Harvest time on the farm was always an exciting time when I was a boy because it meant new jobs to learn, the opportunity to work with neighbours, hearty meals – some delivered right to the field, and a sense of well-being as the season’s grain was stored safely away. The task that ushered in the harvest season was the cutting of the crops with the binder. My dad did this job, sitting on the binder, working the hand levers as adjustments were called for as a taller or shorter section of crop was approached, all the while working the bundle carrier lever with his foot so that the piles of sheaves were left in neat rows, ready for stooking and at the same time guiding the team of horses along the edge of the crop.
One job that I dreaded was stooking – building the pyramids of sheaves butt end down so that they would shed the rain and the grain would not spoil because of contact with the ground. While I generally stooked by hand, my dad and older brother used pitchforks. To begin a stook, two sheaves were picked up at the same time, propped against each other so that they would stay standing, then others were added, one by one, until about 10 sheaves formed a nice stook. When using a fork, one sheaf was hoisted into the air and slammed to the ground butt first where it would stay, enabling the other sheaves to be added, one by one, to create the stook.
The piles of sheaves were dropped by the binder’s bundle carrier in long rows that seemed interminable to a small boy, and I can remember starting on a long row and thinking I’d never reach the end. However, eventually I did – and then had to head off to the next row to start all over again. The job went faster, it seemed, if someone started at one end of the row and another person began at the other end, meeting in the middle. I think jobs like this developed patience and persistence in people – we had to stick at a tedious, difficult job until it was done. Many a night I can remember heading to the house, almost too weary to walk, blistered hands so sore as to hardly be able to hold a fork.
A few weeks after the stooking was completed, the threshing gang would arrive to thresh the sheaves. What excitement to go on the stook rack, drawn by horses, and to help pitch the sheaves onto the load. It had to be done correctly or the load would become unstable and collapse. To be allowed to pitch sheaves into the feeder of the threshing machine was a rite of passage; when you had been allowed to do that you were almost ready to drive your own stook team!
Threshing time was a time of excitement on the farms of the past, but also a time to teach children about the need for hard work, persistence and responsibility. Gradually we boys assumed more and more duties until we could perform many important tasks independently.
– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba