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Threshers break world record at Austin

Thousands of spectators at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum on July 31 
witnessed threshing outfits from across Canada and the northern 
U.S. stage the world’s largest threshing bee

Thousands were in attendance on July 31 at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum for a world-record-setting pioneer harvest, which saw a total of 139 harvest outfits complete the required 15 minutes of simultaneous operation. Photo: Sandy Black

Hundreds of volunteers donned overalls and heaved sheaves on Sunday to re-enact a Prairie harvest scene on the grandest scale the world has ever seen.

More than 148 antique threshing outfits rattled, hissed and ‘chuff-chuff-chuffed,’ tended by 700 participants, in the Guinness World Record attempt at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum for the most threshers operating at once.

By evening organizers of Harvesting Hope: A World Record to Help the Hungry were tweeting that 139 of the machines had remained operating the required 15 minutes to break the official record.

That’s more than the 111 used at St. Albert, Ontario in 2015 when organizers of a festival there broke the world record during a fundraiser for breast cancer research.

“What we’ve just witnessed is the largest gathering of threshing machines we’ve ever seen. There were more machines here and more machines running than we’ve ever seen anywhere else in the world any time in history,” said Elliot Sims, one of the five co-ordinating chairs for the event, also held as a fundraiser for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

Most of these century-old threshers and tractors ran for the solid 15 minutes after the record attempt began promptly at 4 p.m. “Some of the machines were a little tired and shut down right at the 15-minute mark,” he said. “But most of the machines continued to go until their piles were gone.”

Some were still separating a half-hour after the event had officially concluded.

Sims said organizers have estimated the operating capacity of the scene would be at about 17,000 bushels an hour, enough to fill about a dozen rail cars per hour. He didn’t know offhand how many modern-day combines could do the same job in the same amount of time but some were guessing on Sunday it would be around 10.

“I’m not sure of those numbers exactly,” he said.

Altogether, 75 acres of winter wheat was bound and 30,000 sheaves were cut to be threshed during the event.

Equally impressive was the crowd watching the mass threshing scene from the sidelines. It was possibly a record breaker for the MAM too, or at least not seen in decades. The MAM doubled its membership this year to 1,400.

The event was a joint fundraiser, with a portion of proceeds of all ticket sales, plus donations going directly to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

Jim Cornelius, CFGB executive director called the event a celebration of farming.

“It’s been a great partnership working with the museum,” he said. “We don’t know at this point what sort of fundraising will emerge from it, but an event like this is about creating awareness… that’s a big part of it for us.”

Sims said pulling off Sunday’s event has helped expand the community of those who love old-time threshing.

“Many of us have this passion, as we found out when we started this event. We weren’t sure how many threshing machines were out there. But so many families, tractor clubs, ag societies had a machine.”

Crews brought their machines from all over Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario, and several northern U.S. states including Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota.

“We met so many new people working with these machines that will be lifelong friends and we will continue to be working with them,” Sims said.

Paul Bourbonnais, visiting from St. Albert, Ont. and carrying the official Guinness World Record flag, said earlier in the day they were prepared to cede St. Albert’s record.

“But then we’ll have to beat it again,” he said with a laugh. Prior to their record event in 2015, the Olde Tyme Harvest at Langenburg, Sask. had earned it in 2013 with 41 continuously operating threshing machines.

Ian Down of Swan River, Man. remembers Langenburg. He was at Sunday’s event in Austin too He travelled with family members and brought the separator and a 1914 steam traction engine that’s been part of their family since the 1950s.

“My grandpa restored them. Steam was in his blood,” said Down. His grandfather was one of the founding members of the Manitoba Agricultural Museum. His parents met here.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this place,” he said.

First-time visitors to Austin were Larry Strandquist, Stan Eichhorn and Dave McCourt who travelled 14 hours from Stettler, Alberta last week, bringing with them the oldest unit in the crowd, an 1887 ‘Little Giant.’ The wooden, hand-fed machine in its day would have been powered by a two-horse treadmill. It has lasted this long because it was indoors most of the last 129 years, explained Strandquist, a member of the P & H Elevator Restoration Society. The trek to Manitoba is the farthest afield the ‘Little Giant’ has ever been, he added.

Nearby the Stettler crew was Adam Held with his crew from Egeland, North Dakota and another hand-fed machine antiquity, the 1890 ‘The Champion #1,” out of the local museum there.

This was his first time visiting Austin, Held said, plus the first to see ‘The Champion #1” actually running, but he’s admittedly “got the bug” for old-time threshing, he said, and at age 23, he and his young crew were a sign enthusiasm for old-time threshing spans generations.

“It’s fun and it’s a nice hobby to have,” he said, adding that Canadians visiting their show at Egeland last year urged them to be at the July 31 world-record attempt.

This is the 62nd year of the Manitoba Thresherman’s Reunion and Stampede, which ran from July 28 through July 31.

More than 7,000 spectators crowded the Manitoba Agricultural Museum site at Austin July 31 to observe a successful attempt to set a new record for the largest simultaneous threshing event. Harvesting Hope was also a fundraiser for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Of 148 machines that started the event, 139 completed the 15-minute run time required to count towards the record. There were 762 registered team members, who harvested 3,750 bushels of wheat using vintage farm equipment ranging from steam engines to early gasoline tractors. The most common threshing machines were various models of McCormick Deering, totalling 42 of the machines at the event.

This article was originally published on the Manitoba Co-operator

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