Two pieces of Prince Edward Island farm past will now be preserved for the future at the Canada Agriculture Museum in Ottawa.
Longtime antique farm equipment collector Dr. Roy Montgomery of Birch Hill, who has been the unofficial caretaker of these pieces and more for years, recently donated a Summerside-built threshing machine from the 1930s and a 1940s farm wagon made by a Fortune Bridge carriage company to the museum.
“I started (collecting) around 1990. I had to get a barn big enough that I could put things in before I could start collecting,” says this West Prince physician, who grew up on a farm in Birch Hill not far away from the place where he stores his stockpile of farm equipment.
“There was no sense buying things like that unless you could put it under cover. It would just be rotten wood.”
There’s no fear of that fate for the amazingly preserved 1930s threshing machine that was built in the 1930s by Hall Manufacturing, Summerside, P.E.I.
“They exported their machines all over the Maritimes and I think they even sent some out west,” Montgomery says.
“The people who were engaged in the manufacturing of threshing machines were amongst the best craftsmen that you could find on P.E.I. They had to know their wood and their metal because if you’re building a piece of machinery it has to be made so that it’s strong and durable and it runs well.”
This machine has indeed withstood the test of time.
In fact, the painted instructions of “keep machine well oiled” and model and serial number 4CA 355 are still clearly embossed on the side.
“This is the 355th one made,” Montgomery says.
Odds are it is one of the very few of its kind left, due to its large size and wood components which the elements of nature would have waged an easy war on if it had been left outdoors for even a year or two.
“Probably 99 per cent of these are gone,” says Montgomery.
The mechanical elements are all intact; a small tractor originally powered the belt-driven machine.
“I heard about it somehow. I went out to have a look at it and it was the nicest one I’d ever seen,” Montgomery says.
“That was 15 or 20 years ago. All these things were disappearing and I thought somebody should preserve some of them,” he says of his collection that once filled two barns.
Some of the pieces have also found another home in a new 7,000-square-foot section of the Canadian Potato Museum in O’Leary.
The 1940s farm wagon was originally crafted by a carriage shop in Fortune Bridge.
It still bears the stamp on its back axel that says J.S. Francis and Son, Fortune Bridge, P.E.I.
Both the wagon and the threshing machine were recently transported to the museum in Ottawa and are now part of its permanent collection.
“I’m glad to see them (go there). That’s why I got them was to preserve them. And to have them go to the (Canada Agriculture Museum) I think is the best I could have hoped for. . . ,” Montgomery says.
“That way they’ll be preserved. And P.E.I. will be represented there. People don’t think of P.E.I. as a manufacturing province but at one time it was.”
Small is good
• Some firms, particularly those in Atlantic Canada, did not follow the trend established by large Ontario companies. They chose, instead, to focus on producing machines to meet specific needs of their markets.
• In the 1920s, the Hall Manufacturing Company of Summerside, P.E.I., was still building threshing machines with a capacity of less than Hall Manufacturing Company Ltd.’s, Undershot Thresher 20-24, distributed only in the Maritimes. In fact, many of these firms continued to build small machines long after they had disappeared from the catalogues of Ontario manufacturers.
• In the 1930s, when the transition to combine harvesting was well on its way in other parts of Canada, La Cie Desjardins of Kamouraska, Que., continued to offer a small manual-feed wooden threshing machine, using technology from the 1870s. By offering these machines, manufacturers filled an important niche market where price and field size would have made the purchase of a large machine or combine untenable.
(Source: Franz Klingender, curator of agriculture at the Canada Agriculture Museum www.agriculture.technomuses.ca)