Our Work, People, History
Making Life on the Farm Easier One Invention at a Time
Curated by: Karli Longthorne
Storyteller: Alvin Wallace
August 5, 2022
A lifelong farmer and self-made inventor from Blyth, Ontario has developed numerous small and large machines for his 100-acre turkey and pig farm since the 1950s. Alvin Wallace was born in 1934 and adopted as a child by Robert and Edna May Wallace.
“Before I entered public school, when my dad first started farming, he owned a few cows, pigs and horses and eventually changed over to turkeys,” Alvin recalls. “This was a major transition for him. Owning turkeys is a stable business compared to some other livestock.”
The life of a turkey begins at a hatchery. Hatcheries produce fertilized eggs that develop, within 28 days, into baby turkeys called poults. Poults are sold to farmers, such as Alvin, who raise them until they are about nine weeks old and ready to be shipped for processing.
Alvin built a new turkey barn about 22 years ago that houses 7,500 turkeys four times per year, which are sent to him from Ohio. Along with turkeys, he and his son, Boris Wallace, who purchased the farm in 2010, operate a farrow-to-finish operation of 50 sows.
Alvin remarks, “I have been farming all my life—it’s something you have in your blood—I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. You’re your own boss, and it’s always fun getting the crops in and harvesting them and plowing the fields and working on the land.”
However, being a farmer comes with its challenges. According to Alvin, weather and prices are two major challenges.
"Every year is different. This year started off with a lot of rain and was cool, but the crops are doing well despite that. You can always encounter different challenges every spring and fall. To adapt to these challenges, you must be philosophical and love what you’re doing,” he explains.
“I was always trying to find ways to make farming life easier,” notes Alvin. “Since I was a teenager, I have found joy in inventing. It’s just something that’s in you, it’s not something that I learned. I get ideas and go into my shop, which is my happy place, and just start building something.”
Inventing solved a need on the family farm.
“My lawn sweeper is one of my favourite inventions. The grass behind the barn grows like the dickens and every time I cut it, about once a week, I have to go out and sweep it because you get too many clippings if you don’t,” notes Alvin.
One of his other favourite inventions is a log skidder. A skidder is an articulated four-wheel drive that can be used for pulling logs or tops out of a forest; known as “skidding”, this transports logs from the cutting site to a desired location.
“The log skidder took all winter to build. I had just built a firewood processor that took all winter, too, so they were big projects.”
“Out of all my inventions, I have three favourites: the log skidder, the firewood processor, and the lawn sweeper. They all work really well,” says Alvin.
Not every invention has worked out over the years. "Some things turn out well and other things don’t – the first lawn sweeper I made didn’t turn out that well, so I made a better and bigger one,” he recalls. “But it’s just the fun in making the stuff. I have a mechanical ability I suppose, but my son doesn’t. He’s excellent with stock, so we work together pretty great.”
Alvin has also dabbled in various other side projects. This includes his mailbox, the weathervane on the barn, the basement furnace, and a custom-made railing for his daughter’s front porch.
Rachel says people have knocked on her door to ask where they can get a railing like hers. “It draws attention because it’s so unique. My husband and I always say it’s unfortunate that it has to stay behind if we ever move.”
Resourcefulness, problem-solving, and perseverance are three key skills Alvin has mastered over the years. “Being an inventor takes a lot of perseverance. If it doesn’t turn out the first time, go at it again. You discover, as your creations are being used, there are always improvements that can be made later,” Alvin remarks.
“Inventing is just something I have to do,” he adds. “When I get an idea to build something, I have to work at bringing it about until it’s finished.”