Shifting sheaf load sent him toward feeder knives

From our October 2012 Issue

By Gordon Phillips – Surrey, B.C.

The day war was declared between Britain and Germany on Sept. 3, 1939 there were five fellows including me headed to northwest Saskatchewan looking for work. The harvest in our area was finished and we thought we could make a few extra dollars.

Eldon (Soup) Campbell was driving a beautiful 1929 Buick sedan and our party consisted of Soup’s uncle Tom, Mike, Johnny, and me.

We arrived in Unity, which is about 150 miles west of Saskatoon, in late afternoon and put a sign in the window, “LOOKING FOR WORK”. We went for something to eat. In short order, Soup and Tom were headed south of town and the three of us were headed north with a farmer.

I was raised in town and had worked for farmers in the district but I had no experience with horses. After we arranged our bunks and put our things away, we went to the barn where the farmer showed us our teams and the things that had to be done.
I asked Mike to show me how to harness my team. He walked away saying, “You get the same pay as I do.”

Mike was one of my schoolmates but tended to be a bit of a bully. Johnny heard the remark and he showed me what had to be done. After a hearty supper we went to bed.

The next morning, after a few chores and harnessing our teams we enjoyed a big breakfast and headed out to hitch up.
Mike was down the road heading for the threshing machine site and I was “tail-end Charlie”. It was a bit damp from the dew so we spent some time stooking until the sun dried things enough for threshing to start.

Mike was first in to the feeder followed by another hired man, then Johnny and I were last again. We kept this rotation all through the time we were there. We had a mid-morning lunch break, lunch at the threshing site and mid-afternoon snack. It was almost dark by the time we arrived back at buildings. We maintained this routine right through to the finish. It was hard work and we were ready for bed.

One afternoon we were rained out so we unhitched the partially-loaded racks and rode one horse bareback home. As we drew near the buildings, my team began a faster pace and when we went through the gate they started to gallop. I couldn’t control them and as they headed for the barn door, I knew the opening was too low for me to duck.

I was afraid of breaking my neck if I jumped off, so as we reached the door I grabbed the door rail above the doors and let the horse go and I swung to the ground. The men were watching to see if I needed a doctor or the undertaker. It was real scary.

In a day or two, we were back threshing again. One day I pulled into the feeder with my load and started to fork sheaves into the feeder. The soles of my boots were as slippery as glass from walking on the stubble and I had trouble maintaining my position on top of the load. I felt the load beginning to shift towards the feeder.

As I looked down on those angry knives rotating and chopping up the sheaves, I had an awful feeling as part of the load and I were headed towards them. I dropped my fork and sat down. As the load shifted and moved towards the feeder, I went with it.

As I came near the edge of the feeder, I grabbed the side and let sheaves go by and I hung down and dropped to the ground. The engineer on the ground saw what was taking place so he grabbed a fork and ran to the pulley on the tractor which drove the belt to the thresher and pulled it off. The thresher gradually ground to a halt.

When things started rolling again I climbed back on to the rack, finished unloading, and headed back to the field thanking my lucky stars.

When the threshing was all finished the farmer handed each of us two $20 bills plus a $5, said good-bye, and wished us well. We went to the house and thanked the ladies for their wonderful meals and said good-bye.

By the time we gathered up our things, Soup was there to drive us home.