At the end of my Old Wives Lake drive, after not even seeing the two 'ghost' towns of Lillestrom and Old Wives that were indicated on my map, I finally came to this old threshing machine beside Highway 363 where the turnoff to unsealed Highway 627 is located. I think it was left there as a handy landmark during poor weather conditions because this is a 'major' junction out here in the middle of nowhere!
I decided to turn around and head back, but first, I stopped to have a look to see what I could learn from this old piece of farm machinery. Crounching low under its front end (from where one of those big old iron steam tractors would tow it) I found the nameplate shown in the 3rd photo. It turns out to have been a 'Type 28x46 Manufactured by the Minneapolis Threshing Company in Hopkins, Minnesota'.
The Minneapolis Threshing Company was formed in Hopkins in 1887 and, although initially producing only threshing machines to harvest the grain crops, they soon successfully expanded into the steam tractor market as well. The company had an excellent reputation that stood them in good stead until the negative effects on agriculture leading up to western dustbowl of the 1930s hit hard. The reduction in sales caused MTC to join with two other similar small companies (Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. and Moline Implement Co.) to form the Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Co. The merger worked and this company continued in business until 1963 when it was purchased by the White Motor Company and was swallowed again in 1991 when the huge AGRO company based in Duluth, Georgia took it over.
I enjoyed my walk around this old piece of Prairie history, probably dating from about 1910 - after all, it was still using steel wheels rather than rubber tires!
Just down the highway past the Rosso Ranch, I came across this desolate building sitting alone atop one of the many knolls. It looked like it had endured a hard life, so I had to get out and take a few photos - wondering what its history had been.
The brick chimney at its rear had begun to give way to the elements, as had the windows, siding and even the front steps. The weather-beaten sign above its front door (3rd photo) revealed a bit of information: this was once "Bay Island School District No. 4362" a legacy of the days when one-room school houses dotted Saskatchwan in their thousands. Mind you, the winter weather conditions were so severe and dangerous, that many of these schools did not operate during those months (just take a look at my final photo and imagine sending your children walking a few miles to reach it in freezing temperature while hoping a blizzard did not hit before they return!).
The sudden and large influx of immigrants to western Canada in the early 1900s resulted in families scattered across the Prairies as they began their new life as farmers on the generous plots of land handed out by the Canadian government. This thinly spread population combined with difficult transportation problems meant that the need for schools located close-by was paramount. It was all very hit-and-miss due to ethnic language and other problems of small and isolated settlements until the wealth of the boom years of the 'Roaring 1920s' provided more cash for the provincial government. It was then that attendance at school became compulsory and an effort was made to have a one-room school located within a few miles of every significant group of settlers. This system worked well over the years, but began to decline in the late 1940s as a result of the 'Dirty Thirties' of the Great Depression followed by the lack of manpower and cash stemming from the demands of World War II (1939-45). By the early 1950s, the era of the one-room schoolhouse was just about over as more people moved into towns and cities and transportation of students to centralized locations became easier.
When I finally arrived close to the shoreline of Old Wives Lake and stepped out of the car, three skeins of Geese were flying above me. By the time I got the camera turned on and zoomed in a bit, this photo of Snow Geese flying past was the only shot I managed, other than the lake itself. These geese, slightly smaller than the more common Canada Geese, winter along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and were on their way to Canada's high Arctic where they spend their breeding season. Not too long before I reached the lake, I also spotted a group of Canada Geese congregated on a frozen pond (2nd photo). A page from my Peterson's Field Guide (3rd photo) shows the different species of Geese in eastern North America, including a size comparison of these two.
In between the two sightings of Geese, I came across a large congregation of ducks beside the highway, also on a frozen pond with a small patch of open water. As I reversed for a photo op, the larger ducks began to take flight (4th photo) but the smaller Green-Winged Teals (a type of marsh duck) decided they were going to stay put in their little patch of water (4th photo). The sun was in the wrong direction and I never got close enough to the lake for any really good bird shots, but I just enjoyed exploring the new territory anyway!
I had not really planned to go anywhere until I awoke that morning, so I just threw my backpack in the car with my bird book and binoculars, along with my camera and a provincial map and then headed out of Regina sometime before 10:30 AM. Less than an hour later I reached Moose Jaw via the divided Trans-Canada Highway and that is where I actually began to think!
The car was getting low on fuel, so I filled it at a local garage and, since it was fast coming up on noon, I bought a bag of Bits & Bites to go with my bottle of water in case I got hungry. I realized that as soon as I left Moose Jaw for the outback of Saskatchewan, it would be unlikely that I would see another store until I returned (I was correct!). The map showed the tiny communities of Lillestrom and Old Wives located along this route but there was not a trace of them when I drove through - so don't always trust your map!
Provincial Highway 363 is the direct route to Old Wives Lake but, based on previous experience, I was not sure how good its condition would be. It turned out to be in great shape regarding its pavement and it consisted of five different long straight stretches with gentle right-angle turns whenever it changed direction. This view shows the relatively flat lands as I left Moose Jaw while the second photo shows the undulating landscape further out, the result of glacial deposits from thousands of years ago.
This part of Saskatchewan was a bit different from the other parts I had driven through in that the landscape was continuously rolling with gentle hills. However, it was just like everywhere else in that there were numerous large farms spread several miles apart from each other as every square inch of soil was cultivated land. It was quite impressive seeing these hills rolling off to the horizon with not a single tree to be seen in any direction!
I came across these huge piles of round hay bales at a farm when I was almost half way from Moose Jaw to the lake, with the 2nd photo showing a more overall view of the farm buildings perched on the hilltop. As I continued along my way, driving past the farm, the 3rd photo shows their beef cattle in an enclosure below the stacked supply of winter food! A few minutes earlier, as I was approaching the farm, I noticed someone driving down the long driveway toward the road at high speed on an All Terrain Vehicle and wondered why he was in such a rush. I soon found out because, when I finally passed the driveway, he had herded one of their stray cows and was guiding it back onto the farm property!
The 4th photo was taken a few minutes earlier when I stopped to look at some Canada Geese on a frozen pond. The farmer was using hydraulic prongs on the front of his farm tractor in the foreground to pick up and move one of his circular hay bales, while his German Shepherd dog barked at me even though I was hundreds of feet away.