Virtual Saskatchewan Home Navigation Bar

Get Around Virtual Saskatchewan!


  Harvesting Nostalgia

by Paul Yanko
John Eberts

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 be lost."

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 the work.

"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!"

Pitching 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.

Directing 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 demonstration.

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.

The rain of straw creates a playground at the back of the threshing machine.

"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 Field Day.

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."

Chickens and turkeys are used to seeing threshing demonstrations, but not emus.

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 his assessment.

"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.

Contact Us | Contents | Advertising | Archives | Maps | Events | Search |
Prints 'n Posters | Lodging Assistance | Golf | Fishing | Parks | Privacy |

© Copyright (1997-2012) Virtual Saskatchewan