“WHOA”, exclaimed my city born and bred nephew, “this thing does the work of a hundred men!” And although spoken in uninformed amazement, it was close to the truth. It was his first time cutting wheat in the passenger’s seat of the combine we had at the time, a John Deere 7720 Titan II with a twenty foot head. So today’s forty footers replace 200 men?
I reflected on this as I stood in the crowd watching the man fork sheaves into the grasping feeder house of a McCormick Deering threshing machine at the annual Waterloo County Steam Thresher’s reunion. Memories came flooding back of the days when we would push the thresher up the hill into the barn, set the belt and start the machine rumbling into its tireless action.
Ours was a locally produced separator, built by the Lobsinger Bros. in Mildmay, ½ hour from home. With a 28” cylinder, grain thrower and straw shredder, it was definitely a state of the art thresher! A sad day it was when after years of storing it in the shed for no purpose, I trailed it down the road at funeral speed to a scrapper yard. Although it was rendered obsolete with the advancements in technology, getting rid of it seemed like getting rid of an era that was built on solid community and hard work. We so easily trade simplicity and cooperation for ease and convenience.
Just as it separated the grain from the straw, that machine also separated the men from the boys, sweating men working while the boys watched and hauled drinks. There was an age/size combination, though, where a youngster was handed the pushing board and his job was to clamber into the almost-full granary to shove the cleaned grain into the corners, utilizing every cranny that would hold another bushel. That was my first threshing task. I will long remember the feeling of near-despair toward the end of each load when a combination of dust-choked lungs, tired arms and claustrophobia made it seem like I was pushing slippery grain up the side of a mountain…
So who would trade today’s air conditioned cabs for those dusty jobs? Even the dog likes riding in the cool tractor cab better than running along behind the wagon as her ancestors did. Recently as I was cutting hay, our tractor-loving dog stood up, looked at me and grumbled that she was bored. I told her if she didn’t lie down and be quiet, I’d start playing Nickelback again. She shot me a glare but quickly complied.
There were many local but now-defunct industries represented on the various display tables at the Steam Thresher’s Reunion. For example, foundry/ factories like Lobsinger’s abounded and small-town businesses flourished. In those days, everything came primarily from within the borders of your farm, then your home town, or for larger items, from the workshops of Ontario industries. What was unemployment back then? How were the needy cared for? Even though there were flaws in the system back then, was it not proper and efficient that local needs were supplied locally?
Today, thanks to the creation of world-wide trade, our tractors and equipment may come from Europe, the U.S. or Asia, crossing paths with the grain and oilseeds we send the other way. And our policies and programs are developed and disseminated from strange places like Toronto and Ottawa and increasingly mandated by U.N. headquarters in Geneva and New York City.
Later, after the threshing activities ceased, the crowd moved to a table loaded with steamed corn on the cob, in husk. The corn had been placed in several 45 gallon drums into which there were hoses pumping steam from one of the operating steam engines. All you could eat for a donation. The two I had were perfect. Locally produced!
Original Design -JES/22/8/2015
"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root". Henry D. Thoreau.