Inducted: November 15th, 2011
They are, in the words of a 2003 Blenheim Chamber of Commerce citation when they were named Agriculturists of the Year, “reminders of a farm life so different to what it is today…….reminders of the time when a hundred acre farm was large enough to support the whole family”.
They were also farmers who were innovative; who went far afield to get good stock and good advice when it would benefit their crops. That was especially true of tobacco, a cash crop that saved many farmers during the dark days of the Depression, and after.
The Clendennings were tobacco farmers, and the heavy leaf dark tobacco became their specialty. It is used for chewing tobacco, for snuff and is now exported to flavour tobacco blends. Learning how to process this crop was a challenge for the Clendenning family. An old burley barn on the Clendennings’ farm was converted into a smoke barn; and Imperial Tobacco Company challenged their father, Russell, to fire-cure burley plants there.
Looking far afield for sound stock and advice, sons Fraser and Jim went to Kentucky in about 1970. There, they were befriended by two experienced tobacco farmers, who, in turn, sent them to George Everette, a tobacco breeding specialist at the University of Kentucky. It proved to be a productive referral.
Everette provided the Canadians with seed for a new tobacco variety, hopefully resistant to root rot. With the blessing of Imperial Tobacco, Jim planted a test plot of Kentucky One dark tobacco, which proved to be not only resistant to root rot, but of a good weight per acre.
Like most farmers, the Clendenning brothers grew a variety of crops, and fed cattle and hogs, but for three generations, their specialty was tobacco. The brothers maintained a keen interest in understanding and applying the latest farming research and innovations. On a trip to Kentucky, along with their neighbour friend Harold English, they spotted a farmer hanging his picketed tobacco directly onto a small, crude wooden frame which was mounted on wheels. They immediately thought how clever the man was to devise a way to easily remove his crop from the field. If it worked for him, why not for them?
So sparked the idea of a wagon suitable for the larger fields and barns here in Canada. Remembering what they could of the modest Kentucky model, they designed, and with Harold’s welding expertise, built a much stronger wagon. The “Kent County” model used metal pipes instead of wooden frames and truck tires and axels instead of small wagon wheels to uphold the heavy weight of fresh cut tobacco.
The Clendenning’s first harvest showed that the invention was a time and labour saving device. An additional, unforeseen, benefit was that, once the tender tobacco leaves were hung on the wagons, they were then protected from morning frost, sunburn and sweat. This eased the need to rush the plants into the barn.
This design template is still in use today. Proof of Jim and Fraser’s willingness to freely share their discovery and invention can be seen by the many “hanging wagons” now in use wherever a farmer is harvesting his dark-fired tobacco crop.
Fraser and Jim were born at the home of their parents, the late Kate Fraser and Russell Clendenning. Fraser went to New Scotland School for his elementary education, then on to Blenheim High School for two years before starting to help his father, full-time, on the farm. Jim followed a similar education and career path, at Raglan School, then Blenheim High School, before farming. Both loved farming.
Fraser’s son Bill, said the two “were brothers in the true sense. They worked together all their lives”. They might not always agree, but they had a fraternal bond that was deep and that stood the test of time. Fraser, and his wife Ethel Beck, had two children, a daughter Linda (Terry), and a son, Bill. There are four grandchildren.
Jim married the former Kate Hughes, and had four children, daughters Martha, Elizabeth, Mary, and a son, Jim. There are seven grandchildren. On October 29th, 1997, Kate was inducted into the Kent Agricultural Hall of Fame in recognition of the contributions that she made to the agricultural community of Chatham-Kent.
A neighbour said of them: “they were two of the finest individuals you would ever hope to meet, good neighbours, and good citizens.”