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Threshing in the Path Head district 1903

Thomas Hunt was a noted thresherman in early Manitoba history

Threshing in the Path Head district 1903

The photo collection of the Manitoba Agricultural Museum contains a photo of the Thomas Hunt outfit threshing in the Path Head district of Manitoba in 1903. The Path Head district lies between MacGregor and Katrime.

Thomas Hunt was born at Dunkeld, Bruce County, Ont. in 1862. In 1874, when Thomas was 12 years old, his family moved to Manitoba. Unfortunately the family history does not record whether they came to Manitoba through the United States or they travelled west by vessel on the Great Lakes to Fort William and Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) and then took the Dawson Trail west.

The trail was constructed in 1871 and ran west, through Rainy River, crossed Lake of the Woods and ended at Ste. Anne.

But as the Hunt family history indicates that they purchased a team of oxen and a covered wagon in Winnipeg to travel west, it seems likely that they travelled through the U.S. to Minneapolis by rail and/or steamboat, then travelled overland to the Red River where they could take a steamboat to Winnipeg.

However they came to Winnipeg, the family travelled west by ox-drawn wagon and settled in the Burnside district. Tom appears to have taken a job with a crew surveying the eastern portion of Portage la Prairie soon after arriving in the area. At this time going to work at the age of 12 or 13 was very common. Tom’s wages would have come in very useful for a family going homesteading in Manitoba in the 1870s.

In 1888, Thomas married Mary Stinson and around that time took up a farm in the Path Head district. Tom and Mary farmed for some 50 years in the district. Tom was known for his threshing outfits.

It would appear that the Hunt family had a mechanical bent as Thomas’s older brother, George Hunt, was selling Champion machinery in the Bagot area in 1898. George reportedly was one of the earliest residents of the Burnside/Bagot area to own a steam threshing outfit and did custom work for local farmers. He also owned an automobile sometime around 1900, which was a time when autos were rare in rural Manitoba.

The location of the Path Head district, noted by the symbol on the map. photo: Google Maps

The photo shows a J.I. Case 25 75 steam engine driving a Garr Scott 36 X 58 separator. Thirty-six indicates the width of the cylinder in inches and 58 indicates the width of the separator body, again in inches. It was quite common for separator manufacturers to design machines with a wider separator body than the cylinder probably in order to, hopefully, do a better job separating the grain out of the straw and cleaning the grain.

As usual, there is a wealth of information in the photo. The separator is right up to date for 1903 being equipped with a straw blower and “high bagger” elevator. A man can be seen on top of the separator at the straw blower doing something.

Most straw blowers could be adjusted in a variety of ways. There was a crank to swing the blower pipe from side to side, a crank which raised or lowered the blower tube and there was a hood at the end of the tube which could be adjusted to deflect the straw more precisely.

Some blower tubes featured a telescoping section so the tube could be lengthened or shortened. All of these adjustments meant the separator man could direct the straw precisely and in so doing result in the separator not having to move as often as the straw stack had become too large.

There are two men in the wagon who are bagging the grain and stacking the bags in the wagon. One can see the tops of what appear to be bags in the wagon. It would appear Thomas Hunt was storing the grain in bags in a building rather than storing the grain loose. Given the issues in handling loose grain at this time, bagging grain would have been a very common practice. Storing bagged grain would have resulted in the farmer being able to make use of any building the farmer had handy.

Bagged grain also made movement to the elevator a little easier as well. With most roads in 1903 being little better than dirt trails across the Prairies, bagged grain allowed the farmer to easily remove the bagged grain from the wagon if the wagon became stuck in a mud hole or in a creek crossing. However, the problem with bags would be that mice would find a stack of bagged grain ideal, as the gaps between bags would shelter the mice from predators and bags would be easy to chew through to get at the grain.

The engine is being fired with straw, a standard practice at the time. One can see a pile of straw behind the engine to the right and the person on the ground behind the engine probably is busy loading straw into the firebox. There appears to be two water wagons, one on either side of the engine. Why Thomas felt the need for two water wagons is a good question.

Perhaps there was no source of good-quality water in the area and so a long haul was necessary requiring two wagons to keep the engine supplied? Water high in minerals or alkalinity would lead to poor steaming or boiler damage, both conditions a competent engineer would want to avoid. A source of good water would be a real asset to a steam engineer.

The sheaf wagons used in this image are not the standard racks but rather appear to be the European style of sheaf wagon which featured a sloped front and back to the body rather than the vertical front and back of the standard sheaf wagon. Often the European-style wagons featured a floor that also sloped into the centre. While this design would be more difficult to construct it is not apparent what the advantages of this design would be. Further research on this issue is needed.

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