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With harvest on hold, Dauphin farmers step into the past

The 16th annual Threshing Day harkens back to a time when everyone pitched in

Dauphin-area farmers found a soothing diversion from this year’s stressfully late and difficult harvest Aug. 30 — stepping back in time to when they could all pitch in.

Usually on a Saturday at this time of year, Chris Dzisiak would be busily swathing canola and harvesting early wheat. But cloudy skies and soaking rains have put all that on hold for now.

“Since we’re not able to harvest, may as well come here and have fun,” said Dzisiak, who attended the Dauphin old-time threshing day for the first time. “Life is about trying to enjoy yourself a bit.”

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For many area farmers, the event was an opportunity to momentarily forget their wet fields and anticipated low yields.

Members of the Dauphin Agricultural Heritage Club started Threshing Day in 1998 as a way to remember what farming was once like. Today, mostly retired farmers run the event. Many maintain antique equipment all year in anticipation.

The day features a variety of vintage fire trucks, auger equipment, chore horse plows and, of course, threshing machines. Before combine equipment arrived, harvesting required several people.

Brian Damsgaard remembers the transition. As a child of six or seven, he drove a team of horses through the fields while older men threw sheaves into the chute. By the time he started farming in the late ’60s, the work-intensive machines had been replaced with combines.

He attends Threshing Day every year. “We’ll come in the mornings usually,” he said. “Come look around and then go home and get busy.”

Other years he rushed home to harvest, but this year he and his son planned to stay the whole day. He even hoped to join in and help thresh.

Damsgaard and his son walked over to where the rest of the crowd gathered. Two of the three tractors whirred as the heavy rubber belt whipped around, connected to the threshing machine. Men stood in the hayrack, shovelling sheaves into the chute.

We walked alongside the machine spitting straw onto a growing pile. Damsgaard reached into a plastic tub beside the threshing machine and took out a handful of grain. With time-worn hands, he rubbed the small granules between his fingers, savouring the fruits of these men’s labour.

Cliff Hadway, another farmer from the area, and his family also usually only come for the morning. Even this year, he hoped to be harvesting his own fields by afternoon. He said he wasn’t sure what to expect, but said he, like many others, are hoping for lots more sun and a late frost.

“Days are getting shorter right now,” he said. “And this morning it was +5, so not too far from frost. And if we get frost we’ll be in real trouble.”

Dzisiak was hoping to swath within the next week, but he said the weather forecast wasn’t promising.

He said his hemp usually isn’t cut until late September or early October. At this rate, that crop could be late as well. But he was trying to stay positive. And for this day, he was forgetting about the future and letting his mind wander back to the past, when farmers faced the same struggles, but with a lot less sophisticated technology to help them manage. “As the old adage goes, if you’re given lemons, make lemonade,” he said.

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