Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Bringing in the Harvest

Late Summer in the Southern Hemisphere marks the time for the annual harvest.

"Potatoes Grow Big Here - Willow Bridge". Taken circa 1913

A humorous postcard sent by a potatoe grower in Willowbridge near Waimate in South Canterbury, New Zealand sometime around 1913. The same card with the writing removed was used in Canada in the 1940's however I cannot ascertain the exact origins of this wonderfully fancifull image.

A "Hoover Digger at work in heavy crop 20 tons per acre
H.E. McGowan Agent Willowbridge". Taken circa 1913.

A rather more believable postcard from the same potatoe grower and posted in 1913. While not of the individual size illustrated above his crop has indeed been prolific. 

A "Reaper & Binder" drawn by three draught horses cutting and binding
grain at Heddon Bush, Southland, New Zealand. My own Grandfather
is standing 4th from left. Taken circa 1910.

The horse drawn binder & reaper made the manually demanding task of scything grain a thing of the past. Designed to cut the grain stalks near to ground level, the "beaters" carefully forced the stalks down as they were cut then travelled through the binder being gathered into sheaves which were then automatically tied with twine. Rather than pay for twine my own Grandfather "economically" used locally cut native flax which was scraped and the stringy residue made into twine.

A Reaper and Binder working on the Watson family farm at Heddon Bush.
Taken circa 1913.

Another image of a Reaper and Binder working on the Watson family farm
at Heddon Bush. Taken circa 1913.

(L to R) Alex Fleming, James Watson, William Watson & William Thompson
stacking grain at Heddon Bush. Taken circa 1920's.

Stacking sheaves of wheat or oats into "stooks" enabled the sheaves themselves to dry out in the open air before harvesting the grain and stacking the remaining sheaves for stock food. 

A large paddock of "stooks" on the Watson family farm at Heddon Bush.
Taken circa 1920's

Drying the sheaves not only reduced the moisture content of the grain prior to bagging and milling but also prevented the risk of spontaneous combustion if 'green' hay were to be stacked. My Great Aunt always averred that sun dried wheat produced a better quality of flour than what became available in more modern times.        

Time for the horses to have a well earned rest and a feed, in this case a
mare and her foal. Taken pre 1920.

"Smoko Time " - A Threshing Mill at Heddon Bush. My own Father is
sitting 2nd from left next to his own Father. My Aunt at rear has brought
the morning or afternoon tea in a horse drawn cart. Taken circa 1916.

After drying in the open air for some days a threshing mill would be called to seperate the grain from the chaff. In the image above you can see the 6 or 8 inch wide leather belt belt running in normal crossed over form from the traction engine flywheel to the threshing machine. It was quite an art to get the belt exactly lined up and moving without being thrown off the flywheel. The threshing machine itself would shake and rattle quite alarmingly and it was a wonder that it did not quickly shake itself to pieces! 

A Threshing Mill in operation, also showing the Cook outside
his "Galley" and a sleeping tent, Taken c. 1910-1915

The Threshing Mill crews would regularly work up to 14 hour days during the harvesting season. Many mills were accompanied by a cook house complete with cook house and a "stinkie" (ablution hut), both on wheels and all pulled by the traction engine as it journeyed from farm to farm. A "Water Joey" would cart tanks of water from a nearby water source for the thirsty traction engine. The man in charge of the traction engine was required to have passed an examination with "The New Zealand Board of Examiners” under the Inspection of Machinery Act. This then enabled the holder to be in charge of a Traction engine. My own Uncle held such a qualification.

Note not only the well formed haystack at right rear but also the heavy clothing of the period which would be worn in the heat of late summer days.  

Another view of a threshing mill at work at Heddon Bush. The note on
the reverse of the photo states  "The stack in the picture yielded 200
sacks equal to 1,100 bushels or 1,800 bushels for the two stacks".

The threshing mill crews worked hard feeding the dried sheaves into the threshing mill and bagging the grain or seed. On larger mills the bag sewer with his thick needle was kept exceptionally busy. And the bags were heavy! Additionally, the traction engine required water and coal, and the machinery kept in good working order with regular oiling and maintenance. Any breakdown held everyone up. The local blacksmith could prove very handy.

Everyone had to play their part. For those farmers feeding the mill hands it meant busy days for the dutiful housewives providing morning and afternoon teas, hearty lunches and evening meals. One can only imagine an army of women across the country literally sweating from dawn till dusk in summer temperatures over their hot coal fired Orion or Shacklock ranges! My own family did not have their first electric range installed until 1924 but the trusty - or frustratingly troublesome - coal ranges continued in regular use for up to another three decades.

With regular maintenance and attention the reliable and sturdy traction engines ably carried out what was required of them. The accepted formula for calculating their power rating meant that an 8 horsepower traction engine with a normal working pressure of 160 to 180 pounds per square inch had a rating of 65 horsepower "on the belt" and 300 horsepower "on the drawbar".

Archie Buchanan and an unknown man building a load of hay on a horse
drawn cart. This postcard was posted from Cape Town, South Africa in
1907 but is printed "D.M. Lindsay, Muirhead - Chryston [Lanarkshire,
Scotland]" on the reverse.

The above impressive load of sun dried hay has been very neatly stacked on a horse drawn cart prior to being stacked ready for winter stock food. 

Mr John Letham of Auchinearn Farm near Bishopriggs, Lanarkshire,
Scotland pictured in front of neatly stacked hay ricks which have
been covered with canvas covers and tied down. Taken circa 1910

Such graceful hay ricks in the rural landscape are now sadly (or thankfully many farmers would say!) a thing of the past, replaced either with neatly baled hay stacked in haysheds or rolled up by machine and covered with a weatherproof plastic material and left along paddock fence-lines as a seeming blot on the landscape.   

An advertisement for "Cross Power kerosine", pre 1940

The arrival of the powered tractor eventually spelt the death knell to the trusty draught horse and we are all the poorer for the loss of these graceful teams of animals working the land. Modern day farmers - and their Accountants - might not agree though ! My own Father worked draught horse teams for almost 25 years and thought very highly of this uncomplaining and powerful breed of horse. Once tractors achieved sufficient power and reliability even the trusty traction engine was eventually pensioned off. My Great Great Uncle purchased the first powered tractor (an International Harvester "Titan") in the Province of Southland, New Zealand in 1910 which he then proudly demonstrated to the local newspaper. My own Father's family were not quite so well off and their first tractor, an Ellis-Chalmers, did not arrive until 1943.

Thankfully many traction engines (all of English manufacture) survive however gaining a Traction Engine Drivers Certificate is now no easy matter so numbers of qualified drivers has dwindled. 

A team of tractors and reapers / binders at work at Heddon Bush,
Southland, New Zealand. Taken circa 1940

With the arrival of the powered tractor harvesting could now be completed quicker, and more importantly, more economically. But, as can be seen in the above image, the grain at this time still had to be stooked by hand to dry under the late summer sun.    

Mr James Watson of  Meadow Bank, Heddon Bush, New Zealandstanding in what is believed to be a crop of chowmollier.
Taken circa pre 1920.

The never ending annual farming cycle allowed precious little rest. Once the harvest was completed it was time to put in the winter crops. Providing green winter feed for stock remained an important aspect of most farming operations. Thus farming life has continued though the ages, made easier with modern machinery and methods but still based around  the seasons, and unfortunately, ever dependant on the weather. 

This blog serves as a tribute to the hard working Clydesdale horses and threshing mill teams. 

Bibliography :

- All images are from my own collection and may be freely copied for non-commercial use provided a link is given back to this page. Images may not be used for any commercial purpose without my express permission. 
- "The Water Joey" by Mona Anderson, 1976

I am very happy to receive comments or corrections of any unintentional errors. While I was brought up on the family sheep farm I am no farmer!

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Fascinating stuff here, well done.


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