Farming in early Wetaskiwin

Advances in technology made huge difference around Wetaskiwin

As early settlers arrived in the Wetaskiwin area, many took up farming as a way to make money and feed their families. For many of those settlers, farming was a new profession for many of those settlers, but they quickly adapted to their new home and helped to build up the area and feed the world.

The earliest settlers didn’t have any of our modern equipment, so they would cut their grain with a scythe. Often a cradle was attached to the scythe and settlers soon became an expert in laying the grain in neat and even rows. Since there was no twine for binding the grain, the sheaf was held together with binding of grain stalks.

These methods of clearing the land and bringing in the crops were extremely difficult and time-consuming. Typically, only half a dozen acres could be cleared by one individual.

By 1900, new machinery improvements began to arrive and it made farming much easier for the settlers in the Wetaskiwin area. Now, a man could ride his plow instead of walking behind it. In addition, the introduction of the press drill allowed seeds to be dropped automatically, then covered without any interaction from the farmer. The biggest addition to the Wetaskiwin farm during the early part of the 20th century though was the mechanical binder, which cut the grain, bound it and put the bundle on the ground.

In the Wetaskiwin area, as the land was cleared, hand threshing was not efficient and the land could not be farmed fast enough. To fix this, Swante Carlson, August Anderson and Daniel Sundvall bought a Sawyer-Massey threshing machine in the late-1890s. Powered by four teams of horses that would walk in a continuous circle pulling a centre wheel-shaft operated the machine. The bundles after the twine was cut were hand-fed into the machine and the grain was dropped out of the separator into a measure and then poured into sacks of 1.5 bushels so they could be loaded on wagons. Straw was dropped out of another part of the thresher and carried a distance away. The machine was highly cumbersome, but very much in demand during those very early years.

In 1901, Andrew Lee brought a steam engine and separator in from South Dakota. This did not require horses, but it still had to be hand-fed and did have a straw carrier. With the new threshing machine, Lee was able to thresh 10 acres of oats for a man named Kjorlien, averaging 110 bushels per acre.

When the threshing was done, it was time to take the crops to market. Until 1897, the closest elevators were in Strathcona, a two to three day trip by wagon. For those who made the journey, it often meant sleeping out in the hay, under the stars. Thankfully, in 1900, there were finally two elevators in Wetaskiwin, along with the Fairbairn Mill that had been operating since 1899. Farmers could now have their wheat made locally, without having to travel to Strathcona or Leduc.

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Information for this article came from Siding 16: An Early History of Wetaskiwin To 1930.

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