Thursday, September 10, 2020

Remembering the Farm: Grain Handling at Harvest

 Once the grain was in the hopper on the combine, the question became what to do with it. On our farm in the early 50s that was a problem. Dad had neither a truck nor an auger; he had two rubber tired wagons of questionable vintage that held maybe 50 bu and 75 bu. They did not have hoists so grain would have to be shoveled off into the bin, if you look at old wooden grain bins, you will usually see a window near the top.  That was to shovel the grain from the wagon into the bin.

Some background is required here. At that time, Dad farmed 640 acres, of which 320 were deeded and cultivated, while 320 were rented. The rented land had 80 cultivated acres. There was a total of 400 cultivated acres of which 100 acres were summerfallow. Crop rotation was usually 100 acres summerfallow wheat, 100 acres stubble wheat and 100 acres barley or oats grown on stubble after the two wheat crops. Being generous that would mean 5,000 to 6,000 bushels of grain to harvest and store.

A bushel is a unit of volume. A bushel of wheat weighs 60 lbs, of barley 48 lbs and of oats 34 lbs. They all occupy the same space as in an Imperial bushel is 0.78 cubic feet and an American bushel is 0.80 cubic feet. A wooden grain bin 12’x14’x8’ would hold roughly 1,000 Imperial bushels. It would need to be cross braced inside about 1/3 up with wire or rods to prevent the pressure of the grain from forcing out the walls. I have no idea what the farm had for storage in the very early 50s but I know several wooden rectangular bins were added over a few years.

Typical rectangular wooden granaries, usually on wooden floors, sometimes with foundations other times just skids

The grain would be hauled to the local elevator (Saskatchewan Wheat Pool) beginning in the fall and through out the winter and following spring as quotas opened up and if there was room in the elevator. With luck the bins would be empty in time to hold the harvest. Cleaning them for fall meant sweeping out the bird droppings and any rotten grain that stayed in the corners. I hated that job. We never heard of Hantavirus in those days. My brother remembers cutting the ends out of tin cans and nailing them over mouse holes in the walls and floors

A 15’ diameter round bin would also hold about 1,000 bu with the advantage of not needing inside bracing, just strapping around the outside. It was filled through a hole in the centre of the roof with an auger. Round wooden bins painted red with black or green roofs were quite popular by the end of the 60s and you still see them abandoned, out in the middle of a field or rotting away in a row of round and rectangular bins. The disadvantage was you had to buy them as most lacked the skill to build them themselves. And had to have an auger long enough to reach.

Typical round wooden bins, usually with wooden floors set on skids

Back to the combine. The simplest solution was to clean off a place and pile the grain on the ground, hauling it home after harvest. Usually, he would make a circle with snow fence and line it with tarpaper to reduce the amount of grain in contact with the ground. Dad borrowed a short auger from our neighbour and filled the wagon, hooked the auger behind it, and drove it home slowly. The auger went into the little window and he would shovel the grain to the back of the wagon and then distribute it in the bin as required. Sometimes he got tired of hauling the auger home and would just shovel off the load. Next time he would take the auger.

In 1955, my Grandfather Johnson sold out and Dad bought his 49 Mercury 1 ton truck with a grain box and hoist. Life changed dramatically and that truck was our go-to work horse for 15 years (until he bought the Ford Louisville about 1971). About the same time as he bought the 1949 Mercury, he bought a new Versatile 28’ 6” auger with a (very dependable) Wisconsin gas engine. Grain handling became much easier. He had a hired man in the fall to drive the truck until I was big enough. The hired man drove it on the road; I had to drive it cross country which was simple as our land was all connected.

Three or four combine hopper dumps would fill the truck and you hoped that Dad wouldn’t have to wait too long for it to get back. I checked the hopper capacity of the new big combines 400 bu and up. No wonder farmers buy semis to haul from the combine.

Dad purchased another 320 cultivated acres and 160 of native grass and later broke up the remaining 80 acres of grass on the one quarter and  That gave him five quarters of cultivated land of which he summerfallowed one quarter each year. This all added to his need for grain storage.

This is pretty much how it stayed until the early 1970s. My youngest brother filled in some details as I was long gone by then. Dad bought a steel bin (3,000 bu?) in 1972 and put it on a concrete base. He bought several after that but on wooden floors with skids under them. At the estate sale in September 2002, the farm kept three bins including the one on concrete. In 2013 my two brothers, two renters and “two other guys” set the two bins on hopper bottoms as the wooden floors were starting to rot.

Setting the steel bin on the hopper bottom

Note the ability to insert a grain aerator fan into the hopper. Depending on the situation grain aeration can be used dry it, keep it from heating or bring the moisture level up to the legal maximum to market.

Dad finishing his last harvest 2001. The yellow truck was to jumpstart the auger engine. Dad only farmed the home quarter the last few years and rented the rest out. The other auger in the picture was also Dad’s and was sold at the estate sale.

Temporary storage belonging to one of the renters. The auger was purchased at the estate sale. The family continues to own the land and rent it out


Diane Henders said...

This brings back a lot of memories! Those photos are so familiar - could have been taken on our farm in Manitoba. The story of the tin can lids nailed over mouseholes brought me a surprised laugh - I had forgotten about those, but we had them, too. Good old prairie ingenuity!

Come to think of it, it was only about 10 years ago that I had to fix my car's muffler with an old tomato can and some baling wire while I was travelling. You can always identify a prairie kid - she carries a roll of baling wire in her toolbox! ;-)

The Blog Fodder said...

Diane, I am glad you enjoy these posts. I write them for my kids so they know my history and people like yourself to bring back memories.
Our farm was held together by bailing wire and #9 wire.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

My father had a couple of funny stories about tearing down old wooden granaries like in the photo. Both stories involved rats.

The Blog Fodder said...

Debra, I bet he did. We had rat bait out all the time but with so much easily available grain, it was ineffective. Skunks under wooden bins also made a few stories. I liked them but our dogs did not.

Shammickite said...

It was all a lot of hard work, wasn't it? My dad didn't farm like yours did, but he did have a market garden where he grew all his own vegetables and also sold his main crop of strawberries. Lots of stories to be told there too.

The Blog Fodder said...

Shammickite, market gardens are a great deal of work as much of it is by hand. Gardens and milk cows were two things that did not appeal to me