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Smith and Over Ranch - Spring Coulee, Alberta

Pinepound Reflections - A History of
Spring Coulee and District pages 100 - 101
by June Smith

The Ranch was located on Section 16 and Section 15 T4 R23 W4 and the NE part of Section 17 east of Pine Pound Creek. According to the Land Titles Office section 16 and I assume section 15 and part of 17 were done at this time too under separate titles, but section 16 was purchased in 1910 by Karl A. Smith and Harry H. Over, both of Spring Coulee - farmers. In 1921 the land was transferred to Nettie L Smith of Sterling, Illinois - Spinster for $19,790.00 (I think they could see financial difficulties at this time, hence the transfer) and in 1927 back to Harry H. Over of Sterling Illinois, broker and Karl A. Smith of Denver Colorado for the same amount of money $19,790.00. In 1937 Section 16 was transferred to Ernest William Long of Raley - farmer for the sum of $12,800.00. Section 15 was bought by Jack MacKenzie.

When Smith and Over shipped their farming equipment and stock to Alberta from Illinois, anywhere it was possible they used hardwood lumber to line and partition the box car. The lumber was then available for repairs, eveners, doubletrees, reaches etc..

Buildings. The house had two bedrooms upstairs and downstairs another bedroom or office with a lovely roll top desk, a small living room and a Heintzman piano which my aunt played (it is still in the family) a radio which we listened to with head sets, sometimes they would take the headsets apart and two people could then listen with one ear phone. The Dempsey Tunney fight was one such occasion. This radio was a wondrous thing in those days. The kitchen was big with a long table almost the length of the room. The kitchen had a set of cupboards from floor to ceiling and about 8 feet lone for dishes and baking supplies etc.. There was a wood and coal range with a water reservoir at one end and a warming oven on top. A line strung on the wall at the back of the stove and was great for drying mitts, socks and towels etc. in the winter months. There was no basement but a cellar was accessible from a trap door in the house. Canned goods, potatoes. vegetables, etc. were stored there. There was an entrance to this cellar from the outside too. Light was supplied by coal-oil lamps later a 32 volt delco plant was installed supplying electricity for lighting.

Water for drinking and washing came from an artesian well and was piped into the house. There was no sewer just a slop bucket which had to be emptied. The artesian well ran continually into a big watering trough outside that the stock drank from and eventually the water drained away into a gully.

Other buildings were the bunkhouse for the men, and machine shop with a forge anvil and other tools that were big enough to bring a horse in and Uncle Bill would shoe some of the horses and repair machinery here. It was in this shop that Uncle Bill got a sliver of steel in his eye and had to have the eye removed in Lethbridge by Dr. Woodcock.

There was also a barn and corral for the stallion, another big barn split down the middle and stalls on either side with 4 or 5 stalls for milk cows and the rest for horses with a loft above for hay, another building like a pump house with water from the artesian well in it, a scale for weighing stock, a little shed to store the coal and wood, a hen house, several well built corrals. Across the road on Sec 17 there was a big machine shed and the turkeys used to roost in the rafters there.

Percheron horses were raised. I remember them breaking a few horses to harness but I think the horses were mostly sold as colts. They had a beautiful big Percheron stallion named Ballard. Dr. Christie the veterinarian from Cardston had bought this stallion from the -U Ranch which was owned by George Lane. The -U Ranch was supposed to have the biggest and best herd of registered Percheron horses in North America at the time. Percheron are probably the only draft horses with Arabian blood. Ballard was a beautiful big dark stallion. He had his own barn and exercise corral made of 2x8s nailed to large poles. As a little girl I was warned not to enter this corral but I remember looking through the bars at him prancing around and his beautiful wavy mane and tail. He was a magnificent horse.

Rambouille Sheep: My memories of these were mixed. One afternoon I was in the corral where the sheep were with all the little lambs, many of them twins and a few triplets, when suddenly I realized a big ram was trotting toward me. I turned and ran for the fence and I remember hearing his feet pounding behind me as I ran. When I got close to the fence I made a leap for the top of the fence and at about the same time this ram hit the bottom of the fence just about dislodging me. My Aunt rushed up from the other yard calling "Oh my Duckie (a favorite expression of hers) "Oh my Duckie! you could have been killed." I don't know if this was so or not but I didn't go near any mature sheep after that. In the spring it was always a thrill to bottle feed the 3 or 4 lambs who's mothers didn't have enough milk. The collie sheep dogs were good pets.

Grain was grown. My aunt used to take dinner out to the threshing crews maybe on Section 15. One incident was when Roscoe Brown who was a very good rider and a favorite of mine when I was five or six years old, took the handle of a large pot the potatoes were in, and something spooked the horse and it began crowhopping and twirling in circles and before long the potatoes came down like a shower of rain all over the field, no potatoes that day. Everyone laughed and I was so embarrassed for my hero.

In the photograph album there are pictures of them breaking the virgin prairie with a 2 bottom Moldboard plough, six horses, three abreast in tandem. Discing with a tandem disc, 6 horses abreast. Harvesting the grain which was hand stocked, then the stocks were forked onto bundle wagons, then fed from both sides, onto the feeder of the threshing machine, a separator man was standing by to make sure the bundles went in head first. The threshing machine was powered by a gasoline tractor. The grain was hauled away in straight sided grain wagons pulled by 4 horses then hand shovelled into granaries or hauled and sold to the elevator. It would be hard to find anyone today to do all the manual labour. At the end of the day the horses were brought in unharnessed, watered and fed, the cows milked and finally the men were fed. In all the pictures they seem to be a happy bunch, all sharing in the hard work to get the job done. There was probably other machinery at various times but I don't remember what.

The following by Dick Boulton: Cattle on the ranch were mainly shorthorn and Hereford cross, compulsory. Most steers were marketed as three and four year olds. The year 1919, was very dry and very little feed available for the livestock. Bill Blance acting for Smith Over bought a farm in the Innisfail, area and they shipped their cattle up there. Cattle prices in the fall of 1919 were strong. Bob Hearne had put down $1000.00 option on Hyssop Bros. steers rather than sell they paid Bob Hearne a bonus to drop the option and they decided to move their cattle to the Sundre-Olds area for the winter. This move proved to be a disaster. The cattle wintered poorly, the grass and hay was of poor quality, unlike the hard prairie grass. Livestock losses were high. Harry and Bob Hearne spent a month skinning dead animals (cut the head and feet off, split them down the middle then pulled the hide off with a team of horses) the hides were then sold. To further complicate matters cattle prices dropped badly. The whole transaction was a bad deal. Harry Hearne (Bill Blanche's brother-in- law) told me this deal and a threatened lawsuit over the Innisfail land was very costly to Smith and Over.

In the possession of the Hearne family is a horse hair bridle. On the cheek straps on each side of the head stall is the American Flag. The bridle is a work of art and the colors have maintained over the years. I asked Bill Blance how he came into possession of this bridle (1910-1911). He told me some of Smith and Over's cattle had become mixed with McIntyre cattle. They were sorting the cattle out and were close to the American and Canadian border, where they had been pasturing on the Ross lease. During the day they were hungry and felt like something to eat. Riding for McIntyre was an Indian cowboy who said they could get a meal across the border at an Indian Rancher's place. They rode over and had something to eat. Bill Blance say this bridle and traded the Indian for it. We believe the bridle was made in Deer Lodge Penitentiary in Montana.

The men worked hard but so did the women. My aunt had a girl to help during the spring and summer. The one I remember was Foncy who had come out from Belgium after W.W. 1, some of her family had been killed during the war. There was a large garden with gooseberries, reap berries, strawberries, rhubarb, potatoes, asparagus, spinach, carrots, beets, cabbage, onions etc.. All this produced was picked and readied for the table, also canned for the winter months. No opening cans or going to the grocers for vegetables.

They raised Plymouth Hard-rock chickens, turkeys and geese for eggs and for roasting, these were hand plucked after being dipped in boiling water. The down from the geese was saved for down quilts. I remember I never did fancy the turkey or goose eggs, I think they were used mainly for cooking. I used to help collect the eggs and remember getting pecked by some of the old hens. I liked throwing old broody hens off the nest. I also remember the fluffy little chickens which were kept with their mothers in separate little chicken-wire pens with a little wooden house for each hen. There were weasels, coyotes, badgers and foxes around and the chickens had to be penned each night. Surplus eggs were sold or stored in big crock of waterglass where they would keep for weeks.

My aunt separated the milk giving them butter, which she churned and cream as well as milk. The separator had to be taken all apart, and its many parts washed and dried ready for the next milking, this happened twice a day.

The washing was all scrubbed by hand on a wash board, with water that had been heated on the stove in a big copper boiler then the clothes were hung on a line to dry. What a time she had in the winter when the clothes were frozen stiff like sheets of ice. Finally they were brought in and ironed or mangled. Later there is a picture of an old washing machine (agitator) with a wooden tub and a big wheel attached that was hand turned to swish the clothes around in. Later when they got a delco plant installed they could have an electric washing machine.

I remember when she made bread, It smelled so good and she made wonderful bread, buns, and pies. I think she made as many as 8 or 12 loaves at a time depending on how many men were being fed. She would bake two or three times a week.

Their pigs were butchered then smoked to make hams and bacon.

The men were well fed on this ranch and there were quite a number of them. They lived in a bunkhouse a little distance from the main house.

In a 1920 letter to Bill Blance from Smith and Over they agree if the farm is ever sold to furnish him with money to make payment on their 1/2 section of land and enough money for stock and equipment to operate the same.

December 7 1926 Lettie Smith the owner of the ranch writes giving Bill Blance Power of Attorney to sell the land.

There are several letters at this time. Harry Over who is City Clerk for the City of Sterling Illinois writes saying someone has a judgment against them for quite a sum of money. They aren't making money on the horses or the cattle which had been profitable in previous years. The price of grains is down and land prices are lower than what they originally paid for the ranch. He says he always hoped Bill could get on his feet so he could buy Sec 16 and part of 17 but seems like everything has gone wrong, farms in Illinois are selling for 1/2 price. After all the years of grief it is sure too bad it just seems they are pounding the farmer when he is down (sound familiar?) Bill and Tot left the ranch in 1932, the ranch was sold in 1937.

Looking back I am amazed at these people. My uncle Bill a sailor, seemed able to turn his hand to many things, farming, raising stock, repairing machinery, building, shoeing, cowboying. My aunt who had come from England and had had maids and servants was capable of doing almost anything that was required of her. She always made the best of things, was very positive, never seemed tired, always looked nice and was always fun to be with. I spent many months with her before going to school and then would be there for summer holidays. I was 19 years old when they left Victoria, where they bought a large rooming house which they fixed up. They didn't have a lot of money when they moved to Victoria but they always had a comfortable home, good food, nice clothes and many friends who were always welcome. Uncle Bill didn't change much. They had a lovely big bear skin rug with head attached on the living room floor, but he didn't see that well and after tripping over the rug a couple of times he immediately took his jack knife out and cut the head off. Aunt bowled, played cards, went to the senior centre. They went fishing and to various events with Horace Darby who had also retired in Victoria. They were happy and had a good life in Victoria. While in Spring Coulee they must have had some good and bad years. I remember they had a McLaughlin Buick car, the kind the rum runners used. In July of 1923 it was decided to take in the Dempsey Gibbons fight in Shelby Montana. Bill Blance, Bob and Harry Hearne made the trip. Bob Hearne was the driver. Bill Blance always maintained the car never was any good after that trip. Aunt had a beautiful grey squirrel fur coat which she look so elegant in, and three big diamond rings. When she broke her wrist while cranking the car (it kicked back) and had Dr. Shillington set it; our father Harry Hearne said the bill for setting her arm wouldn't have been nearly as much if she hadn't been wearing that fur coat and all those rings. I always felt like I was with royalty when I went anywhere with her she seemed so regal and in charge of any situation.

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Mary Tollestrup