By Jacob Fehr – Swift Current, Sask.
Times were tough on the prairies during the 1930s. Most people were poor and so were the crops. Especially in the south, there was no firewood except for rotten railroad ties if you happened to work as section man.
In August, when our manure pile was cured from the hot summer sun, we forked the dry straw off the pile and spread it on a field. Then we forked the cured manure into a huge platter, about a foot thick.
We hitched a team of horses and walked them back and forth until the manure was well mixed. We then tramped it down in our bare feet until it was nice and smooth and our feet were clean as a whistle after rinsing them in warm rain water.
When the manure had a dry crust, we cut it in foot wide lengths, cutting bricks a foot long and carefully laid them on side to dry.
I remember my mother who was a hard worker, always up early, teaching us to make igloos, spacing the bricks so the wind could blow through. After the manure bricks were dry they were stored in the north lean of our barn.
Mother would have us take a gunny sack, go into the village pasture and pick nice, big cow chips so she could bake bread.
Heard loud sound
The cow pies were often nestled in tall grass, sun and rain had already taken out most of the strong smell and I think it was more like perfume compared to the lagoons of today.
In the summer of 1936, my cousin, Abe Heinrichs, and I heard a loud puttering sound so we ran to the neighbours where we saw what looked like a threshing crew operating a manure press. We learned later, a Mr. Banman was travelling from village to village making a bit of cash with this new invention.
Made of an auger from an old threshing machine, the press bolted onto a plank platform, driven by a belt and stationary engine.
The manure was forked into a box built of blanks and an extended box, a foot wide, and six-inches deep where glittering manure, like black licorice came streaming out.
With a sharp spade, Ben Giesbrecht chopped the manure into foot long bricks and his cousins Dave and Abe carried the bricks away in flat shovels, carefully laying them on side to dry.
What an amazing contraption. This machine and several more were built by Peter P. Friesen, my wife’s grandfather, who homesteaded in the Blumenhof area in 1905.
He had a blacksmith shop and pounded out many plowshare. At 4 p.m., or ‘Faspa’ time, Mrs. Abram Giesbrecht came out with a huge pan full of Rollkuaken and Rebus.
Talking about manure bricks for fuel and the strong smell, I remember cleaning out the pig pen one spring that really sent me on a free trip.
The potbellied stove, the chimney, and the Saskatchewan wind had no problem taking care of the odour. I still miss the special cow chip scent I grew up with.