For sale: Gently used 1950s boom sprayer

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This article isn’t about best practices, or social contracts, or innovative new technologies. It’s just a fascinating bit of history. If it has any moral at all, perhaps it’s to remember where we came from. I wonder where we’ll be tomorrow?

Let’s be clear – the practices described in this article are anachronistic and while I shouldn’t judge from my 2020 high-horse, they’re flat-out terrible. Don’t see them through nostalgic eyes. Instead, be thankful that sprayers and practices have evolved.

Here’s the background. A colleague of mine, a grower and well-respected pesticide safety / sprayer expert, recently held a farm auction in Innerkip, Ontario. He sent me a photo of his family sprayer, used in Oxford county in the 50s and 60s. I fell in love with it.

It was used to control broad leaf weeds in cereal crops. He recollected that thistle was a particularly painful issue. Especially when you had to grab hold of the grain sheaves and stook them. I confess I had to look up the term “stook“. They also sprayed a few cereal acres for neighbours, but never too far from home.

A 1950s barrel sprayer. The frame would be attached to the front of a Massey Harris 44, suspending the 21 foot wet aluminum booms. The drum was supported on the tractor tongue. When you shut down, you picked up the booms and hung them on the fenders. The booms then leaked all over until they were empty.
Fortunately, there was clear guidance for the operator. The speed and rate was written on the distribution head. Still somewhat legible.
A rod would extend from distribution head to the tractor, supported on the steering column. The driver could select the boom: left, right, both or off. The distribution/filter head/pressure gauge (shown here) was supported on front of tractor. On the up side, there was no need for the driver to do a shoulder check. Here the distribution selector is set to ‘off’. The filter, shown here as well, was a metal screen wrapped in a cotton cloth (typically a flour bag).
This is the line from the pressure side of the pump, entering the distribution unit. The butterfly screws made a tight connection… using canning jar rings as gaskets!
Both the cotton bag on the filter and the pressure line were sealed with canning jar rings.
When the broadcast work was done, they would set up a hand boom and spray the fence posts. Bare hands were the order of the day.
Spraying the fence posts was a two-person job, with a driver in the tractor and a kid aiming the boom. Here’s a close-up of a flat fan nozzle on the hand boom.
Here is the supply drum with opening for suction hose and screen. It served double-duty as pesticide tank and seat for the person holding the hand boom. Pesticide swished out onto the person sitting on the drum. Getting their butt wet as a matter of course.

The drum was filled with a 1/2 inch hose right from the well, and when the long season was through, it was over-wintered (with whatever spray liquid remained) in the cellar. We’ve come a long way.