Oxdrift versus the US Air Force


I have written several times about how growing clover for seed was the mainstay of our rural economy during our early years.  By the 60’s, this business had evolved to where only a few farmers were still growing clover seed, and their practice was to allow the clover to mature and dry right down, which is generally not till October.  The clover would then be ‘straight combined’, that is, collected and processed all in one operation by a specially equipped harvester, and the clover would have to be very dry for this to work. 

This method resulted in smaller yields, but eliminated the high labour cost of previous methods.  We generally get an ‘Indian Summer’ of a week or two in October, but with cooler air, a heavy dew, and higher humidity from our abundant relatively warm neighbouring lakes, even on a clear day the window when the clover would actually be dry enough to harvest would generally be short, say 10 am till 4 pm.

 Owen Fenwick, hale and hearty at 95, was one of those farmers, and might still remember those days.  My Dad, Fred, was another one of those farmers.  He would be out greasing up the combine about 9 am, and a jet would appear, way up high, and in that moist October air leave a great swath of a contrail across the sky. More jets would appear, and by 10 am the sky would sometimes be hazed over with contrails, traversing to and fro as if playing games.  The sun would be obscured, the clover would be much slower to dry from the morning dew, and the harvesting window would be shortened and sometimes gone altogether.  No doubt this problem contributed to the decline and disappearance of the clover seed business.

Fred somehow came up with the story that these trails were created by training flights for American air force fighter pilots based near Duluth.  Presumably our pattern of innumerable lakes along with the low population and  rural network of homesteads and roads in our district made this good territory for them to practice their visual navigation skills.  One can imagine a crossroad such as Oxdrift being a target for a strafing run or bombing run, and the pilot had to find it.  Fred suffered from the exaggerated sense of fairness that plagues our family, and could rant for quite a while about the unfairness of money out of his pocket so a foreign agency could have fun.  He felt his letters of protest to the province and the fed fell on deaf ears, although the problem did disappear after a number of years.

The notion that our unique countryside is an excellent site for air navigation training maneuvers adds to our advantages of a very large, low maintenance, underutilized airport, and supports the idea of a military base here.  Perhaps we will go from clover seed versus the US Air Force to no clover seed and a new Canadian Air Force base.



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