A more efficient way was needed to pick up stooks during the Second World War — resourceful farmers figured it out
Farmers are intensely familiar with ingenuity. Their survival depends on it.
Take the Second World War. It absorbed much of the manpower on which the farming industry depended. The effects were profoundly felt in northern agricultural areas, where the harvest season is compressed by the onset of early winter.
Peace River Country of northwestern Alberta is one such area. The war tapped local manpower when many young men volunteered for military service. Conscription extracted many of the remainder. Finding manpower for the harvest in 1943 was nearly impossible.
Threshing crews consisted of a minimum of 10 men. Eight drove teams pulling a rack that they loaded with bundles from binder cut and manually stooked grain. The loaded racks were spotted each side of the thresher feeder and the bundles were manually fed into the threshing machine.
Properly timed, the threshing machine needed to be stopped only for maintenance.
Bill Woronuk, farming in Rycroft in the heart of Alberta’s Peace River Country, anticipated the shortage of available men. Early In 1943, he began searching for a solution.
He learned that some desperate farmers used stone boats and had schoolchildren drive horses to pull these devices to stooks. These they could load without having to loft significant weight. Using several such improvisations could replace a man and a conventional rack and team. Children sensed themselves as assets to the farm operation.
He also learned about an invention that featured a broad, fork-like piece of equipment made to attach to a tractor to pick up stooks and bring them to the thresher. It would replace men driving teams of horses.
It was called a stook sweep. Olds Agricultural College in Olds, Alta., offered a short course on building this equipment, so Woronuk enrolled. He learned to work the various woods and then built the only stook sweep known in Peace River Country.
George Lazoruk, cousin and farm neighbour, offered his 101 Massey Harris tractor to drive the invention. Rural electrification had not yet arrived. Using basic hand tools Woronuk spent the summer building the unit.
He paid meticulous attention to the drawings. The tines were so detailed that each accurately matched its counterpart. This itself was a feat, considering only basic hand tools were used.
The plans did not show the attachment to a tractor because of the variety of tractors used by farmers. That component of the design had to be improvised by the farmer.
Woronuk and Lazoruk removed the front wheels from the 101 Massey, attached an axle and two wheels to the frame of the stook sweep and improvised a mechanism to steer the unit in the field.
They modified the power take-off to raise and lower the tines based on their conceived mental concept of the sweep picking up one stook after another.
A field trial showed that the 101 Massey in fourth gear was underpowered. Its 12 m.p.h. road speed was necessary to firmly pack the stooks on the sweep. This maximized load capacity and minimized portage time to the thresher.
It required maintaining road speed throughout most of the operation but for this, the 101 was underpowered. When the tines pushed forcefully under a stook, the r.p.m. of the tractor was significantly reduced.
One solution was to pick up a single stook from each row and use the distance between rows to regain speed and power by the little tractor. Travelling the distance between rows added too much time. The alternative was to rearrange each single row of stooks into two off-set rows. That would double the distance between each stook.
That arrangement allowed Lazoruk to pick stooks driving down rows rather than between rows and to arrange them on the sweep so as to maximize load and save time.
That concept worked, but it required extra labour to rearrange the rows. Women, children and even elderly grandparents assumed the responsibility to move alternate stooks into two-row patterns.
Such total family involvement typifies many farm operations today.
Woronuk’s stook sweep replaced nearly half the threshing crew. A few such units were built in Western Canada, each modified to meet the specific needs of the farmer.
As ingenious devices go, the stook sweep was one, but it soon became obsolete with the return of the veterans and the development of self-propelled combines.
It exemplified the typical ingenuity of the farmer. Most major farm machinery manufacturing corporations of today started just that way.