Although best known as the heart of Feedlot Alley, Picture Butte is also home to the Prairie Tractor and Engine Museum.
The collection of tractors and farm equipment in the pioneer village of Coyote Flats is quite spectacular. And during the annual Harvest Days event, some get to strut their stuff again as volunteers drive the old tractors and threshing equipment around the village in what’s dubbed the Parade of Power. Some of the equipment is nearly a century old but is put to use in threshing or tractor pulls.
The tractor pull is one of the most popular events and the focus is on operator skills as the tractor weight and horsepower are combined with the weight pulled to choose the winner. For those who prefer quieter horsepower and a different skill, there are horse-pulling events.
Some of the equipment arrived at the museum in running condition — such as the 1918 Case 2040 that the donors drove off a trailer last month.
“It was like living a dream from childhood,” said one volunteer.
“It started up like a dream,” added another.
The donation included the matching threshing machine from the original purchase. Other machines have been completely rebuilt by museum volunteers. Some seems odd to modern eyes — a Farmall 127 sports steel front wheels, but a half-track. Some enjoyed great success in their heyday, such as the Waterloo Boy. It was so popular that John Deere, not a tractor maker at the time, bought the company.
The museum’s origins date back to 1982 when five men began restoring antique machinery. Over the years, volunteers have rebuilt hundreds of tractors and other equipment, mostly from the first half of the last century. However, that wasn’t enough for the founding group. They dreamed of creating an agriculture museum, and in 1987, acquired the land where the museum now sits. It has grown to include household items and a whole town of buildings. A horse barn now houses a milk delivery wagon and other carts and carriages just waiting for a visiting horseman to hitch up a team. Farm homes range from a homesteader’s shack to a two-storey Eaton house that was completely restored — albeit at a cost of more than 100 times its original price.
There’s also a blacksmith shop, a butcher, the first Christian Reformed Church in Alberta (still used for weddings), a garage, the railway station, a community hall (used for parties and family reunions), a post office, and a jail. There’s even a firehall under construction to house Picture Butte’s first fire engine.
And, of course, there’s a school. Bowville School was originally located 18 miles north and two miles west of the village.
“I began my teaching career in a school exactly like this one,” says museum treasurer Vern King. “Sullivan Lake, 12 students, Grades 1 to 8. I did caretaker duties at the school and got $10 a month and lived rent free. It was a good time, though. Hardly a day went by that I wasn’t out for supper with one of the students’ families. They were good people.”
Almost 700 students from Grades 1 to 3, as well as parents, guides and teachers visit the museum each year.
“It’s a tremendous program,” King says. “We try to give them some understanding of what school life was like 50 years ago. We warm the school with the coal stove — it has a cast iron burning chamber and a tin shield to keep the kids from burning themselves. Just about every school in the province had one of those old Waterbury heaters. A retired teacher does a presentation in the school and the kids write with a straight pen and ink and sit in a 1930s school van that served as students’ transportation.”
The program, tailored to the primary school curriculum, is a “win win” for both schools and the museum, he said.
“We get very positive responses but for us, the real benefit is that for some of the parents, it’s the first time they’ve heard of us. They’ll come back,” he said.
This year’s edition of Harvest Days, which ran from Aug. 16-18, celebrated the sugar beet industry, including a book launch of Belinda Crowson’s history of the industry.