by Melville Rae
from The Evening Guide 1960
This is a story as told to me by an old time resident of the Starkville Area - and quite a few years ago. When one of the neighbours stopped on his way home from
Port Hope, he was asked by another what he saw that day.
"I seed them showin' a new machine called a binder that cut the grain and tied it up in sheaves already for stocking."
''Then you're a liar" said the other. And that was too much to take, so he tied the lines around the whip, jumped the fence and tackled his neighbour; evidently
they both had their 'dander' up and were fighting on the ground, rolling about and clawing and trying to choke each other. Then the woman of the house came
out and belaboured them with her broomstick and broke up the fight.
"Shame on youse both, fightin' like a couple of dogs" said she - truly a woman of spirit.
But actually the binder revolutionized part of the farm work. The first one I remember seeing was a heavy affair with wide wheels - a Massey Harris. It took three
horses to draw it. There was no motor on it and no sheaf carrier. So, the sheaves were scattered all over the field, not thrown out in rows.
And to be a bit personal, my father had a hired man with a reputation for being the best worker in that part of the country. If he was a bit behind with the
stocking at dinner time, he would bolt down his meal and be in the field again stocking like mad to catch up and by some great effort he would skip along till
quitting time. It was his boast that he could pick the last sheaf off the binder.
And he was that good that he was paid - at least during haying and harvest - twenty-five dollars a month with feed for his driver - a princely sum.
From then on the cradle generally fell into disuse. But it had I been a great improvement upon the scythe. It had a rack attached to the long blade and
threw out the grain in a regular swath.
Then it was raked and bound by hand. On a moonlight night often the younger men would help the farm owner with a stocking 'bee' and they looked for their reward
with a good meal and a 'hoedown' with the local belles who mysteriously appeared on the scene.
That was allowed as a rule, but as time went on the whiskey and the hard cider were no longer provided because these young men simply went wild with a few drinks,
and quarrels and fights were too common - hard on the eyes and a shame to their church going parents.
And for those who have not seen a cradle, a friend of mine offered me one with the homemade wooden rake to go with it and agreed to give it to the local
museum if and when it comes to pass.
But there are other implements used on the farm that are forgotten - or half forgotten; and rather large for a museum. There was the turnip chopper fed and run
by hand; the fanning mill for cleaning seed grain, also cranked and the grindstone for sharpening the knives off the mower and the binder - and the butcher knives
at hog killing time. And the bucksaw for cutting up small logs and limbs for the kitchen stove - mostly out of use - and joy be with them, and the barrel churn with the
When things didn't go right and the butter wouldn't come, different members of the family would take a turn with that 'dashed' churn and that would be putting it
mildly... And as time went on and 'coal oil' lamps came into use, grandmother's candle mould was lost or discarded - having no further use for same.
But grandmother's little old spinning wheel for making linen from flax is still preserved, all painted and varnished up, and it was unlike the larger wheel used to make
yarn from the carded wool right off the sheeps back; to be later woven into homespun cloth dyed with walnut or butternut bark and fashioned into clothing right at home.
And I remember Grandfather's muzzle loading shotgun, complete with ramrod and powder horn, with caps to put on the firing pin. It took two men and a boy to load
it using old newspapers for wadding, then the bullet or some shot, another wadding of newspaper and then "Stand back boys" for no one was exactly sure what
would happen. If there was too much powder that old musket would kick like a mule and send a man sprawling or give him a sore shoulder for a week. I remember
seeing it used to shoot at a big bold chicken hawk that came to the barnyard trying to carry off a sizeable chicken. The man at the gun missed the hawk but scared
him so much that he dropped the chicken. And there was a bullet mould that was part of the outfit - all disappeared, most likely loaned or discarded.
And I recall a tale handed down from grandfather's days. We had many Irish neighbours - some of them right from "the ould sod". And they were uniformly cheerful
and kindly people, who always looked on the bright side of things. And so the story went: one of the early pioneers who likely cleared his land with an axe, broadcast
his grain among the stumps and cut it with a scythe or, a cradle - had never been able to buy a horse. So one evening when he was smoking his pipe and chatting with
his lads, he said, "If we have a good crop next year, I think I'll buy a mare." And it'll have a colt, said one.
And the wee nipper said, "Yes, and I'll ride it".
"And break the colt's back would ye?", said the parent and fetched him a clout on the ear for being so dumb.