The Threshing Crew

Threshing Rig at Heritage Park

Today’s guest blogger is Ross Gould who contributed a post about the walking plough in September. Thanks Ross for sharing your stories!

As an eleven year volunteer at Heritage Park in Calgary, and a farmer for 18 years in an earlier life, my favourite venue to interpret is the farm machinery shed. There are many stories that can be told, like the one about the “walking plow” I blogged about in September, but I have a special story that I tell when a couple visits the shed. It is for the lady in the couple.

I start by explaining that the threshing machine, and the steam engine to power it, were very expensive in 1915. They would cost as much as a house, which means that most of the homestead farmers on a 160 or 320 acre farm could not afford a threshing rig of their own. As a result, a group of neighbours would jointly purchase a rig and then help to harvest each others’ crop each fall.

I explain to the couple that the full threshing crew could often contain from 15 to 20 men. There were 6 to 8 teams and drivers to bring the stooks [a group of sheaves of grain stood on end in a field] to the machine and probably 4 to 6 “field pitchers” to help load the wagons. There were also 2 “spike pitchers,” to help unload the wagons at the machine, and another 3 to 5 to run the machine and steam engine and haul away the grain.

I then explain that, when that threshing crew pulled into my mother’s yard every fall, her kitchen and dining table became a restaurant for all those hungry men. She would have to provide the noon meal, an afternoon lunch, and sometimes supper. Not only that, because the crew went from farm to farm in the community, it became a matter of pride for the lady of the house to prepare the best meals. And finally, at the end of the threshing season, the crew knew who provided the best meals – and who didn’t.

A typical menu would include roast beef, roast pork, ham, hamburger or sausage, home-raised, of course.  Vegetables were potatoes (sometimes scalloped), turnips, carrots or possibly peas, all from our farm garden.  And pies for desert could be apple, cherry or peach, or often saskatoon berry, picked in the summer on our farm.  My mother often canned as many as 150 quarts of saskatoons each summer.  It seemed that we had canned saskatoons every other night all winter, and it came to be too much of a good thing. The pies were a necessity and most often what the farm wife was scored on by the threshing crew.

When I finish the story I almost always get a smile, or even a laugh, from the ladies. They understand very well how the lady of the house felt about maintaining her status in the community.

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