I have a very ancient photograph of my father and his sisters aboard the rear platform of an ancient steam tractor which was taken on the dike that also serves as the entry to the Links of Kent Golf Club.
One of the functions of this tractor was to act as the motive power for a huge threshing machine that was kept, many years later, between the hay lofts of my grandfather’s main barn. That barn was located where the golf course parking lot is now situated.
The threshing machine was large and was similar to the one in the included photo; the difference being that the one in the barn was, for the most part, made of wood, where the one in the photo is largely comprised of sheet metal.
When we were kids it was great fun to get inside the machine and crawl around its innards which, on occasion, included an exit through the exhaust pipe, which was wide enough to admit my eight-year-old torso, there being little room to spare.
I recall the occasion when Phil Hoy became wedged in the pipe and remained irrevocably lodged until Phoncey Vanderpark, ever fond of large words, suggested that we “extricate” him. Phil, taking this to mean some crude form of limb amputation, suddenly managed to free himself of the obstruction. Astounding fear will do that.
Towards the mid 1950s, my grandfather’s farm became the back nine of the Chatham Golf and Country Club.
The barns on the farm were torn down and what became of the old thresher machine is not known to me.
I was thinking of these items and events when I was researching the terrible death of a Harwich Township farmer who was killed by an explosion emanating from a steam engine being used to power a thresher on the farm of Peter McGarvin, Lot 9, River Thames, Harwich Township.
The man was James McGarvin, and the time frame was March of 1897.
James and three other men, one of them known as John Houston, were threshing clover seed when James approached the engine and put a piece of cord wood in the firebox and all seemed to be running well.
As he stepped away from the machine the boiler exploded with a thunderous blast.
The three men with him, once they regained their senses, looked around for James. He was not to be seen.
They found his body 96 yards away in a hedge row.
Details of James’ life are scarce but I believe he was born in Harwich in 1855. He would have been about 42 at the time of his death, not married and the son of Michael McGarvin and Olive Wood.
The McGarvin family were among the very early settlers of Kent and Michael, born in 1806, could recall when General William Henry Harrison (later President of the United States) pillaged the family farm the day before the Battle of the Thames, October 1813.
I have checked “Find a Grave” and I know from the Maple Leaf Cemetery listings that the McGarvins had nine children. Beer’s Record, however, indicates there were 10 children, the 10th being James. That does not necessarily mean he is not in the family plot. Or it could be, as well, that he reposes in the ancient Traxler Cemetery, as he was related to the Traxlers.
Cemetery records are not complete but there are some very dedicated people working on correcting this situation. They are also restoring plots and erecting toppled stones. I will have something very positive to write about them in a future column.
Sources: J D Carr Directory, 1880; Belden Atlas, 1881; James Soutar Gazetteer, 1885; Chatham Daily Planet obituaries, March 27, 1897; J H Beers’ Biographical Record, 1904; Maple Leaf Cemetery; Find A Grave.