Tom and George

A Pioneer Story


John W. Gilchrist

November 6th 1920.


(A biographical note follows the article.)






Tom and George were twins, and “flailers”, that is, they went about from place to place beating the grain out of the straw with flails, in days gone by.


Tom must have been born first as George seldom took the initiative.  Seen together there was a difference in their appearance; seen singly few could tell Tom from George.  They were seldom seen apart. When travelling, Tom always led and enquired the way to the next patron, and George the distance.  Never having any definite home, they had no sense of direction and were easily lost, but they always found their way back to the last place they had flailed.  When Tom felt lost, he at once faced about; so did George, and preceded Tom on the way back to renew enquiries.  Thus the discerning public could always tell whether they were going somewhere or coming back.


Whether George actually led or was directed by Tom from behind will never be known.  Tom had been seen smoking while George was leading and not smoking.  This would indicate that he was so absorbed in his duties as leader as to be unconscious of Tom’s actions.   Still, they had been seen both smoking while going back and George expectorating immediately after Tom, as was usual, which went to show that he was still under Tom’s influence.  The matter might have been decided had they chewed while journeying.  This was reserved for working hours, George never taking a chew till his brother solaced himself.






When purchasing tobacco, George purchased exactly the same amount as Tom but apparently managed to consume his first.  This was a mystery, as George never smoked, or chewed or spit, except when his twin brother did, and the sharpest eyes could not see any appreciable difference in the amount taken.  Tom knew when his junior twin brother was out and would hand over.  From this, it was argued that he had some regard for George.  Some maintained, however, that as George was the most liberal with his tobacco that he paid back to Tom out of the next supply and the habit becoming fixed, never started even.  Against this, it could be shown that once when Tom had broken his pipe, he smoked George’s hurriedly so as not to keep him waiting.  Except for instances such as these, the state of Tom’s feelings toward George or anybody else was absolutely undemonstrative.


In the days when flailing was universal and the threshing season long they made a good honourable living, as they were experts.  George’s motions fitted exactly into Tom’s, and neither wasting the slightest effort, they could beat out an amount day after day that other experts could only maintain for a limited time.  They also threshed clean, a point very much in their favour, as the last grains are the hardest to beat out.  When threshing machines became universal they still continued soliciting flailing and to a new generation their business was nearly as odd as themselves, and their oddness increased with age.  Their sense of direction became so utterly lost that they could not take shortcuts across fields if a hollow or anything else obstructed a constant view of the next buildings.






Some of the early separators injured peas for seed by breaking the grain.  It was common practice to reserve next year’s seed peas to flail or tramp out with horses.  Finally, this was all the twins could get to do.  Even this dwindled to scattered pioneers who charitably reserved a few loads for Tom and George as a reminder of happy, hard, old times.  In their best days, in other work, they were unsatisfactory, besides insisting on both being hired to work together.  On the few occasions they were separated, George always went every evening to see Tom and smoke.  With them, chewing was a habit but smoking, a solemn ceremony.  Tom never came to see George.


Such work as ditching, where each had a spade and could perform the same motions, was an exception, provided the ground contained no serious obstructions.  When either met with one, such as a large boulder or root, Tom would start off to find the employer, followed by George.  If the obstacle interfered with Tom, he led the procession back; if George, he led in both cases, and did the explaining.  Except with the flail, they were not profitable employees.






As their industry failed, so did their actions become more interesting.  At stated intervals during the day, Tom would retire to a safe distance from the barn and smoke, of course, George doing the same.  The only signs of animation they showed was when a novice experimented with the flail.  The “weary flinging tree” has a disagreeable fashion of colliding with the person, preferably the head, of the beginner.  Should the student succeed in making his nose bleed they performed unnecessary motions for some time after.


Tom failed first and one fall George was offering to flail for the board and tobacco of the two and, to those who knew them, the offer was never in vain.  He rallied through the summer but with the ensuing frost, George was paying Tom’s board and working for his own.  At stated intervals, Tom would crawl from the house with a live pipe.  George seemed to divine his coming and would meet him and take a solemn smoke and return the pipe, and, after a successive chew, would then separate to repeat the duty later.  Tom never smoked or chewed between these intervals.


It was not the want of sympathetic kindness, or that they had saved a little money, but the natural objection to the presence of death that caused Tom to be removed to a charitable institution accompanied by the faithful George.  It seemed right that Tom should precede George on the journey from which there is no turning back.  Though contrary to expectation, George remained for some time an honoured inmate and was frequently visited and presented with tobacco by those who knew the twins in days gone by.






About the author


John William Gilchrist (1865-1942) was born in Puslinch and there, with many an attendant honour, he long resided, except for brief stints in Guelph and St. Catharines.


Young John Gilchrist was a natural athlete and participated in many sports.  He trained with the 11th Field Battery, rose to the rank of Captain, and during World War I, he was an instructor at St. Catharines.  Mr. Gilchrist was an outstanding marksman, winning the prestigious Paterson trophy in Ottawa in 1897, and representing the Canadian Bisley team in England on several occasions.


Socially, John Gilchrist, with his beloved violin and large repertoire of popular songs, was always in great demand.  During his later years, he assisted Colonel John Bayne Maclean in assembling and displaying the remarkable collection of antiques at the Maclean Museum in Crieff.   Mr. Gilchrist’s excellent model of the Crieff Church may still be viewed at the Wellington County Museum & Archives.


As a writer, he contributed widely to newspapers and other publications such as “Rod & Gun”, “Farmers’ Sun”, and “Weekly Fun”.  Mr. Gilchrist’s work was well received, noted for combining a compassionate sense of humour with a wealth of stories on early days in Puslinch Township.







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