Mike Klingensmith tosses a few wood blocks into a wall of flame inside the black belly of a steam engine. The engine, while not on any rails, provides the power – all 13 horses of it – to a nearby threshing machine.
With a few twists of a knob, Klingensmith releases pressure in the boiler and sets a large wheel into motion, moving a large belt between his engine and the thresher, which rattles and shakes into action. A conveyor starts up and a pair of articulated arms draw hay into the thresher, thrown there by the burly arms of two men on the ends of pitchforks.
It’s a decidedly old way of separating the wheat from the chaff, but a tried and true method that has plenty of people looking on and asking the volunteers at the controls how the operation comes together.
It was fall threshing weekend Saturday and Sunday at Heritage Acres, run by the Saanich Historical Artifacts Society. In addition to the popular model train rides through the grounds, it was the steam engine’s time to shine.
Klingensmith, with his son Hudson, has been operating the 1907 Sawyer steam engine since 2004 or 2005. Plenty of its parts are original, he said, adding it was rebuilt in 2009.
A fourth-class operating engineer by trade, Klingensmith said the engine has had a few modern additions made to keep it in running order. Otherwise, it’s in good shape and has been since it was acquired by the society, after years on a working farm on Mayne Island.
A few blasts on its whistle and a plume of white-hot steam draws a crowd.
The threshing demonstration begins.
The steam powers the wheel, the wheel runs a belt to the thresher itself and the wheat fed into the machine spits seeds into a bag and the rest to a bailer.
These days, a single machine can do this work on modern farms.
For Klingensmith, however, operating these artifacts gives him and other engineers – working or retired – the chance to practice their trade.
“It’s great for the health,” he said. “Without this, some of us might not know what to do with ourselves.”