forked into the mouth of the big old thresher, were the grain and straw was separated.  The thresher was driven by a tractor and belt system.  Quite often the grain was blown by pipes directly into the granary, and the straw was blown by a huge fan and pipes, directly into the barn as well.  For many years, we kids would help with the neighbouring farms do their harvesting.  We would work all week for 10 bucks or so, never kept track of how many hours you worked,  but it was our own money!  After the binder had cut the grain and tied it into sheaves,  we would walk back and forth across the fields, stooking all those sheaves.  A stook was merely a tent like structure made up of several sheaves set on the ground in a circle and left for a few days.  It was done that way to allow the grain to dry out a bit more, keep the grain off the ground, and if any weeds were mixed in with the straw, they would dry out and hopefully blow away before threshing took place.

When threshing day came, there was usually 20 to 30 people on site.  The stooks had to be picked up by fork, thrown onto the wagon, then taken to the thrashing machine by the barn.  Then more pitching the sheaves into the thresher, and then making sure the grain and straw was all taken care of.  By the end of each day, everyone was covered with dirt and dust, but, man when the supper table was loaded up, everyone dug in like wolves.  After supper, many of us would find the nearest swimming hole in a nearby river, and jump in.  This took place during the 50’s,  but it was fading out fast as many farmers were purchasing combines at the time.  The old-fashioned threshing crews were all but gone, fading into the past.  Can’t say that I miss it, because I don’t!  Keep on threshing.