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A Cockshutt ad from 1919 advertising the company’s car loader. Major companies such as Cockshutt as well as small manufacturers made portable elevators,
an indication of the size of the market for such machinery.

When loading a producer car was a lot more work

Loading 1,800 bushels within 24 hours meant several trips by horse and wagon at 100 bushels at a time

Producer cars were popular with farmers in the early days of the grain trade. They could receive better prices by avoiding elevation charges and having grain weighed by Board of Grain Commissioners employees. However, there were downsides. Producers had to have sufficient grain of one type and grade to load a car. While they could

One of the first ‘Fowler’ steel-framed boxcars purchased by the CPR. By the early 1900s, more powerful locomotives could haul longer trains, putting more stress on wooden cars. The CPR designed the Fowler cars in 1908 and by 1914 had ordered some 34,000 cars of this design. The CNR also purchased more than 30,000. They began to leave service in large numbers in the 1950s with the last car leaving in 1980. The number 127340 car in the photo was built in 1912 by the American Car and Foundry Company in Detroit, Michigan.

When you needed a hammer and nails to load a car

Until the 1970s, all grain was shipped in boxcars which needed a wooden door

Copies of photos donated by the Dickson and Henderson families of Boissevain have proven a treasure trove for the Manitoba Agricultural Museum. This photo depicts a portable elevator filling a CPR wooden boxcar, probably sometime in the 1930s. The man in the photo cannot be identified — it’s believed he is not a member of


This place is a sty

It may look like an unassuming haystack, but this pioneer photo reveals an early livestock shelter

Looking through photographs recently donated to the Manitoba Agricultural Museum, the interpretation committee became interested in a photograph of a straw stack. This photo appears to be fairly old, probably pre-First World War so it was taken at a time when photos were expensive which led to the question, why would the photographer have taken

A diagram of the plank drag Seager Wheeler was using on his farm in 1919. This drag had evolved significantly from the first drag he used when homesteading in Saskatchewan in the 1890s. His first drag consisted of two poplar logs pegged together. The bottom of the logs were cut flat probably using an adze.

The plank drag was an effective field tool in its day

The goal was a smooth field that would allow easy operation of horse-drawn implements

In the recent Manitoba Agricultural Museum article on the practice of backsetting, which was sometimes carried out when breaking virgin sod, the use of a plank drag in subsequent field operations was mentioned. A plank drag was somewhat more complicated than merely dragging a plank across the field and so deserves some further explanation. Seager

While the exact time of the year this photo was taken is unknown, according to Seager Wheeler, if the backsetting process was to be done properly, the shallow first plowing should take place in May or early June
with the deeper second plowing taking place before early July. The timing of these operations should, in theory, result in sufficient soil moisture to rot the turned-down vegetation. While Seager Wheeler is advising
that the farmer needs to take care that the sod produced by the first plowing lays flat, this is a lot easier said than done. As can be seen here, the first plowing, which can be seen in the foreground of the photo, did not quite result in the sod laying flat. There are places visible where the vegetation being turned over was sufficiently tall enough that it prevented the sod from laying over completely as the vegetation when turning fell
onto the previously turned sod.

Backsetting revisited

The ‘Wheat Wizard of Rosthern’ wrote about this pioneer practice in detail

In 2018, the Manitoba Agricultural Museum wrote on the backsetting method of breaking virgin sod. A reader, Mr. Bollman, contacted us to inform the museum that there is more information on backsetting in the book Profitable Grain Growing, written in 1919 by Seager Wheeler, a noted agronomist and grain grower of the time, known as


An 1890’s Sawyer Massey threshing outfit

A photo of one of the earlier Manitoba threshing operations taken just years after the land was put to the plow

Recently the Manitoba Agricultural Museum was the recipient of a collection of agricultural photos collected over the years. The donor of the photos wishes to remain anonymous at this time. Unfortunately the photographs had no further information with them. Many photos taken of pioneer agricultural activities have information written on the photos containing such information

A group portrait of the Dickson threshing gang taken in 1910. Some of the people in the photo are numbered and on the back of the photo is a key matching the name of the person with their number.  1) W.G. Dickson, 2) Mrs. Ben Dickson, 3) Joyce Dickson (Dring), 4) Claude Dickson, 5) Laura Taylor, 6) Mrs. Cavers, 7) Joe Blacklock, 8) Michael O’Keefe. The back of the photo also identifies the person on the upper left outside as Norman Burke.

The Ben Dickson threshing gang 1910

This photo reveals a young workforce, some dressed in their Sunday best for the rarity of appearing in a photograph

The Dickson-Henderson family of Boissevain graciously donated to the Manitoba Agricultural Museum a number of photographs taken on their farms near Boissevain. One photo is a group portrait of the Dickson threshing gang taken in 1910. The photo was taken by Osborne Photo which appears to have been a professional photographer active in the Boissevain

Uncovering ‘backsetting’

This lost agricultural practice was key to breaking the prairie to the plow

In a number of accounts of homesteading there is mention of the practice of backsetting which was carried out when breaking sod. Just what backsetting actually involved was unknown to the interpretation committee at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum (MAM) until the committee obtained a book on the history of the Red River Valley. The book


This photo of Brandon in 1912 reveals many details about the early economy of the Wheat City.

The Maple Leaf Flour Mill in Brandon

There were many early mills in Manitoba, but they didn’t last

One of the photos in the Manitoba Agricultural Museum’s photo collection is a 1912 view of Pacific Avenue in Brandon, looking to the east. It appears to have been taken off the roof of the International Harvester Corporation (IHC) warehouse which still stands at the northeast quadrant of the intersection of 18th Street and Pacific

An 1890 photo of a Great North West Central (GNWC) passenger train pulling into the GNWC’s station at Forrest, Manitoba. A large crowd can be seen on the station platform. Given the crowd appears to be very well dressed and the date of the photo is given as 1890, it is likely the image shows the inaugural run of passenger service.

The Great North West Central Railway

This colonization railway has a colourful history but is all but forgotten today

In the early 1880s, the Government of Canada put in place a policy of granting land subsidies to small railway companies in the hope these companies would build rail lines into areas of the Prairies distant from the Canadian Pacific main line and so open these areas to homesteaders. One of these so-called “colonization” railways