Clearing The Land Of Rocks

Pipestone Flyer

    In the early years of farming, many tasks were done manually, including the job everyone hated; clearing the land of rocks. Each spring as the ice and snow left the fields, the field that had been completely cleared of rocks the previous spring was once again, dotted with a new crop of rocks.  Clearing the land of rocks was one of the first tasks each spring. They were picked by hand and hauled off the field to prevent damage to the cultivating, planting and harvesting equipment.   

    During the summer when it rains the water moves around a rock carrying tiny bits of soil underneath it, gradually moving the rock to the surface. The same is true of frost. As frost heaves the ground, the rock is moved and again, soil is displaced under the rock causing it to gradually rise to the surface.  As verified each spring, the supply under the surface seems to be never ending.

    Eventually mechanical rock pickers pulled behind a tractor were developed but in the early years rocks were picked by hand. This was probably one of the most tiring and boring jobs on the farm, although weeding the garden was right up there. The job involved walking alongside a wagon with a low-sided box that was pulled by a team of horses and picking the rocks from strips 8 – 10 meters wide. The rock picking crew would proceed up and down the field until the entire field had been covered.  

    The team of horses were ideal for this chore as they didn’t require a driver, thus providing an extra pair of hands to pick rocks. Once the horses were set on a course would proceed straight down the field and would move forward or stop on the verbal commands ‘get-up and whoa’.  Occasionally they would have to be re-directed but it was amazing how straight they would go.  

    Rocks too big to lift onto the wagon were rolled up a heavy plank (ramp) onto the wagon.  Very big rocks were rolled onto a “stone boat”, a 4-ft by 6-ft (1½ by 2 metre) steel toboggan pulled by a team of horses or the tractor.  If too big to roll onto the stone boat, the rocks were removed by wrapping a heavy (“logging”) chain around them and pulling them to the side of the field with a team of horses or the tractor. 

    Driving through the countryside today, tidy rows of rocks can still be seen lining the fence lines; rocks that were placed there through the hated but necessary tedious task of early pioneer families.