They thought northern lights was end of the world

From our March 2012 issue

By Menno Fast – Winkler, Man.

I was born west of Hague in central Saskatchewan in 1932 and attended Paschendale School for eight years from 1938 to 1945. We had a school reunion in 1999. Hundreds came out for this special weekend.

I heard a discussion on the radio about the terrific northern lights long ago. I saw them so red that we thought the end of the world was here. We heard them crackle, too.

Driving to visit my grandparents in an open grain box sleigh was cold but very exciting. We had warm cowhide blankets, plus a steel box foot warmer with hot coals in it.

The big white jackrabbits were playing their games all over the pastures and fields as the horses pulled us home. I used to go skiing down the round dome straw stacks.

The wind-driven curves of snow were full of prairie chickens and big partridges. I believe God provided the rabbits and chickens for millions of poor people to eat in the dry ‘30s.

Our neighbours, the Neufelds, had lots of cattle and horses and they had a huge old straw stack full of big tunnels where the animals were in a warm, dry shelter no matter how cold it got. They farmed with horses who also found shelter in the straw stack.

We made four-foot by four-foot chicken-wire cages with a centre pin to pull it down from the pig barn, and caught as many prairie chickens as we wanted. Oat sheave stacks were the place to put down the cage.

We milked 20 cows all year round and shipped eight-gallon cans to the dairy pool in Saskatoon every morning.

My dad built a new dairy barn in 1942 with a big 32-volt generator on the milk house wall and this carried electric power to the house basement which stored 12 large clear batteries. These were always charged up when we milked or pumped water.

We only had three good crops on 800 acres from 1930-1950. In 1947, my parents decided to move to west of Winkler. My mother was born there in 1912. We had huge crops here like sweet corn and flax, etc. – crops that we never knew about in Saskatchewan. I took university agriculture training in 1949.

What was progress in those days? My father built a big new bunk, two-seater with sliding open front windows, and windows on all doors. It had four doors and a factory-made small wood heater in front. A smoke pike came out from the rounded front of metal. We carried a car battery for a big light on the roof.

Father built us a one-seat bunk to carry me and my sisters to school every day – perfect comfort at 40°below. The horses were covered by blankets when there was no barn, but weren’t covered while driving.

We traded and sold a dozen horses in 1940 to buy a new IHC-W4 tractor on steel wheels, and also bought a new John Deere eight-foot binder. Very few farmers could pay for these modern changes.

My grandfather, Cornelius Fast, owned a large hardware store in Rosthern and six quarters of land. He built a new hardware store in the late ‘30s.

Father took the old hardware building down and hauled it four miles west of Hague by truck and by horses. He used the long walls to build a big granary.

We had moved to a new farm on clear land in 1937. My grandfather helped father to build up a modern farm of 800 acres. That was progress for a large growing family.

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