Clever Farmer Reaps Unique Success

To some, the pea may be nothing more than a means to soup, a missile suited to the chastisement of bald heads or the legendary pellet that irritated a tender princess. To the man and to the family in this story a certain pea in a certain handful of peas meant an increased income, fame and a life worth living.

W. A. IRWIN December 15 1925

Clever Farmer Reaps Unique Success

To some, the pea may be nothing more than a means to soup, a missile suited to the chastisement of bald heads or the legendary pellet that irritated a tender princess. To the man and to the family in this story a certain pea in a certain handful of peas meant an increased income, fame and a life worth living.

W. A. IRWIN December 15 1925

Clever Farmer Reaps Unique Success

To some, the pea may be nothing more than a means to soup, a missile suited to the chastisement of bald heads or the legendary pellet that irritated a tender princess. To the man and to the family in this story a certain pea in a certain handful of peas meant an increased income, fame and a life worth living.


A FARMER who builds a billiard room to keep his family at home, directs amateur theatricals in his spare hours, reads genetics and still finds time to operate an 800-acre farm that has produced the best oats, barley, flax, sweet clover, peas, beans and rye in Canada—such an one is William Darnbrough, Laura, Saskatchewan. Even if his whims had gone no further than billiards and dramatics he might be considered eccentric, but when he traces a phenomenal success as a practical farmer to the aesthetic delight which he took in a handful of blue peas, then he becomes unique.

I first met him over a bag of oats at the Royal Winter Fair, Toronto. Later I found out that he—and his family —had accomplished the almost unbelievable feat of capturing first place in no less than eight classes of grains and seeds in competition with half a continent. At the moment, however, it was the man rather than the record that attracted.

Most men are satisfied with doing one, or, at best, two or three things well, but Darnbrough does not belong to the class, “most men.” A keen observer would recognize that at a glance. His is the long, slightly triangular face that is supposed to indicate the idealist. There is no sign of the impractical, however, in the jutting chin, prominent nose and shrewd eyes—those curiously farseeing eyes, equally characteristic of the men of the prairie and of the men who go down to the sea in ships.

In fact, were it not for a whimsical twinkle and lips set for laughter, his might be a hard face.

At the outset both he and his capable-looking wife were reticent with a stranger, but M. P. Tullis, Field Crops Commissioner for Saskatchewan, had whetted curiosity with a hint at a farmer’s prowess that was worth the telling. Later, to be precise when the wife had poured tea, the whole story, blue peas and all, came tumbling out. Laura, Saskatchewan, is a long way from Toronto, and a homesick farmer, however successful he be, is not above warming to an interested auditor.

“Have you ever driven oxen?” he asked when the usual chit-chat had been disposed of. “No? Well, you’re lucky. The first time I tried it took me seven hours to push a mile and a half. Almost had to drive a stake in the ground to see if they were moving. That was when we were living in a tent at Saskatoon.” He laughed. “I earned one of my first Canadian dollars that way, but those oxen were party responsible for sending me home.”

Caught by the Wanderlust

TNQUIRY revealed the fact that home at that time— twenty-two years ago—was Drighlington, a small town near Bradford, in Yorkshire. There, Enoch Darnbrough, now a grandfather of eighty-three summers, conducted a small brass foundry. Fate seemed to have marked William, his son, for a founder’s existence, but William had other notions. At eighteen he had graduated from a technical school, narrowly missed blowing a leg off in experimenting with gunpowder—he wanted to be a chemist—and acquired a restlessness that must have been disconcerting to Darnbrough, pere.

Restlessness capitalized a chance reference to Canada and, a year later, the youth of nineteen, three weeks married, was westward bound in search of the pot of gold at the end of the long journey to the Canadian Northwest.

It takes an older generation to remember the Saskatoon of 1903 but, judging by the experience of the young couple, that enterprising pioneer settlement at the head of the steel had its limitations as a honeymooners’ resort.

“It was fun at first, but we had to make the best of it in a tent. I bought some oxen, did some teaming and looked around for a location, but couldn’t seem to settle dowm. Then, a letter came from one of my pals back home telling about how they missed me in the football

club and—well, we packed up and went back home.” But the spell had worked its charm. Home proved to be less alluring than a tent and the bald prairie. “We felt cramped. It was stuffy; there wasn’t enough room.” To clinch matters, Darnbrough, senior, caught the fever from the son, and the next year father and son set out together. Arrived at Saskatoon, they located almost immediately, thirty-five miles to the westward, near the site of what has since become the rural village of Laura, Saskatchewan. Although there were only a comparatively few neighbors between the new Darnbrough estate and the Rocky Mountains, theirs was a sound choice, for they had selected virgin land on the eastern fringe of what is now the celebrated Goose Lake district. Father and son each pre-empted a quarter section and most of an original capital of $4,500 went into 500 acres adjoining.

Much might be written of the next fifteen years, but this is not the story of a pioneer’s struggles. The Darnbroughs were more fortunate than many in that they had capital to start with, but the tell-tale lines in the face of the man who told me the story said a great deal that was not put in words. Darnbrough, senior, soon became Darnbrough, grandfather, to a family of seven and the much desired bumper crop became more of a necessity than ever.

All Due to Blue Peas

WILLIAM DARNBROUGH has a confession to make. “I didn’t start farming until I had been at it for nearly fifteen years.”

“Oh, we farmed,” he continued in response to a start of surprise at a seeming paradox, “but we just plodded along, hoping to get rich on wheat. We got fifty bushels to the acre in 1915. That gave us our first real foothold, but that isn’t what brought me here today.”

“The peas?” Peas had been mentioned out at the Winter Fair.

“Yes,” he nodded. “Father used to go back to take a look at the foundry every winter and one spring he brought back a pint of peas—Prussian Blue peas, they were. That was in 1918.”

Here a pause. “I don’t quite know why I should have been so interested in those peas, but—it was their color. A queer blue, they fascinated me. Anyway, I planted them close to the house and watched them grow. Then, one day, I counted two hun-

dred and forty pods on one vine. That made me think. I had sense enough to pull that vine, keep the seeds and plant them the next year. They didn’t all come up to the record, but I kept on selecting, and, well—you saw that the youngster’s stock took a first at the Royal this year.”

The youngster, it should be explained, is the fifteen-year-old William Darnbrough, junior, champion pea grower of Canada for 1925, but that’s getting ahead of the story.

What happened wTas precisely this: those pet peas taught the Darnbroughs how to make a hobby of business and they rode their hobby to the top of their chosen calling.

Within three years after the peas first performed, the entire family was experimenting with some one or other of the farm’s products—all but the eldest son, that is. He got the radio “bug”—as the father puts it. From seeds, interest expanded to include cattle and then sheep. With the constant search for perfection came the desire for recognition and that led to the show ring. First came the smaller agricultural fairs of the immediate neighborhood, then the provincial fairs of the West and finally the Royal at Toronto and the International at Chicago.

Last year, Darnbrough, senior, took a second with his peas at Chicago in competition with the seedmen of the continent. This year, the family topped the judges’ lists in eight seed classes at the Royal Winter Fair. William Darnbrough, senior, captured first prizes with his oats, barley, flax, sweet clover, and special malting barley; William, junior, did likewise with his peas and beans, and S. Crossman, a nephew, working on the Darnbrough place, kept up with the family by winning a first in rye.

Diversified Agriculture

TRULY a remarkable record, but more amazing still is the fact that these champion seed growlers have proved themselves expert stockmen. In 1920, the family purchased twelve pure-bred Suffolk sheep from the University of Saskatchewan. By 1923, the flock reached a total of 123 head and in that year the revenue from sheep exceeded the revenue from wheat yielding twenty-three bushels to the acre. Last year, the flock turned in a total of 197 first prizes, including the card for champion Suffolk ram at the Royal Winter Fair. This year the first prizes on sheep alone numbered more than 200, including a Royal championship in the Suffolk yearling wether class. Incidentally, the title to the flock, now grown to 300 head is now held by William, junior, and there is not much chance of that particular farmer’s son joining the rush to the city.

Even sheep and seeds did not satisfy, for some years ago the family established the nucleus of a herd of pure-bred Red Polled cattle. This venture was finally abandoned, however, when the best of the herd was destroyed by fire in 1924. “They ate too much when feed was dear,” explains Mr. Darnbrough. “So, when I was burned out of cattle, I decided to stay out.”

Even Darnbrough, grandfather, has succumbed to the lure of watching—and helping—things grow. Of late years his trips to the Old Country have become fewTer and fewer and though he is eighty-three he won’t have a horse on the twoacre garden that is his special pride. Just at the moment, he’s interested in playing with corn, but his first love was trees, particularly pine seedlings, of which he has either planted or distributed some tens of thousands. Needless to say the bald prairie is no longer bald in the neighborhood of Laura.

And what sort of life does this farmer’s family lead nowr that successes seem to be tumbling in from all directions? True there’s a deal of hard work—it takes one person a

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Clever Farmer Reaps Unique Success

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week to hand pick a peck of peas for show at Chicago—but this is more than offset hy the zest of continual discovery.

Take the peas for instance. The seed of that 240-pod vine has now multiplied to 1,000 bushels. This year, Darnbrough senior tried a new wrinkle and planted some of this stock in rows a yard apart, one peck to the acre. Normally, one bushel to the acre is scattered broadcast and yields at best not more than forty bushels. Judge, then, the delight of the Darnbrough household when they discovered that the peck to the acre in rows yielded ninety-eight bushels.

“Could any farmer repeat that yield?”

“Yes, provided the soil is suitable and is inoculated.”

Lest it might be imagined that this is a story of success without effort and that Providence blesses any curiousminded farmer who happens to fancy blue peas, I should mention some of the Darnbrough tribulations. This year, in addition to looking after the sheep and carrying on the usual large-scale grain production, the family hand cultivated forty acre-and-a-half special seed plots. Owing to dry weather, flax and several other grains had to be sewn three times and the cutworms passed up only two bean stalks out of two acres of promising young bean shoots. William senior, William junior, and the nephew managed to scotch 20,000 of the voracious crawlers by hand, but they did not reach the bean patch in time to save it.

No, they didn’t count them, but they did average a count over three 150-yard rows and estimated the remainder.

Such toil would be heart-breaking were it not for two rewards—an astonishing increase in material wealth and a satisfaction that goes with an interest in living.

Twenty-one years have passed since the Darnbroughs invested $4,500 in Saskatchewan farm land. To-day the nest of buildings on the homestead carries $25,000 fire insurance, and the owner estimates the value of his property at $85,000. He has become a member of the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association, the semi-governmental organization which controls the registration of pedigreed seed stocks throughout the Dominion. By reason of his connection with this very exclusive agricultural aristocracy much of

his stock, elite stock, first generation elite, or what not, sells for $5 where the less ambitious farmer gets only $2 or $3.

That a man who was intended for the foundry should reap such a harvest as this should be enough to make any blue ruin propagandist think twice before commencing to howl about “his” Canada, but I am inclined to believe that Darnbrough himself blesses those blue peas for something he considers more valuable than cash and prestige—the discovery that, for him, farming is the one fascination that makes life worth living.

Three odd bits of his conversation amplify this notion.

I happened to mention radio. “Oh, yes, we have a radio,” he admitted. “And I put in a billiard room to keep the youngsters at home, but we’re too busy with the seeds to play much now.”

A little later:

“I used to fill in time by running a little theatre down in the village.”

“You directed it?”

“Yes, we didn’t get as far as the heavy stuff but we had some fun with ‘Are You a Mason?’¡‘Charley’s Aunt’; and several others of that sort. Had to drop it,though, when I got interested in the seeds—been reading a little genetics.”

And still another:

“Yes, we bought a car back in 1916, but we don’t have much time for joyriding. The speedometer shows 3,000 miles. It’s only three-quarters of a mile to the village and we all like walking.” Father being a man such as is revealed there, I began to wonder about William, junior, the fifteen-year-old-champion pea and bean grower. When I finally cornered him he was too shy to talk much at first but after a good deal of verbal fishing he admitted that he liked the sheep best. Did he want to stay on the farm? Yes, he liked farming. Really like it? Yes. Fun in the seeds? Yes, lots of work but it was fun. And then he blurted out:

“Yes, lots of fun picking seeds—I don’t think.”

There spoke the normal boy. Subsequently I discovered that he spends a good deal of his time playing baseball and football. Which is as it should be, but he is a reckless man who will wager that the Darnbrough farm will not stay Darnbrough for another generation at least.