No one knows the exact age of the carding machine. Based on comparisons with similar models it must be well over a hundred years old. The Birkeland belt-driven carding machine was built in England, and then shipped new to the Jebsen wool factory in Norway.
It was originally run by a water mill, then converted to steam, and now runs on electricity.
In 1939 the Jebsen factory was acquiring new equipment, and was scrapping carding equipment.
Journey from Norway
Olaf and Michael Birkeland knew the machine. Their dad was the head carder at the factory. Now they saw their opportunity for their own business. They got their money together and bought the carding machine.
The brothers actually purchased two carding machines and two pickers (a machine that chews up the wool after it is washed, so it is easier to go through the carder). The carding machines were each about two tonnes of metal and the pickers weighed about half a tonne each. The individual pieces were shipped in wood crates packed in sawdust. Fortunately, they were shipped just before the outbreak of World War II. What might have happened, if they had been shipped just a few weeks later?
Arrival in Canada
When the shipment got to the port of Vancouver, there arrives a letter from Canada Customs, addressed to Olaf. They requested that duty must be paid on the equipment. Times were hard and it was just before World War II. The families had gathered all their money together to start the business. Olaf was so mad at Customs that he wrote them back and informed them to throw the machines in the ocean - there was no way he was going to pay duty on scrap metal! Did he ever get in trouble with his brother, but imagine what Olaf's wife had to say!
After a long month for Olaf (and possibly lonely on the couch), there arrived another letter from Canada Customs. "Please pick up your shipment - we cannot store this anymore!" Olaf won!
Response to the War Effort
Birkeland Bros was established. The next hurdle was putting the machines together. The wood crates were mixed up and not labelled properly, thus it was an interesting and difficult puzzle. The only machine still in working condition is our current carder.
When World War II began, Birkeland Bros started supplying carded wool batts for the production of blankets for Canadian Soldiers. These batts left the store and went to a plant that felted the batts into wool blankets. The Canadian Navy received the thicker batts, while the thinner batts went to the Armed Forces.
After the end of WWII, a Red Cross representative came and asked for a donation as Birkeland Bros made money on the war. Olaf opened the ledger and showed that his contribution to the war was not to make money, but to help winning the war. Birkeland Bros made no profit during the war. We continue to remain closed on Remembrance Day.
As good as new
The Birkeland belt-driven carding machine is now over 100 years old. After water and steam, it now runs on electricity. And it still runs about four times a week to make our wool batts.
Once a month when the machine is cleaned, each roller (weighing 150 lbs each) must be carefully removed by hand.
For those who ask for the Carding Machine's name, she still has not told us...
Click the pictures to see them larger. Or come by our store and see it in person!