By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner
Jumbo and Barney on the dynamometer at the Regina Exhibition
- WDM Archives, 7-B-32
Back in the 1920s, horses were as commonplace on farms as
tractors are today. In 1924, Saskatchewan had a horse population
of over one million, more than any other province in Canada.
Horses powered farm machinery and pulled all kinds of buggies
and wagons. During the 1920s, however, the small internal
combustion engine tractor began to gain a foothold on prairie
But the Horse Association of America (HAA) discouraged the change. The HAA published testimonials extolling the benefits of horses: “ ...we think the tractor is an expensive and unnecessary piece of equipment and...the ownership of a tractor outfit hurts the farmer’s credit with our institutions.” Another writer declared, “I do not believe that any man operating his farm with tractors can feel the same toward his farm and his home as can the man who owns and takes pride in and loves a good draft horse.”
To prove the horse’s value, the HAA encouraged horse-pulling competitions in the United States and Canada. Special equipment was needed to measure the drawbar pull of competing teams. University of Saskatchewan professor Evan Hardy went to Iowa to study a machine invented there. He returned to Saskatoon and with the support of the HAA, designed and built a dynamometer, as the machines were called, in 1924.
Hardy’s dynamometer was designed to create a constant load for the horses. The machine was built on a three-ton Reo truck chassis. Concrete weights on the back of the truck were connected by a cable to the horse hitch. The size of the load was determined by adjusting the combination of weights, just like in a modern exercise machine. A pump system, driven from the transmission, pumped water from a barrel on the truck discharging it back into the same barrel through a shut-off valve. As the horses pulled, lifting the weights, a lever opened the valve allowing the water to flow. The pump turned and the truck rolled forward, keeping a constant pull on the cable. During competition, a team had to pull the entire machine a distance of 27.5 feet.
Horse pulls attracted big crowds at Saskatchewan fairs in 1924, 1925 and 1926. The competitions were also popular in neighbouring provinces and south of the border. But the matches in August, 1924 at the Regina Exhibition were the most exciting. The Nor’-West Farmer reported that Barney and Jumbo, a team of Belgians owned by the Gibbs Brothers of Lumsden, broke the world record pulling the dynamometer’s 3100 pound weights for the required distance. This was equivalent, stated The Nor’-West Farmer, to pulling a 3100 pound steer out of a 27.5 foot well or starting a load of 16.4 tons on asphalt pavement. Barney and Jumbo had snatched the title away from another Saskatchewan team, a pair of Percherons owned by contractor R.B. McLeod of Saskatoon, who had earned the world record a few days earlier at the Saskatoon Exhibition.
The new world record at the Regina Exhibition called for a showdown between the two teams. Exhibition officials offered $1000 to the winner of a match between Lumsden’s Belgians and Saskatoon’s Percherons. McLeod hastily shipped his team by rail to Regina for the big event. The grandstand was jammed with spectators. The first heat of the competition ended in a draw–both teams pulled 3000 pounds for the full distance. Another hundred pounds were added. The McLeod team faltered at 18.5 feet, but the Gibbs Brothers pair could not muster the horsepower to make it even that far. McLeod’s Percherons claimed the $1000 prize money, but the Gibbs Brothers’ Belgians held on to the world record because of their outstanding performance the night before.
The winning teams are long gone, as are their owners, and tractors have taken the place of horses on prairie farms, but Evan Hardy’s ingenious dynamometer survives. It is part of the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum collection housed in the WDM Curatorial Centre, the Museum’s administration centre and storage facility in Saskatoon.
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