Today’s guest entry was submitted by Ross Gould who has volunteered at Heritage Park in Calgary, Alberta for the past eight years. Staff at the Park recently directed Ross to the ALHFAM website. Intrigued by the request for blog material, he reached out to share the following story.
As a senior interpreter, now 86, at Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary; I “hang out” in the machine shed, which contains antique farm equipment that was used by the pioneers who came to our prairies over a century ago. I farmed in central Alberta for seventeen years, and as a youth I heard lots of stories of pioneer farming from my father and grandfather. They came to Alberta from Ontario in 1912.
Early mornings at the Park, before the day’s visitors come by, I have plenty of time to reflect on times past. One weekend there was a marathon in Calgary, and I began to think about the pioneer who broke the prairie sod with the walking plow. In those days, when railways were being built across the prairies, the rail companies needed settlers to produce crops that needed to be transported by rail. Our government would give a pioneer full title to 160 acres of land if they could have 30 acres of crop within 3 years. I began to think about how far the pioneer had to walk to seed and harvest his crop each year.
He walked behind his walking plow. His horse walked about 2.5 miles per hour. In a 10-hour day he probably walked 25 miles, maybe more. At that rate, his 12-inch bottom walking plow would probably cover about 2.5 acres. It would take 12 days to plow his 30 acres:that means he probably would walk 300 miles just to prepare the seed bed for his crop. But he was not yet done. He had to walk the field again, broadcasting the seed by hand from a bag over his shoulder. And still he was not yet done because he had to walk behind his horse pulling a harrow to cover the seed. All told he probably had to walk almost 400 miles just to prepare the land and seed his crop! Our mostly urban guests often comment on how fit the pioneers must have been, and they are right. Of course the pioneer’s exercise is not done with the seeding. At harvest he must walk the field with a scythe, gather the crop, thresh it with a flail and winnow the grain from the straw in the prairie breeze.
Back to that marathon comparison: The prairie pioneer probably walked the equivalent of more than 15 marathons each season to seed and harvest his crop!
3 thoughts on “The Walking Plow”
Ralph Gould’s “translation” of traditional farming processes into quantitative hours/miles per acre is of great interest and value for interpretive purposes. I recall similarly quantitative information being offered with regard to flax growing/harvesting/processing at last year’s conference at Genesse Country.
Even though all such figures are subject to variables such as soil composition and physical capabilities of both the humans and the draft animal(s) involved, such information is precious, and we should be consciously seeking and compiling more of it.
Thank you Ralph!
Alonzo Wood Homestead
My grandfather as a teenager in 1890’s Kansas busted prairie sod behind a walking plow. He said you had to watch out for rattlers. And it was hard work muscling the plow to keep it straight. He was tall and lean his entire life.
Thanks for recognizing the Farmers! You forgot to add in harrowing off the plowed ground before broadcasting seed…