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The George Kent outfit

A chance find in an old magazine shows a Manitoba threshing crew in action

While researching the Winnipeg Tractor Trials we reviewed copies of the Canadian Threshermen and Farmer and in a 1904 edition, came across this image of the George Kent outfit, which consisted of a Waterous 22 horsepower steam engine and a 35×50 McCloskey separator. George Kent farmed somewhere around Shoal Lake.

The photo contains a wealth of detail. Very noticeable is the large number of men visible in the photo. If you count the legs of the men standing beside the water wagon team, there are 17 men and one boy visible in the image. The entire crew must have come in from the field to appear in the photo.

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While the McCloskey is equipped with a wind stacker, there is no high bagger so the grain is coming off the grain shoe and being conveyed to the side of the machine where the grain appears to being bagged with the bags being loaded into the grain wagon. This was a very laborious activity to say the least.

If you look closely at the rear of the engine you will note that the firebox door has been replaced by an open-ended square metal tube, about two feet long. When the engine was being fired, this tube would be stuffed full of straw by the fireman, who is standing at the back of the engine on the ground holding a long-handled firing fork. When firing, he would be packing the straw into the box and on into the firebox.

The steam, after powering the cylinders, would be exhausted into the smokestack, where it helped create a draft through the boiler. Air would be pulled through the straw and as the straw reached the firebox it burned. Apparently, when fired properly, the straw burned very clean. When viewed through a firebox port it appeared as if there was a sheet of white flame in the firebox.

Oddly enough, the belt appears to be revolving as the belt is blurred in the photo, yet there appears to be no straw in the firebox tube so cold air would be being pulled through the firebox, boiler and up the smokestack. This was not only wasteful of heat, but also hard on the boiler, as it cooled the boiler surfaces, particularly the flue sheet in the firebox, too rapidly. Leaks could occur.

Successful business

The John Goodison Threshing Machine Company was formed in 1889 by John Goodison of Sarnia, Ont. He purchased the Sarnia Agricultural Agricultural Implement Company from the Sawyer Massey Company, which had in turn purchased the business the preceding year when it went bankrupt. Goodison rapidly built up a successful threshing machine business which managed to penetrate the U.S. market, quite an achievement at the time.

In 1892, Goodison secured the rights to build a threshing machine designed by John McCloskey of Sarnia and persuaded McCloskey to work for Goodison for the next 10 years. John McCloskey, with his parents and siblings, had come to Canada from Ireland in 1864. His family began farming in Ontario and some of the older McCloskey boys established a small carriage factory as they had been mechanics in Ireland. John learned the trade and worked in various places in Ontario.

While in Fingal, Ont., John became interested in threshing machines, particularly the new “vibrating” machines with straw walkers.

They were replacing the older apron-style machines in which the straw, grain and chaff were ejected from the cylinder onto a revolving slatted inclined chain. As the mixture moved along the chain, hopefully the grain fell through the chain, onto the grain shoe below. The vibrating machines were an improvement over the apron style, however the balance of the straw walkers and grain shoe left much to be desired. John McCloskey worked out how to balance the straw walkers and grain shoe with a double-throw crankshaft and patented the invention in 1881. McCloskey assigned the rights to build his designs to three farm implement manufacturers at separate times between 1881 and 1892. In 1892, the rights were purchased by Goodison.

Added products

Over the next few years, Goodison become the first manufacturer to add wind stackers, high grain elevators able to fill grain bins and self feeders to their threshers. For some reason, Goodison never had a Western Canada branch, which was odd as they sold a fair number of machines in Western Canada. Goodison did have branch operations in the U.S. and today Goodison threshing machines are better known there than in Canada.

Goodison went on to build their own steam engines, beginning in 1904. However, the boilers were supplied by the Waterous company and then Sawyer Massey. Steam engine manufacture ended in 1926 and threshing machine manufacture ended in 1928, when Goodison moved from their original location in Sarnia to another site.

In 1920, Goodison became a distributor for Hart Parr and after the 1928 merger that formed Oliver, Goodison became the Canadian distributor for Oliver.

There is a steel Goodison threshing machine in the Manitoba Agricultural Museum’s storage yard.

On Sunday, July 31, 2016 the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the Manitoba Agricultural Museum held Harvesting Hope: a World Record to Help the Hungry. To help end global hunger, over 500 volunteers from 100 communities across Canada operated over 125 early 20th century threshing machines to harvest a 100-acre crop of wheat. When fully operating, the equipment required over four football fields of space.

The Manitoba Agricultural Museum is open year round and operates a website which can provide visitors with information on museum including location and hours of operation.

About the author


Alex Campbell is a dedicated volunteer and Member of the Interpretation Committee at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum.



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