by Paul Yanko
It's a breezy, sunny, mid-September afternoon in Saskatchewan and
the harvest is in full swing on John Eberts' farm, about 40 kilometres
northwest of Regina. Eberts, like every farmer at
this time of year, is out working in his field.
Unlike most farms, though, Eberts' operation has drawn nearly 2,000
curious onlookers. For more than a decade now, Eberts has hosted an old-fashioned
threshing bee at his Dundee Acres farm. He and his friends tackle
the harvest the way it was done a half century ago.
"We do it to preserve our heritage," says Eberts, tipping up the
brim of his weathered cowboy hat. "Without people like me, it could
Eberts fondly recalls the days during the '40s and '50s when the
harvest was much more of a social event. The machinery wasn't nearly
as advanced as it is today, so more hands were needed to help with
"We used to have a lot of fun in those days," he says, gesturing
toward the many displays behind us. "Nowadays, you've got the idiot
box and Nintendo!"
stooks of wheat into the mouth of the mechanical monster.
The only modern machinery in sight are the hundreds of cars and
trucks that, on this day, have transported their owners out to the
farm and into the past. For many, it's a familiar trip. A good third
of those in attendance are self-proclaimed "oldtimers" like Eberts,
men who've harvested with this equipment and who've gathered today
to reminisce about days gone by. They buzz around the many vintage
tractors and antique farm equipment, studying everything carefully
and swapping memories over the din of the demonstrations.
"I used to farm with a tractor just like this one," says Leslie
Wilson of nearby Silton, pointing to a meticulously-restored 1926
John Deere tractor that's chugging away beside us.
Wilson, 79 at the time, says more than equipment has changed since
he began farming many years ago. In those days, the work was handled
with horses rather than horsepower, and there was a certain peacefulness
and rhythm to the labor.
"With horses you had to take breaks," says Wilson, "but nowadays
you can go 16 to 20 hours a day."
As he speaks a team of Belgian horses pulls a plow through a stubble
field about 100 metres west of where we're standing. But few people
around us seem to notice. They're gathering near the "head" of the
mechanical dinosaur known as the threshing machine.
With a cough and a sputter, the 1920s-vintage tractor used to power
the thresher comes to life.
the outflow of grain into the wagon, to insure an even load.
Threshing machines had no motors. The earliest ones were powered
by horses on a treadmill, then by steam-propelled tractors, and
finally by gasoline tractors like the one here today. Threshers
depended on energy transferred from a belt spun off the side of
the tractor. It, in turn, drove other belts and chains which animated
the internal workings of the threshing machine.
With the crowd's attention focused, a group of men atop a horse-drawn
wagon pitch wheat onto a conveyor
belt that feeds the mouth of the thresher. Inside the machine, the
grain is mechanically separated from the chaff and ejected out the
side of the machine through a swivelling shaft controlled by a lone
man in the receiving wagon. He directs the flow of grain, about
a bushel every 20 seconds, to insure even distribution.
Kids giggle and chase one another through the flying chaff coming
out the thresher's tail. A mound of straw about two metres high
and five in diameter has been deposited on the ground from the morning
It's a pretty slow process by today's standards, where self-propelled
combines comb up swaths of wheat and spew the separated grain into
trucks travelling alongside. But the mechanical thresher was a magnificent
improvement over the arduous task of flailing the grain by hand.
Then and now, harvest is the culmination of an entire year's work
and it's completion is cause for celebration. Guests at the threshing
bee can sit back and listen to old-time fiddlers fill the air with
upbeat tunes, check out the work of local craftspeople, watch the
heavy horses compete to see whose team can pull the most weight,
and enjoy and evening barbecue and dance.
rain of straw creates a playground at the back of the threshing
"It's sort of like, for one day a year, a museum comes to life,"
explains Gordon Bonokoski, one of the event's organizers.
Although time has taken its toll on the number of old veterans
who visit Eberts' threshing bee, the event grows more popular every
year. In fact, six years ago, Eberts had to enlist a heavy horse
club and a couple of Lions groups to help him organize and operate
the affair, now called The Harvest Extravaganza and Heavy Horse
Some of the younger faces here today travelled to the threshing
bee with Robert Nelson, a retired accountant from Regina.
"When I was a kid we, used to do a little stooking and threshing
ourselves," says Nelson. "And I just wanted to show my grandchildren
how things used to be done."
and turkeys are used to seeing threshing demonstrations, but
Eberts says that even with the help he now receives, the threshing
bee is a lot of work. But he says he likes being active and he's
still fit -- a firm handshake from a well-callused hand confirms
"It makes me happy to see all these people out here enjoying themselves,"
he says, "especially the oldtimers who did this stuff to survive
many years ago."
The day wraps up with a beef barbecue and dancing to accordion music. A beer gardens is also available. For further information, call 306-729-2215.
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