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Boom times for farmers a century ago were good for equipment makers, too

It’s one thing about farming that hasn’t changed 
with time. It’s one thing about farming that hasn’t changed with time

Last year was a pretty good one for most Prairie grain farmers — but things were hopping a century ago, too.

This 1912 photo of the American Able Company storage yard in Winnipeg is proof not only of good times, but that farmers of that age — like their modern counterparts — were quick to pour their profits back into iron.

Farmers enjoyed strong wheat prices from 1895 to 1914, and new settlers poured into the Prairies. A quarter section could be obtained for a nominal fee, as long as the farmer would “prove up” the land within three years.

That created tremendous demand for threshing machines as well as steam and gas engines — and kept machinery makers such as American Able hopping. Founded in Toronto and famed for its Cock O’ The North line of steam engines and threshing machines, the company was purchased by American owners and by 1912 was owned by the Advance-Rumely Company of Indiana.

The photo shows a number of American Able steam engines, Universal gas tractors, Rumely oil pull tractors, and drive wheels for steam engines.

In the far background is a long, white building with columns — further proof of the boom times. The building housed the Winnipeg Industrial Exhibition (the roof of the exhibition’s grandstand is visible just behind American Abel’s brick warehouse), whose annual tractor competitions from 1908 to 1913 drew exhibitors from across North America, and even overseas, eager to show their products were the best.

But since not every tractor was the best, manufacturers began hosting their own demonstrations, and the Winnipeg Motor Competitions (motor being a common name for a tractor in those days) ceased operation in 1914.

The Manitoba Agricultural Museum in Austin is working on a display on the Winnipeg Motor Competitions and has obtained a number of photographs from the events. Its collection contains a 1909 Kinnard-Haines Flour City 30-50 which was purchased after the tractor participated in the 1909 Winnipeg Motor Trials. The museum is open year round. Hours of operation and other information can be found at ag-museum.com.

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