Thresher Reunion brings memories - Keith Roulston editorial
As the 2022 Huron Pioneer Thresher Reunion approaches next weekend, I must confess my nostalgia for nostalgia kicks into high gear. As the Threshers celebrate their 61st reunion, Sept. 9-11, I have to acknowledge I wasn’t at the first of these celebrations, though I was within close proximity for a few minutes.
You see, my interest, as a teenager, was not on steam engines and old threshing equipment but on the other end of the spectrum – jet aircraft. I was determined, at the time, to become a jet pilot and I brow-beat my parents to take me to the air show at the Royal Canadian Air Force base at Centralia. From our Lucknow-area farm, we drove through Blyth in the late morning, Saturday, within a block of the fairgrounds where the first Thresher Reunion was held, headed for Centralia and the air show starring the Golden Hawks aerobatic team.
It was nearly a decade later, and by then I was the young editor/publisher of the Blyth Standard, when I first attended a Thresher Reunion (my dreams of an air force career had long since died). I don’t know exactly what this reunion will be like, coming out of the two-year postponement because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I’ll bet it’s still larger and more impressive than in 1972 when I attended for the first time.
Sunday entertainment was still frowned on when the Thresher Reunion started, so it was a Friday-Saturday show in the early years. The original arena was still in place at the time as well as the fall fair’s exhibition building, just inside what is now the gates of the fair grounds. About the time I first attended, the tradition of serving the sort of meal threshermen would have received when working at a threshing was honoured in the old exhibition hall.
The 1970s was a big time for craft fairs, with the Carlow craft show inspiring the big Lucknow show where my mother used to sell her paintings and knitting. The organizers of the Threshers set up a craft show in the old arena to give women something to do other than follow their men around as they watched the old farm machinery operate.
Old-tyme music, square dancing and step-dancing have always been part of the reunion and have found a larger and larger place as the years went by.
But the biggest attraction of the reunion has always been the antique farm machinery. When the Hallahan brothers and others first gathered in the now-demolished Orange Hall, (Simon Hallahan, a devout Roman Catholic, loved that irony) to organize the first show, they particularly wanted to honour steam tractors, essential to the early threshing gangs that went from farm to farm taking off the harvest, which in those days was mostly of wheat, barley and oats.
But from the time I began attending, at least, gasoline tractors became a bigger and bigger part of the show. For me, who experienced the last days of threshing as a boy, it was the gasoline tractors that connected. When I was growing up on a farm near Lucknow, each of our neighbours had a different make of tractor, from Massey-Harris to Allis-Chalmers to McCormick-Deering to Case. My father and uncle were outliers, owning a Minneapolis-Moline R, bought from a local dealer. When that tractor caught fire in the middle of seeding one year, Dad replaced it with a Fordson Major diesel.
As I recall, John Deere, with its putt-putt two-cylinder engine, was not represented in our neighbourhood until my sister and her husband bought my parents’ farm and my brother-in-law brought his machine to the farm.
The other big part of today’s Thresher Reunion, of course, is the show of antique and classic cars. Again, nostalgia overwhelms me.
As a country lad, cars were necessary but expensive, so the less money you spent, the better. I remember a neighbour driving a Ford Model T with the door held closed by a wire. I remember cars of our own where you could see the road through the floorboards and dust clouded the air when we drove down our gravel road. A trip to Goderich or Kincardine was a major journey, not taken lightly.
Things improved over the years (particularly after laws made the road-worthiness of cars essential) but still, for many years, a car that was less than 10 years old was considered “new” by many of us. Unusual were the neighbour’s son who had moved to Toronto and came home from time to time with a new Chevrolet and our family doctor when he boasted a Ford Thunderbird soon after it was introduced in 1955.
That’s the side benefit of events like the Thresher Reunion – they remind us how far we’ve come in a lifetime. Despite the fact that people constantly bemoan the current state of the economy or society, we are generally so much better off than in the past. The setback we suffered from COVID-19 should make us even more aware of our blessings.