Farm machinery of the past

Grain wagons had to be strong enough to travel the rough Prairie trails

A member of the Black family with a grain wagon. They owned various farms in the Brandon and Douglas areas, and it’s difficult to determine the trip that the wagon was undertaking that required two teams. The hauls into the elevators in Douglas and Brandon involved only three- to four-mile journeys, so perhaps a longer haul up to an elevator on the CNR main line north of Douglas was being undertaken.

Bruce Black of the Bran­don area has allowed the Manitoba Agricultural Museum to copy negatives of photographs taken around 1920 on the farms operated by the Black family. This photo shows a grain wagon with tandem teams hitched to it with the evener for the lead team directly hooked on the tip of the wagon tongue. The use of tandem teams indicates a long haul or it involved a steep grade. Normally a single team was used if the haul was just three or four miles and no grades involved. The lead team is a team of mules that were able to tolerate high temperatures better than draft horses.

Grain wagons remained in use up until after the Second World War when technology produced not only reliable and economical trucks but also an economical way to build roads in the rural area. Up to that time the grain wagon was used to get grain and other produce to the elevator or other facility and transport supplies back to the farm. The wheels were replaced with a set of sleigh runners for use in the winter.

A grain wagon had to be strongly built to take the abuse of a Prairie trail. They were relatively simple, being mostly built of wood with a few steel parts, such as the axle spindles and tires. Wagon builders used specific woods for specific purposes such as hickory for the wooden wheel parts and ash for the tongue, and the local blacksmith would make repairs when necessary.

An ongoing repair had to do with the wheels, as the wooden parts dried out and shrank in the dry Prairie climate. The steel tire on the wheel could come off if the wooden parts shrank enough which was a serious problem as the steel tire kept the wooden parts in place as well as protecting the wooden rim from damage. Some farmers would submerge wooden wagon wheels in a slough or creek periodically to keep the wood damp and the wheel tight. If the steel tire stretched for some reason then a blacksmith could remove the tire, heat it to red hot, quickly remount it on the wooden wheel and plunge the entire wheel into a tub of water. This kept it from bursting into flames as well as shrinking the tire onto the wood.

There are a number of grain wagons in the museum collection including an Eaton Imperial and a Massey Harris. Just about every farm machinery manufacturer had its own wagon line and several had multiple lines which stemmed from the company purchasing wagon builders and retaining the builder’s name.

The Manitoba Agricultural Museum is open year round. For location and hours of operation go to

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