Harvest tradition continues at Draft Horse Field Days

The tradition of using working horse in the field continued in Rama on August 25 and 26. The Rama Performing Arts and Leisure Society (PALS) hosted its annual fall draft horse field days at the Rama Sports grounds.

Even though the weather on the first day was cold and windy, the weekend went very well and attendance for the two days was approximately 200, not counting the teamsters and the volunteers, said Nancy Genoway, one of the volunteers. This is up from previous years, which is encouraging for future field days, she said.

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“The weekend included pancake and sausage breakfast on both days with field demonstrations of horse drawn equipment on both days,” she said. “A very well-attended perogy and smokie supper was held on Saturday evening with entertainment. There was local entertainment during the day on both days with a cowboy church service on Sunday at noon and then the threshing demonstration on Sunday afternoon.”

The musicians who performed during the weekend included: Nancy Genoway of Rama, vocals and spoons; Judy Johnson of Preeceville, vocals; Shelden Landstad of Rama, vocals and guitar; Marilyn Fredsberg of Wynyard, vocals and guitar; Eugene McKenzie of Wynyard, vocals and bass guitar; and Don Kulscar of Ebenezer on accordion.

In one of the horse drawn equipment demonstrations, Duncan Arthur of Preeceville hooked up Maude and Duke, his team of Percherons, to a 10-foot wide rake and raked some hay.    

Arthur said he enjoys working with his horses, and keeps them busy and in good shape by utilizing them to feed about 120 sheep on the Arthur farm during the winter months.

On August 25, Lloyd Smith of Pelly hooked up his team of four black Percherons to a binder and put them to work cutting the barley crop which was planted as part of the spring draft horse field days in May. The barley sheaves produced by the binder were arranged into stooks for drying, with about half-a-dozen sheaves per stook, in preparation for the threshing demonstration.

Smith said he much prefers this traditional harvesting method over the large modern swathers and combines used by today’s farmers.

“The people make it fun in the old time harvesting, you have to give yourself time to talk,” Smith said. “With all the big harvest equipment we have now, everyone’s on the go all the time, no one has time for anything else.”

Smith admitted that cutting 20 acres of grain would be a full day of work for a binder like the one he was using, where a modern 30-foot swather could probably do that much in an hour.

Smith said he enjoys talking to people at threshing demonstrations and showing them how harvesting used to be done. Many want to know how he learned about the old harvesting methods, and he is more than willing to tell them.

“When I was 13 years old I threshed for 17 straight days with a threshing crew,” remembered Smith. “There was one binder, four teams of horses and four racks carrying the sheaves of grain.”

The eight-foot John Deere binder used by Smith in his demonstration is part of the line of horse drawn equipment maintained by the members of PALS. Group member Walter Hughes said the binder was discovered on a farm about half-way between Rama and Preeceville. He said it was in pretty rough shape and required many hours of work to get it into running condition.

Hughes said he’s not quite sure of the age of the binder, but it could be over 100 years old, since John Deere first started making binders around 1910.

The threshing display on August 26 featured a belt-driven McCormick Deering threshing machine provided by Wally Huebert of Canora. The unit has a 28-inch cylinder and a 46-inch separator, with a recommended working speed of 1,050 to 1,150 RPM.

Royden Crone of Humboldt and his team of Clydesdales pull one of the full racks of barley sheaves for the threshing demonstration. Crone and the other teamsters in charge of the racks slowly drove their horses around the running threshing machine a few times, just to give the horses an opportunity to get used to the noise, just like it was done in the old days.

Alex Akerstrom and Nancy Genoway of Rama were among those in attendance who took advantage of the opportunity to throw sheaves of barley into the threshing machine with pitchforks.

“It definitely gives a person an appreciation for all the hard work involved in the harvest in the old days,” said Akerstrom.

“It’s a lot of fun to do today,” added Genoway, “but it’s also a real back killer and I sure wouldn’t want to do it every day throughout harvest like they used to.”

Providing the power for the threshing machine was a restored 1910 Rumely 30-60 oil pull tractor owned by Wally Huebert, with 30 horsepower on the drawbar and 60 on the belt pulley. He said when it was new, it was the largest tractor in existence. Huebert and a crew of about half-a-dozen friends recently completed the restoration, and he said that this was it’s first time working in public.

One of those who put in a lot of work on the project was Doug Ireland of Binscarth, Man., and Huebert said he was happy Ireland was on hand to help make the necessary adjustments to get the tractor and threshing machine running smoothly.

Huebert discovered his threshing machine is somewhat undersized for the Rumely, and is hoping to find a larger one in time for next year’s harvest.

Huebert and his wife Mary originally discovered the Rumely over a decade ago in very rough shape, sitting among the trees on the Toth farm located about five kilometres north of Otthon. The Hueberts purchased the tractor from the Toth family and discovered it had originally been used to break a great deal of farmland in the Canora region. They were told that the Rumely pulled a 14 bottom plow which required seven men to operate and control, with one man for every two shears.

The tractor was stamped with serial No. 120, which means it was the twentieth one built, said Huebert. To his knowledge, this is the only working 1910 Rumely 30-60 oil pull tractor in existence.

He said the restoration couldn’t have been completed without the assistance of Yorkton Welding and the Foundry in Saskatoon.

“When we discovered broken gears and other parts that needed to be replaced, it wasn’t like we could order new parts,” said Huebert. “All those parts had to be made.”

Huebert said he thoroughly enjoys working with antique farm equipment.

“A lot of it is disappearing, but we’re doing our best to keep the tradition alive,” he said. “I especially enjoy it when older gentlemen come up to me and say, ‘I remember this, I used to do this type of work.’”