For as long as adults have been driving, kids have been pedalling. All the way back to 1890 and the dawn of the automobile, every make and model had its tiny, child-powered twin, from the Mercedes Benz to the Model T Ford.
Like the first automobiles, early factory-made pedal cars were toys for the wealthy, and they showed it. Most were perfect copies of the full-sized versions, from carefully-painted trim to real rubber tires (sometimes including a spare) to licence plates and working horns and headlights.
The pedal car was wildly popular from the turn of the century all the way to 1960s, with a small break in the middle for World War 2, when steel was requisitioned for the war effort. After the war, general prosperity and improvements in manufacturing meant that kids of all classes could afford to pedal a mini-Studebaker or a pint-sized Pontiac through their cul-de-sac.
Our own model is a Murray Steelcraft V-Front, manufactured somewhere between 1960 and 1968. Murray Steelcraft were one of two major North American pedal car makers, both based in Ohio. The V-Front design was based loosely the American muscle car, which at the time was synonymous with speed and machismo. When it was new our pedal car probably had painted details, like headlights, racing stripes, or the brand name painted on the side, but now these are covered with a layer of red barn paint. The only indication of the manufacturer is a small “M” stamped on the hubcaps.
The 1960s were the last great age of the metal pedal car. In the 1970s the arrival of the plastic Big Wheel and Cozy Coupe, along with improved health and safety standards, caused sales to decline sharply. Companies were forced to diversify; in the 1970s Steelcraft of Murray switched to producing lawn mowers.
Each pedal car, like our little metal Murray, is a microcosm of their time and the kids that coveted and pedalled them. They tell us what they were supposed to learn, what they dreamed of being when they grew up, and how they spent their time. Whether it’s a wooden wagon or a metal car or a plastic plane or a virtual-reality fighter jet, kids (and adults) love things that go– a rule that applied in 1960, and still does today.
For most of us, it’s just butter: innocuous stacks of foil-wrapped bricks or plastic tubs, scooped out of the dairy case without a second thought. When we do think of it, maybe it’s as delicious, creamy saturated sunshine, or the obscene product of an unsustainable food dictatorship, or possibly just that stuff you spread on your toast; what it hardly ever is, in our minds, is the product of hours of heavy manual labour. But until relatively recently, that’s exactly what it was.
It takes about four gallons of whole cow’s milk to make one pound of butter. A hundred years ago, when our churn was patented, every drop would have to be squeezed out of a cow by hand, usually at a godawful hour of the morning.
Once that was done, the cream was collected. Milk sat until the cream floated to the top and was painstakingly skimmed.
Then it was time to churn. Before the industrial revolution, this was done with a plunger churn (bucket with a stick in it) or by putting the butter in a barrel or a bag on a rope and swinging it back and forth until the cream coagulated. In the 18th and 19th century, dairies began to use high technology: rotary churns with cranks and cog-driven paddles like the one in our collection.
How-ever it was done, the basic principle of butter-making is the same: beat the daylights out of it. At a certain point, as anyone who has over-whipped cream knows, your cream will transform from soft, delightful peaks to wet, yellow lumps. Drain the watery residue (A.K.A, buttermilk), squeeze the many lumps into one, and there you have it: butter.
Because it was such a common and labour-intensive task, churning was a prime candidate for mechanization, and patents for rotary butter churns abounded. One of these was taken out by Mr. E.B. Jones, who invented a small glass churn for home use around the turn of the 19th century. After a couple of years, Nathan Dazey, a more entrepreneurial sort, bought Jones’s business, gave it his own name, and moved it to St. Louis, Missouri. Dazey diversified into butter churns of all sizes, from the original kitchen-sized jar to our farm-sized four-gallon metal model, which, according to its stamp, was patented on December 18, 1917.
It’s a solid machine, with four sturdy legs, a heavy iron crank-handle, and a sizeable churning-paddle that looks like a tiny wooden boat propeller. There is also a handy tap on the bottom to drain off the buttermilk (Fun Fact: originally, most of the cream used to make butter had fermented slightly, which is why modern buttermilk is laced with lactic acid to give it the sour tang).
Yes, Dazey churns were made to last- good news for museums and hand-churned butter enthusiasts, because the Dazey Co. stopped making churns in 1945, when the numbers of people moving to cities, and modernized industrial farming made home butter manufacture inefficient.
But how did a churn, made around 1917 in St Louis, find its way to the Fernie Museum a hundred years later?
According to Cathy Crewe, the original owner, our churn was originally used in the dairy at the Hutterite Colony near Pincher Creek. It was found by her father, George Crewe, who was a farm and automotive parts salesman and a collector of oddities and antiques. One day, visiting the farm to sell tractor parts, George discovered the churn in one of the barns, where it was waiting to be thrown away. George rescued the churn, dusted it off, and brought it home to be added to his many treasures. Eventually, Cathy inherited the churn along with the rest of her father’s collection and gave it to her friend Lori Bradish. Lori donated the churn to the Fernie and District Historical Society, where it lives today. Its handles and paddle still turn, and if you open the lid and stick your head inside, you can smell a very faint odour of cheese.
The Dazey churns like it are a reminder, not just of how our butter was once made, but of an entire rural way of life that is rapidly fading from memory. So, next time you’re grabbing a stick, a pound, or a tub, give a thought for all those sore, sweaty generations who milked, hauled, skimmed, and churned the delicious dairy fats of our past.
The object has been acquired by the Fernie Museum for its education collection. With its strong history related to the Pincher Creek area, it falls outside the geographical range of the museum’s collection policy. It is, however, in excellent condition and makes great object for hands-on use by students and the general public in museum programming.
The Fernie Museum recognizes the value of using artifacts and specimens in public and school programs. These programs require objects that can be operated or handled by staff, volunteers, and the public, and that, ultimately, may be expendable. To fulfil this need, the museum has established an education collection.
Artifacts or specimens designated as part of a education collection must:
fulfil a program need;
be appropriate to the program;
be demonstrated to be expendable (e.g. a duplicate with no defined purpose, over representation in the collection);
be safe to use;
not contravene legislation (e.g. firearms).
The Fernie Museum wishes to thank Lori Bradish, our Program Coordinator for many years, for the donation of the butter churn to our education collection, and also recognizes Cathy Crewe for her contribution.
The snake wraps itself leisurely around the cane, green scales gleaming. Its delicate red tongue flickers upward, as though forever looking for the hand that wields it. Above its head, crossed flags bar its way: one a Union Jack, the other a Canadian Red Ensign. Below the tip of its tail, a .303 rifle cartridge points toward the ground.
The cane is a twin-one half of a perfect pair. Both are works of patient, scrupulous effort. They are the kind of project reserved for someone with time, which is no surprise: the carver was a prisoner. Innocent of any crime but his name and birthplace, he had been branded an enemy, arrested, and locked away. Whoever he was, he had time to spare.
During World War I, under the War Measures Act, the government of Canada labelled anyone of Austro-Hungarian, German or Turkish origin “enemy aliens”. Over 8,000 were rounded up and sent to internment camps across Canada, including one at Morrissey. Another 80,000 people were forced to carry identification papers and report monthly to the local authorities. With the stroke of a pen, thousands of Canadians found themselves prisoners of war within their own country.
Conditions in the camps were simultaneously difficult and deadly dull. Between bouts of hard labour, internees took up woodcarving to pass the time, producing ships in bottles, chessboards, and musical instruments. Walking canes, especially those with a snake motif, were popular projects, made at the Vernon and Edgewood camp as well as Morrissey. The canes are heavy with symbolism: crossed swords, flags, hearts, crowns, crosses, deer, oak and holly leaves (the oak had special meaning for German prisoners). The snakes themselves may have symbolized health, wisdom and long life, a reference to the Rod of Asclepius or Moses’ staff. Cartridges were often used as tips, for durability as well as novelty value.
Most are inscribed with the date and place of carving, as well as the person for whom it was intended. One of the Morrissey canes reads, “Mrs W.C Cavanaugh”, the other “Mrs. R. B. Good”. Both are, “In Memory of the Great European War 1914-16”
At the time the canes were made, Mary Cavanaugh was 55. Beatrice Good, her housekeeper, was 25, and a widow. Mary’s husband William Charlie Cavanaugh was a locomotive engineer for the Morrissey, Fernie and Michel Railway, which is probably how he had contact with the camp. Pieces of camp art were often given as gifts to kind guards or officers or sold outside the camp to earn money. Did Charlie Cavanaugh earn the gratitude of an internee? Or did he simply commission the canes as a gift for his wife? We may never know.
However, if we know little about those who received the canes, we know even less about the individuals who carved them. They are covered in information: the exact dates, locations, and future owners are all there, and yet the canes are frustratingly silent as to the identities, thoughts or opinions of the men who carved them.