Grain King Wears a Double Crown
Herman Trelle, Canadian, of Peace River, grew the world’s best wheat and oats in 1926
W. D. ALBRIGHT
THE 1926 world sweepstakes in both wheat and oats was captured by a thirty-one-year-old Peace River farmer who, as a high school lad in Edmonton, had found himself unable to answer the examination question: ‘What is a summerfallow?’ Then, he was being educated for civil engineering, and when the World War broke out, he was studying for a Rhodes scholarship.
If his cherished ambitions had not been upset, or if any one of a dozen other crises in a very eventful career had issued differently, Montana would have carried off high honors in wheat and oats, Canada would have been away down in the list of prize-winners, and Northern Alberta’s third international wheat championship would have been deferred to a future date.
As it is, a rare story of achievement lies behind the sensational success of Mr. and Mrs. Herman Trelle, of Wembley, Alberta. Their triumph was a mutual one, as the victor was prompt to acclaim.
Sometimes such tribute is a mere gesture of chivalry by which a man thinks t o magnify his own glory.
Not so in this case.
Before the big victory occurred the husband had repeatedly remarked that his wife was better than he at preparing exhibits.
Nor is this all. She has been the kind of helpmeet whose loyalty and interest bring out the best there is in a man. That is a greater service than picking grain, and probably no one appreciates the fact better than Herman Trelle.
No rose-strewn path have they fol-
lowed. High lights, deep shadows, and dull, gray undertones have checkered Herman Trelle’s career. But through it all have persisted that dynamic energy, that boyish enthusiasm, that tenacity of purpose, which, coupled with high intelligence and a rare eye for type, have landed him at the pinnacle as the first farmer to win a double world championship in grain.
Twice before the country ‘north of Fifty-five’ had won world honors in wheat. Wheat grown in a garden at Chipewyan, on Lake Athabasca, was awarded first place at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876. Chipewyan is not exactly in the Peace watershed but is near the mouth of the river and belongs to the same sweep of country, representing its more northerly latitude. In 1893 wheat grown by the Brick’s near the town of Peace River was first at the Chicago World’s Fair. But much water had flowed under the bridges since these victories for the Canadian north. They were half forgotten and the world was more or less justified in wondering whether they could be repeated in the face of modern competition. They have been repeated with emphasis. Trelle was a clear winner in oats and an outstanding winner in wheat.
The effect in Alberta was electric. Of recent years the ‘North’ had come to be somewhat discounted ‘outside . An impression had gone abroad that it was in serious plight. The situation had never really been so bad as painted and had recently improved very much. Freight rates had been reduced: immigration was trickling in
again; times were brightening, and further railway construction was in the offing. To help out came the phenomenal crop of 192 6 with fields of wheat threshing sixty to seventy bushels per acre. One field actually ran seventytwo.
Then radio caught news of the double championship, clinching the fact for all the world to know that the Peace River region could produce top-notch quality as well as enormous yields. The day after the announcement Peace River farms could be sold on the streets of the provincial capital. At a low estimate the win raised the commercial value of occupied farm lands a million dollars overnight.
Provincially it means much. A win for northern, or, more properly, for central Alberta—since Wembley is only about as far above the middle latitude of the province as Edmonton is south of it—is philosophically regarded as a climatic recommendation for all districts southward. It greatly enhances the prospects of the provincially owned northern railways. It means a bigger and a greater province. . - '
Nationally it signifies still more. Three thousand miles multiplied by nothing equals nothing; multiplied by one hundred equals three hundred thousand square miles; by five hundred, equals one million five hundred thousand square miles. This becomes the physical basis for a respectable commonwealth, affording field for development and scope for talent. Without it we become a mere appanage of the neighboring republic.
The sweepstakes wheat and oats grew 428 miles north of the 49th parallel, figuring by townships, and the previous winnings had been by points still farther north. World champion grain will yet be grown at the top of Alberta and beyond.
The future of Canada lies in its breadth.
Herman Trelle’s great-great-grandfather was a trooper in the Napoleonic army and after the war he settled at Soest, Westphalia, Germany, across the Rhine from Alsace-Lorraine. For generations the family followed the occupation of farming, but Herman’s father, Andreas, forsook this and took up the craft of wood-working.
In 1891 he married a farm-bred girl of purely Teutonic extraction who had been raised in the same village as himself. The young couple moved to Hamburg, left it during the cholera plague, were unable to secure an early boat to South America, as intended, and booked passage for Philadelphia instead. In America Mr. Trelle followed the carpentering trade, with an interval of homesteading in Idaho. Herman, the second child, was born in that state' on December 8, 1894.
The father was something of a rover. He was foreman of construction on the Chilkoot tramway, out of Skagway, Alaska, when a snowslide killed his whole
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construction on the Chilcoot tramway, out of Skagway, Alaska, when a snowslide killed his whole gang of 120 men, he, himself, having been off work that day with a cold. Subsequently, he entered British Columbia, where he became a foreman of construction in erecting tippers and power plants for the mines then being opened up on the Alberta side of the Crqw’s Nest Pass. He also had a lumber yard in Frank. On April 29, 1903, occurred the great landslide which nearly wiped out that town. Some of the rocks hit the Trelle doorstep.
Storing his goods at the new mining location of Blairmore he took the family, for a four-months’ visit to Germany returning the day after a hurricane had unroofed the house, exposing to theft much silverware and clothing. From Blairmore they moved to Coleman, where the recent mining disaster occurred. It was then a frontier town and Herman, having reached the public schoolTeaving class, was sent with his sister to Alberta College at Edmonton for the winter of 1905-06.
The Beckoning Peace
TN THE winter of 1907-08 the family A moved to Edmonton, where Trelle, senior, engaged in coal mining. He was stricken with typhoid. When convalescent he took a trip with his son through the Yellowhead Pass and down the Fraser. In the mountains they met some old prospectors who told them of the Peace.
The summer of 1909 saw the first considerable trek to the Grande Prairie district, the largest and most southwesterly park-prairie area in the Peace drianage basin. One noted party had .left Edmonton in March with seventeen teams of oxen on a 550-mile trail via Athabasca Landing, Lesser Slave Lake, Peace River Crossing, Dunvegan, and Spirit River, to Beaverlodge, where they arrived in three months. The new mecca was beckoning. The settlement of the territory is a world-faceted romance.
In the autumn of that year Herman became chummy with a boy whose father had arrived from Saskatchewan, moving into the house across the way. Some canvas cabooses were being built to be loaded on sleighs and made ready for a winter’s trip.
“What are they for?” was the natural question.
“Oh,” replied the new-found companion, “we’re going up to the Peace River country.”
Interest kindled. The father’s health was still indifferent, and after repeated urging by his son he went over to see the builder of cabooses. In a fortnight he had two such ‘schooners’ ready for himself and started out with Henry Roberts on the 450-mile winter trail to the Peace Valley via Athabasca and Sturgeon Lake.
Arriving about February with ä South African Veteran’s script, a homestead right, and the privilege of reserving quarter for his son, Mr. Trelle chose two adjacent half sections south of the west end of Saskatoon Lake, beside which Alex Monkman, who has since given his name to the Monkman pass through the Rockies, had raised in 1903, if not earlier, the first grain ever grown on Grande Prairie. The land selected was the usual black-brown loam, much of it prairied but with the usual patches of poplar and willow scrub. It lay with an undulating slope toward the water. Elevation combined with this to render it an exceptionally frost-free area during the pioneer stage of the country.
Having started the kitchen of a house, the father returned to Edmonton in October and made two trips ‘in’ during the winter of 1910-11, one before Christmas and one after, the son accompanying on both. They freighted millwork and hardware for the house and the first
windmill to be taken into the district. It was erected on the first shingle-roofed barn on the Prairie.
Mother and daughter came in on the second trip. It was the year of the early break-up and the last leg was finished on bare ground. Five horses were lost. The new home was reached on March 11. Eight days later they were working on the land.
Mr. Trelle put up a fine set of buildings, including a roomy, comfortable, well furnished house, in which a good piano had a place, but regarded his land much as a speculation and did not break a great deal. He had a grain crusher and used to grind whole-wheat flour, besides chopping feed. The neighbors recall how in his absence his wife would get up at night if the wind rose and attend to the custom grists. The family were hard workers, hustlers, and moneymakers. Withal, the home was an attractive one in which to be entertained.
Three months each year Herman went to school, never entering before Christmas, yet covering three years’ work in two. He passed his second-year high school examination about 1909 or 1910, scoring highest total marks out of 647 candidates in the province. He could not answer the question about summerfallowing but was strong on physics and science generally. As boy he had a bent for mechanics and even yet would not be content on the farm without mechanical appliances.
In 1913 he passed the Dominion Land Surveyors’ examination, having spent some time on surveys. He surveyed north of the Peace and actually ran twenty miles of the sixth naeridian. For'the surveyors’ examination he covered three months’ work in eleven days by cramming formulae. It could not have been a thorough grounding he got that way but out of thirteen candidates he was the only one to pass.
In 1913 he was gold-medalist in the high school oratorical contest, speaking on the Peace River Country. He became editor of the first boys’ newspaper in Alberta and in athletics held two Dominion field records besides being amateur heavy-weight wrestling champion of Alberta in 1914-15. Trail-blazing and pace-making seemed a habit with him. He was the kind of boy likely to reach the top in whatever he undertook. In 1914 he entered the University of Alberta, taking Applied Science, having been coached by his high school teachers with a view to the Rhodes scholarship.
Then the deluge! The war cut off all chance of the scholarship. On top of that after spending a year in the Officers’ Training Corps and passing the examination he was refused admission to the corps in which his pals were enlisting, because of his ancestry.
“It was the greatest blow I had ever had,” he confided pensively as we chatted in his Wembley home. “I was prepared for the other—the war. I saw it coming. But this was a complete shock. I couldn’t go back and face my classmates after that. I felt up against it; and so to make myself useful I went farming.”
From the University to the Farm
TN 1916 he became of age and com-*■ menced farming on his own account. Leasing his father’s land, he took over the equipment on a note. It was the year of the August frost but he got by with a good crop, and that summer, with one man to help him, he broke 279 acres and disked it down ready for crop, as well as handling some fifty acres of summerfallow. The next year he had one of the largest wheat crops in the district. In 1918, the year of the blossom frost, he had half a crop.
He was conscripted that year; was exempted because of extensive farming;
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then finally volunteered for the air force and was en route to the training camp in Toronto when the Armistice was signed.
Before the 1917 crop was harvested his father had drawn up an agreement on a fifty-fifty basis. The parents moved to the Pacific Coast that year., settling in California in 1918. This added ‘batching’ to the young homesteader’s trials.
The latter handicap was presently overcome. On Christmas Day, 1919, he married Miss Beatrice Burdick, also a genuine Peace River pioneer. Born ;n Minnesota, Miss Burdick had lost her mother at five and had been raised by her grandparents. Her grandfather, E. S. Zimmerman, was one of the early settlers in the Pouce Coupee District, that farflung settlement in the Peace River Block of British Columbia, still sixty miles from steel by winter trail and more by summer route. He had filed on land near Rolla in 1913 and had taken his family in next year. With the exception of two years in St. Paul, Minnesota, Mrs. Trelle has never until quite recenti-^ been ‘outside’. There are two children, a girl aged four and a boy two.
Hard times came. The post-war slump pressed heavily upon districts with long freight hauls. A series of dry years occurred during which grasshoppers multiplied. In 1922 the fine house burned down. Three months later the first child was born. A very modest shack has since been the dwelling, but it is a homelike home nevertheless.
As far back as 1914 the young pioneer had been interested in growing pure seed grain.
“What started you in pure seed,” I asked him.
“I am not sure it didn’t date from an inspection of the experimental farms’ first plots back in 1914. I didn’t like the mongrel stuff and thought I saw an opportunity to develop strains acclimatized to the district. I talked it over with F. H. Reed, Superintendent of the Dominion Experimental Station at Lacombe, asking him to send me some pure seed. He sent me Marquis and Ruby wheats, which you will remember inspecting in 1922. A sample of the Ruby was sent to the agronomist of the University of Alberta. He put it in the Provincial Seed Fair and it won first prize for the variety.
“Then G. H. Cutler, Professor of Field Husbandry at the university interested me in the Alberta Seed Growers’ Association, and through him I obtained in the spring of 1923 a bushel each of Marquis wheat and Victory oats. I made hand selections of both and ever since have been repeating this and multiplying my selected stock. The Ruby was discarded and I have grown since then only one variety of each kind of grain except in a few small test plots.
“I sent a peck each of the wheat and oats to university in 1923 and exhibited at Chicago. The wheat won third in its class but the oats nothing although they weighed fifty-two pounds per bushel by Canadian standards. There were too many twin oats and pin oats.”
In 1924 Trelle obtained a quantity of new Marquis seed and sowed a considerable acreage. To his great disappointment this proved to be of a mixed strain, and this portion of the crop was refused registration. He cleared it out and went ahead with his own selections, also obtaining, on the advice of L. H. Newman, now Dominion Cerealist, seed stocks from Dr. Seager Wheeler and Major H. G. L. Strange, both world champion growers. From these strains also he made selections in the field.
The wheat that won in 1926 was a blend of the three strains, mixed after threshing but he is going to carry on with his selections from the Strande stock, considering it the most promising yielder.
The Victory oats which won world laurels have been propagated uninterruptedly from the bushel secured by Trelle from the university in 1923. By continual selection and reselection he has
developed a strain of Victory that is almost entirely awnless, uniform and productive.
Preparing For the Big Show
A FTER threshing was completed last autumn, Mr. Trelle let his fall work stand and concentrated upon his exhibits.
“Something told me I was going to win at Chicago,” he says. “I had samples of the prize-winning grains at previous shows and compared them with mine. I tested them for weight, measured them for size, balanced them for color, and by every test I felt sure I had better wheat than had won there before. I had written G. M. Stewart, of the Seed Branch at Calgary, asking him for full directions about exhibiting at the International, Show at Chicago. He wrote me a long letter. I studied it carefully. I decided to go down with the exhibit.”
A fortnight before leaving for Chicago, Mr. Trelle came to show me his samples —we live only eleven miles apart. He had Marquis wheat weighing sixty-seven pounds per bushel. Garnet weighing sixty-eight and another kind, sixty-nine. This last I had given him for trial only; it could not be released for sale or exhibition. The Garnet was a wonderful sample but we feared it would be unfamiliar to the American judges and in a close decision, therefore, might be at a disadvantage. There were two lots of Victory oats but the plumper sample had been stained from hanging in a loft before threshing with too little air circulation. It tested about fifty-two pounds to the bushel. Which lot of oats and which wheat to choose? On the whole, we favored the plumper oats and the Garnet wheat.
I lent him our hand screens and gravity scale. Ten days later he telephoned that he was taking the Marquis. He had gotten it up to over seventy-one pounds per measured bushel.
“By those screens and the scale I discovered that wheat,” he declares. Drawing pon his knowledge of physics he devised a system of screening which ‘took the crease out of the wheat.’ That is to say, it eliminated all but the plumpest kernels. After that he felt confident of the wheat championship, and thinks he could have won it with any one of the three varieties. The Dominion Cerealist who was at Chicago and saw the grain, assures us Trelle was an easy winner. Trelle, however, was not at all confident about his oats as their color was against them.
After reaching Chicago, he spent three strenuous days in the final preparation of his exhibits. Even after the entries were made, he had his hands full.
“I lived around those exhibits. Five times the glass case covering my wheat was broken and once durum kernels were introduced. But I got permission to pick them out and do not think such opportunities for tampering will be liable to recur. The management met us quite satisfactorily.”
When it came to judging Trelle’s wheat was outstanding. It weighed 65.6 pounds per Winchester bushel or more than seventy-one pounds by Canadian measure. It was .2 pounds heavier than the famous Montana wheat that won in 1925. The 1926 first-prize winter wheat was 1.1 pounds heavier than Trelle’s spring wheat but it took only two minutes to decide the championship on uniformity and color.
Some of the Canadian boys thought it was all over, but the wheat champion insisted that watch still be kept.
“You don’t think you’re going to win the oats sweepstakes, too, do you?”
“If it comes to Canada my oats will get it. I know what’s in those oats,” was the significant reply. Sure enough, the double championship was his. Some of his competitors had clipped their oats too short. They looked good but did not handle so well, and the ends were mushroomed, leaving air spaces that reduced the scale. At 49.1 pounds a Winchester bushel,
Trelle’s oats were fully a pound heavier than any oats ever before shown at Chicago. By the Canadian standard they weighed fifty-four pounds to the bushel. The legal standard, of course, is thirtyfour pounds. They were wonderfully uniform and there was not a twin oat or pin oat in the lot.
A Victory for the Peace River Country
“'T'HE first thing they wanted was a radio talk. I had to speak to thirty thousand people,” said Trelle, when I asked him how it felt to be a champion twice over. “Early in the address I paused, wondering what to say next. From the far spaces of the amphitheatre echoed my own amplified words, ‘Peace River Country.’ I took up the thread and went on.”
Reporters besieged him. Commercial firms, with a view to advertising, asked him to pose for pictures. He consented on condition that the words ‘Peace River Country’ be blazoned in big letters behind him.
One test of a man is failure. Another is success. In the hour of his triumph Trelle shared the victory with his wife. He upheld his country. He remembered the men who had helped him.
Mrs. Trelle, when telephoned congratulations, modestly replied: “It should be a good thing for the Peace River District.”
A rival exhibitor took the winner aside and asked how many children he had.
“Two,” was the wondering answer.
“How do you get your exhibits ready?
I have twelve and it takes us all our time.”
As'a matter of fact, while some midnight gasoline was burned over these exhibits, little handpicking was done. Ingenuity was resorted to. This, along with Peace River soil, rain, and sunshine, supplemented by discriminating selection of both foundation stock and exhibition samples, turned the trick. Proficiency in physics helped to win a prize on grain.
It is not always an Agricultural College training that makes' the best farmer, excellent though such schooling is. Major Strange, of Fenn, Alberta, who swept the boards in 1923, was an engineer by training ánd experience. Dr. Seager Wheeler, of Rosthern, Saskatchewan, who first made Marquis famous by winning the Shaugbnessy thousand-dollar gold prize at the New York Land Show in 1911, and afterwards won three successive sweepstakes at Chicago, was a fisherman’s son from the Isle of Wight, self-educated in agriculture. Dr. Charles E. Saunders, who developed and gave to the world the Marquis wheat, which has won almost every world championship from 1911 on, was a studious young man with a talent for music and an academic bent. Dr. William Saunders, his father, who, as the first Director of the Federal Experimental Farms system, instituted the world search for varieties and the extensive crossbreeding program that produced Marquis and a great many other excellent varieties, had been a manufacturing chemist, with a penchant for gardening and natural science.
First of all it is the stuff that is in a man that counts. Outlook is important and mental discipline is helpful along whatever line directed. On top of it all,
however, must be built some technical knowledge, whether acquired in college or elsewhere.
A Farmer Student
SINCE leaving the university, Trelle has been a keen student of agriculture. He pores over reports and bulletins with devouring interest; conducts an avid correspondence; and plies with questions anyone from whom he may learn something. He has an extraordinary faculty of observation and seeks to apply what he learns. In four different seasons I have been, delegated to inspect his crops for registration and have never visited him without learning somethingusually points he had observed.
Nor is his interest confined to wheat and oats. He thinks his peas would have stood high had there been time to prepare them. He has been perfecting and purifying a local strain of early corn which matures regularly with him, and has made some very interesting selections of sunflowers which he gave the experimental station to try this past season. He is working with sweet clover and potatoes, raises his own vegetable seed, and is most of all interested in fruit. Apples, sandcherries and others have been planted. Decorative horticulture is claiming attention. He is planning a new home where he may enjoy himself amid these things without having to work so much land.
What kind of a farmer is he? Does he raise good crops? Does he make farming pay?
The answers will depend upon whom you ask. His father might complain that the buildings and fences have not been kept up to their old standard; that the fallow was not always clean; that some stands of crops were thin. There were heavier farm averages than Trelle’s in 1926. He has grown, can grow, and still does grow good crops, but he is overloaded. How he gets through all the work is a marvel. He has turned his place for the time being into an experimental farm, with numerous strains and selections as well as new varieties under tFial in large and little plots. It required two days, of busy work to inspect his crop entered for registration in 1926. Where he stores it all is a puzzle. He threshed 4200 bushels of registered Marquis wheat and approximately 6500 bushels of registered Victory oats. Type secured, multiplication is easy.
“Do you grow your prize-winning wheat in a little plot in the garden?” I asked him. It’s a question that the layman invariably raises.
“Not at all,” was the answer. “.One never knows in advance where he will find his best exhibit. The land where I might have looked for it this past summer was partially hailed. The thing to do is to spread good seed all over the farm, growing only one variety of each kind, except perhaps a few trial plots, and then pick where the best is to be found.”.
Incidentally, the work horses eat pure, chopped Victory oats, in order that the droppings may not distribute other varieties or weed seeds.
When his crop is growing our enthusiast fairly lives in the fields, particularly after it heads out. Though light on live stock, his farm has a complete horse and power equipment, including one of the best kerosene plowing and threshing outfits in the district. For some years past he has been his own engineer and separator man and has the reputation of running the outfit well.
“What are your plans for the future?” I asked him, while he was busy over a table preparing an exhibit of peas for the provincial seed fair.
“1 want to stay here and develop plants for this country. I have been asked to give a lecture at the university on exhibiting grain, but I am not ready yet. Give me a few more years to find myself and I’ll he ready to explain.”
To his neighbors he says there is plenty of room for competition. “I know of farms on Grande Prairie that can grow better grain than ours. Choose your line, whether it be horses, cattle, grain, grass seed or what. Study it. Concentrate on it. You can’t expect to get anywhere without specialization. Stick to your aim and you're bound to win.”
Luck? Yes, the kind that some genius — I think it was Edison -probably had in mind when he said, “Inspiration is perspiration, and ninety-eight per cent, of genius is hard work.”
Editor's Note: H’. D. Albright, the writer of this article is Superintendent of the Dominion Government Experimental Farm at Beaverlodge, Alberta.