The McMurachy Outfit

Joseph McMurachy threshing in the snow at Strathclair in 1911. The presence of sheaf wagons indicate that the crop is still stooked out in the field. A quick break for the photo and the crew will be go back to threshing. Doubtlessly the engine crew will be putting “snoose” to the engine shortly as threshing in the snow would have been a cold, wet experience. The more quickly they were done, the better.

While digitizing photos in the Manitoba Agricultural Museum’s collections, we noticed that there was a caption on one of them. The lettering is in white and is against the background of a snow covered stubble field so it does not stand out but can be read as “Joseph McMurachy threshing his 800 acre crop with his Case outfit Strathclair, Man 1911.” We then realized that Mr. McMurchy donated this engine to the Manitoba Agricultural Museum in the early 1960s. This makes the second photo that has surfaced of an engine in the museum collection during the engine’s working life. The other photo the museum has is of the Smallcombe Sims Hart Parr 30-60 gas tractor threshing in the early 1920s.

The Case 25-75 steam engine in the photo was donated to the Manitoba Agricultural Museum in the early 1960s by Joseph McMurachy of McConnell, Manitoba. The McMurachy family was a pioneer family in the McConnell area and Joseph McMurachy appears to have owned the engine since it was new.

Joseph came to Shoal Lake, Manitoba at the age of four in 1882 with his family who moved to the area from York County, Ontario to take up a homestead. Joseph also became a farmer in the Shoal Lake area. He must have been relatively successful as he was able to purchase the Case 25-75 and associated implements. In 1914, he married Margaret Jane “Jennie” Delmage at Minnedosa. They had five children: Archibald McMurachy, Allen Solomon David McMurachy (1923-1944), Helen McMurachy, Stanley McMurachy, and Lewis McMurachy.

In 1930, Joseph McMurachy found three heads of rust-free wheat in his crop. The 1930 crop was badly affected by rust all across the prairies. While binding a field of wheat, Joseph stopped the binder he was operating to have lunch. While eating lunch sitting on the binder, he noticed that three heads of wheat laying on the table were not affected by rust. Joseph decided the three heads should be saved for replanting and multiplication so he did just that. Using the heads as breeding stock, Joseph began to multiply the wheat in hopes of accumulating enough to seed a small field. Along the way, the wheat was subject to various disasters. Mice got into the match box that the stock of kernels were kept in and ate all but three kernels. Several years later, when a bushel of this wheat had been accumulated, a horse got at the grain and ate most of it.

In 1935, Mr. McMurachy supplied some of the rust-resistant wheat seed to the Federal Department of Agriculture, the Brandon Experimental Farm, and the Winnipeg Cereal Breeding Laboratory. By crossing this wheat with other wheat varieties, the rust-resistant Selkirk variety of hard red spring wheat evolved. Selkirk was in wide usage from 1953 through the 1960s. In 1954, Joseph McMurachy received an award from the Canadian government for the contribution he had made to Canadian agriculture.

Joseph McMurachy passed away at Hamiota, Manitoba on 24 May 1960. He was inducted posthumously into the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame.

The McMurachy steam engine is a J. I. Case 25-75 steam engine built in 1907. The 25-75 name refers to the engine’s horsepower as it developed 25 horsepower at the drawbar and 75 horsepower on the belt. The engine was capable of both plowing and driving belt powered machinery such as a threshing machine. From the gear train wear on the engine, it has seen hard work plowing and probably broke many acres of Manitoba prairie.

In the late 1970s, age finally caught up with this veteran, the engine’s boiler failed inspection, and the engine was retired by the museum. The engine was moved out to the main entrance gate to the museum to act as a gate guardian. In 2012, when an opportunity arose to place a museum artifact on display in Brandon, this engine was chosen to go on display as Joseph McMurachy and the engine have historical significance to the Westman area.

When Mr. McMurachy donated his steam engine, he also donated the IHC binder on which he found the two heads of rust-resistant wheat. Even more interestingly, this binder is a rare one as it is a right hand binder; that is, the table is on the operator’s right hand side when the operator is seated on the operator’s seat. All the other binders in the museum collection are left-hand binders. Just why IHC saw fit to produce a right-hand binder is not known.

Like all these old photos, there are a number of interesting details to be seen here. The crew is threshing in the snow as can be seen by the snow on the ground. They have been doing so for awhile as the wheels on the sheaf wagons and the water wagon have been replaced by sleigh bunks. For McMurachy to have this many sleigh bunks, he must have been accustomed to threshing in the snow. It may be that he custom threshed and may have usually worked into early winter when snow was on the ground. One would think that the typical farmer would have finished threshing well before the snow flew and so would only need one set of sleigh bunks. The water wagon appears to have a U-shaped tank made from wooden staves. It also appears the tank itself served as the wagon frame. A democrat is in the center of the shot and it maybe that the gentleman driving it is Joseph McMurachy himself.

Page revised: 8 December 2022