A. STANLEY JONES: Inventor Of The Small Thresher

A. Stanley Jones

A. Stanley Jones combination thresher at work during harvest.

Carol Berkland

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131, 111th St. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada S7N 1T1

A version of this article appeared in the Canadian weekly magazine The Western People, and is here reprinted with permission. The article was written entirely from original documents (annual company returns, (and tides, newspaper clippings) which were the results of Mr. Hislops's research. Mr. Hislop also writes a column, Farm Tech and Times, and would appreciate any stories on Western Canadian agriculture, such as a farmer's personal papers.

The article was brought to our attention by Wellesley White, P.O. Box 61, Morden, Manitoba, Canada ROG 1J0, who says that the Call of the West engines had interchangeable parts with the Waterloo gas engines of Waterloo, Iowa (although parts numbers were not identical).

Saskatchewan before the Depression was home to an ambitious, if not thriving, farm implement manufacturing industry. Of the twenty or so companies manufacturing before 1930, most were located in Saskatoon. Of these, the A. Stanley Jones Co. was one of the most prosperous-until its owner decided to sell out during the severe depression of the early 1920's and move to California.

The name A. Stanley Jones was synonymous with the small threshing machine. Jones is credited with having invented the concept of combining a gasoline engine with a small separator on a wagon truck, to create a threshing outfit that was cheap and portable.

Farmers were dissatisfied with the custom operators who threshed most of Western Canada's crops. Custom threshers used steam engines and massive separators which required as many as 25 men to operate. They charged high prices and were not always available when the grain was ripe and ready to be threshed (grade and price dropped if it was rained or snowed upon in the field). A small outfit allowed a farmer to thresh at the optimum time and to use his family and neighbors as labor. He could even do a little custom work for a neighbor when his own harvest was completed.

Arthur Stanley Jones was born in 1883 into a well-to-do family in England. Initially he was to be trained as a doctor, but for unknown reasons he was instead apprenticed to a London firm as a surveyor and estate agent. However, he contracted tuberculosis and was forced to seek outdoor work. He was eventually cured, became a poultry farmer and was awarded the contract to supply the royal household. A friend persuaded Jones to immigrate to the 'last best west' as a grand experiment, an adventure which no doubt appealed to his enterprising nature. In 1905 he arrived in Canada and in 1907 homesteaded with his wife on a quarter section near Cavalier, Saskatchewan.

Jones prospered during the immigration boom, acquiring 15 head of livestock, several stables and a comfortable house. One day the wagon of a farmer from a distant northern district broke down near his house. While helping the man make repairs Jones noticed that his load of wheat was exceptionally clean. He learned that it had been threshed with a machine similar to a fanning mill (a device used to remove impurities from grain). Jones asked the name of the manufacturer so that he might order one immediately, but the farmer was not able to recall it.

Jones made the long journey home with the farmer and discovered that the separator was made by La Compagnie Desjardins of Saint Andre-de-Kamouraska, Quebec. It had been founded in 1865 by Charles-Alfred Roy it Desjardins, a shipbuilder and later a member of Parliament. Desjardins' company had been a minor manufacturer of agricultural implements until the turn of the century, when the expanding West provided it with a large market. A foundry was added in 1911 and the company began production of its famous 'Call of the West' gasoline engines.

When Jones returned to his farm he ordered a 24-inch separator and a four horsepower engine. Several neighbors came to see his machine at work. They were so impressed they ordered outfits from him on the spot. Business soon looked so promising, he decided to open a warehouse in nearby Meota. Before he could finish the arrangements he was flooded with orders and it was obvious he would have to move to a larger center with better shipping facilities.

North Battleford was chosen because of the newly completed Canadian Northern Railway line. Jones petitioned city council for free land on which to build a warehouse and was turned down, an unusual occurrence during the heady boosterism which accompanied Western cities' feverish attempts to industrialize. He purchased land instead and completed a modest building in 1912. In that same year he became an official agent for Desjardins, with territory in Ontario, the western provinces and the northern states. Business grew to such proportions that he expanded in each of the next three years, adding several more warehouses, a fully equipped machine shop and a blacksmith shop.

A factory was added in 1917 to manufacture a blower Jones had designed. The blower blasted the straw away from the back of the separator, eliminating a man from what was the dirtiest job on the threshing crew, stacking the chaff. Blowers had been available on large machines since the 1880s but the low power engines used with small separators could not drive a blower. The Stanley Jones blower overcame this problem and was an important selling point for the Famous Combination Thresher.

The proud manufacturer toured the city council through the new factory. They were impressed by this striking evidence of the growth of industry in their city but not impressed enough to grant Jones a long-term tax exemption he requested later in the year. A. Stanley Jones Co. responded by moving to Saskatoon in 1919, where the city fathers were apparently more eager to attract businesses.

The old city stables on Avenue P were purchased for $22,000 and another $15,000 was invested in converting them to offices and warehouses and in installing a heating plant. The company's product line was expanded to include grinders, saws, magnetos, wagons and other farm supplies. The expansion was ill-timed. The depression of the early 1920s was as harsh for the agricultural economy as during the early 1930s. The price of wheat fell as low as 65 cents a bushel in 1923 and did not surpass $1 until the following year. Only the absence of drought and a few years of good yields enabled many farmers, and implement companies, to survive. A. Stanley Jones Co. was not one of the lucky ones.

In April, 1924, Stanley Jones informed Saskatoon aldermen that he was selling out to La Compagnie Desjardins and would not be able to make his regular payments. He claimed to have spent $73,335 on wages and more than $1600 annually in taxes during his four years in the city and begged the council to take this into consideration and grant him an extension on his payments for the estates.

Jones claimed he sold at a great loss. The buildings were leased for $1500 per year but he complained to the city clerk that 'in order to get them to keep the plant going here and not move the plant to Edmonton where their man went I cut to the figure of $5869 for all the office furniture, machinery, motorcars, woodworking shops, etc... .whereas its actual price would be five times that amount.' Jones was forced to sell the stock on hand at a loss, and even though he kept the farmers' notes for collection most of them would probably have been worthless once word of the sale reached rural areas. He made the city one final offer: if they would return the $ 11,000 in principal he had already paid, he would turn over the factory, land and lease with Desjardins and 'be glad to be rid of it.' City council politely refused.

Only a few weeks after the sale the entire plant was razed by a massive fire which caused $76,000 damage. A Saskatoon Phoenix reporter noted that the fire 'was one of the most spectacular seen in the city since the Winnipeg Oil Company fire here back in the boom days.' Buildings and contents were insured but 80 threshers and $16,000 in parts were lost at the beginning of the sales season; this crippling blow, along with the company's decision not to enter the combine market, contributed to Desjardins' eventual bankruptcy in 1930. To make matters worse, legal uncertainties were discovered in the lease and option to buy agreements, which led to confusion as to who should receive the insurance money. The mess was finally straightened out in November, 1924, when Desjardins bought the land and Jones agreed to turn over the insurance cheque to it.

Another dispute erupted over patent rights, collection on machinery notes and some minor issues. Jones launched a suit in 1926 and Desjardins replied with a counter action listing every claim it could think of, but before the defences were even filed the parties agreed to a settlement. Jones was clearly the winner, as he was given $21,000 to be paid in gold in equal installments over four years. Desjardins was released from the claim for patent infringement, but did not receive the rights to use the patents, and was reimbursed for some small amounts Jones owed the company.

Stanley Jones did the sensible thing: he pocketed his money, the last installment in November, 1929, just after the stock market crash, and moved to California. We have no record of what he did there but presumably he read the stories of Depression dust storms and business bankruptcies on the Prairies with a sense of relief at having failed at an opportune time.