By Mathew Wozniak – Grande Prairie, Alta.
From the first settlers until WWII, all land clearing was done with a grub hoe and axe. You would dig the dirt out from between the roots with the hoe and then chop them.
My folks worked at this all summer and my brother and I would change clothes when we got home from school to help them. Many times after cutting all the roots, the tree or stump still stood firmly. There were more roots going straight down and hard to get to. All this wood had to be burned, so there were many wildfires.
In the summer of 1937 we cleared about 10 acres. The next task was to get someone with a tractor and breaking plow to break it. We didn’t have money. Our storekeeper Charlie Brochu, who had a Walis tractor, offered to break the land for us.
He’d wait for the payment if we could come up with $5 to buy a barrel of gas.
I don’t remember how we ordered it but the agent in Eaglesham, Sask. would take a barrel to the railway station. The weigh freight crew had a ladder they’d put into the door of a boxcar and roll the barrel up, and then roll it down in the next town of Codesa.
Tractors were very low compression and gasoline called ‘distillate’ would still pre-ignite.
As soon as the land was broke, we picked all the visible roots. We then had to be extra nice to a neighbour who had a 6-foot single disc so we could borrow it and work the land.
In the spring we got a neighbour to seed it and we always got good yields on new land. Now we had grain to sell and straw to feed our cattle.
Straw was less nourishing than hay and took longer to digest. Cows developed large stomachs that we called ‘straw bellies’.
During and after the war, crawler tractors became available and the axe and grub hoe were retired. Soon larger areas were getting cleared and broke.