Angela Bright | Sep 23, 2010

There is a hill in Denbigh that has seen some attention as of late that it has not seen for decades. Following discussions with family and friends, Tony Fritsch, along with wife Gail, began to clear out a grown up field with the intention of growing a field of oats, harvesting it and threshing it by means of some older farming practices.

The Fritsches were definitely not going it alone on this project; friends Roy Berndt, Gary Stein and later Garnet Wilkes wanted to be a part of it too. It was no small feat to prepare the four-acre field; it took about a year of working to get it up to growing condition.

Oats were sown this spring and were ready for harvest in late August. Half the field was cut using an old Allis Chalmers Model 72 pull type combine, and for the other half, a 1930s McCormick-Deering Grain Binder Type ‘D’ owned by Ernie Berndt. Gail then went to work stooking all the oats, three sheaves per. The next step of the process came on Saturday at Countryfest with the threshing demo. Like “boys in a candy store” (Tony’s words, not mine), Tony, Roy, Gary and Garnet were up early that morning to get the mill to the recreation site, readying it to do what it had not done in approximately 30 years. The machine used was purchased in the ’50s by Ken Fritsch, Tony’s father - a 1940s George White No. 6 that was used on the Fritsch farm and others for a number of years. The tractor that powered the threshing machine was once owned by Rosemary O’Connor’s family. One of the farms the mill was employed on was the Stein farm. So it is fitting that Gertrude Stein and her grandson Daniel Stein had the privilege of throwing in a few fork loads of oats to be milled. Bill Snider, Darryl Hermer, Mike Kerr and Bruce Thompson were also there for the day taking up the pitchfork and lending a hand when the mill needed a little TLC. There were some pretty heady memories floating around the crowd. Those who recalled the hot haying days of summers past were explaining to the younger generations how the machinery was used, what it was like at harvest time, how they fed the hungry workers and how they ate like kings. And at the end of it all, a few lucky bidders had the chance to take home a fresh bale of straw or bag of oats from Countryfest made by caring hands – and nearly abandoned means.


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