Saturday, 26 April 2014

"The Age of Mechanical Ploughing Has Arrived" - A Tale of Two Tractors (Part Three)

William Watson's International Harvester Company [IHC]
"Type C" 20hp Tractor coupled to an 8 furrow plough 
at 'Mayfield', Heddon Bush, circa 1910
[From my own collection]

This post follows on from my earlier Blog “The Age of Mechanical Ploughing Has Arrived” – A Tale of Two Tractors (Part Two).

In 1909 my Great Great Uncle William Watson, owner of the 800 acre 'Mayfield' estate at Heddon Bush in the Southern province of New Zealand had purchased a 1909 British built 'Cyclone Agricultural Motor'. Unfortunately the 'Cyclone' appears not to have proved equal to the task. While it must have been sold towards the end of 1910 I can find no record of this. The financial difficulties the 'Cyclone' company were by now experiencing may have meant that William Watson had some difficulty in recouping his original outlay.   

But William Watson was obviously not prepared to admit defeat, nor was money evidently an issue in order to achieve his objectives. This was despite a run of very bad luck over the previous three years. He had not only funded the cost of the 'Cyclone Agricultural Motor' (around £26,500 in today’s UK values or NZD$53,250 in New Zealand values) in 1909, funded a six month visit to Britain and Ireland for himself and his wife the same year, but also lost NZD$42,000 – almost the total annual value of his lamb kill – in 1907. He then additionally funded three unsuccessful legal challenges, including an appeal to the Supreme Court of New Zealand, to recoup this lost revenue. But that’s another story!

So it is indeed surprising that by December 1910 we find that William had purchased yet another “Agricultural Motor” or tractor, being (according to knowledgeable tractor enthusiasts) an American built International Harvester Company "Type C" 20 hp. There was initially some discussion on if it was in fact an IHC "Titan" but has now been positively identified by tractor enthusiast Stuart Landry of Leongatha, Victoria, Australia who, in fact, owns and restored a "Type C".

We know that the “International Harvester Company” [IHC] based at Chicago Illinois in the USA had set up a Head Office and large showroom bounded by Lichfield and Madras streets and Bedford Row in Christchurch New Zealand in 1906. Their large and ornate brick building survived until the devastating 2012 earthquake. The company built their first farm tractor the same year, manufacturing a total of 607 of this same model (with 12, 15 and 20 hp engines) between 1906 and 1914. One of these, a 20 hp model, was demonstrated at the Christchurch Agricultural Show in November 1909. By 1910 William had undoubtedly heard of the IHC’s performance or even witnessed it himself as visiting Agricultural Shows was - and still is - a looked forward to part of the annual farming calendar in order to keep up with the latest technology and improvements.

The International [IHC] "Type C" 20hp being demonstrated
with a 12 disc plough at 'Mayfield', 17th Dec 1910,
L to R : William Watson (1st), Alexander Fleming (3rd),
John Fisher ['Otautau Standard'] (4th), James Fleming (5th),
& Thomas Watson (7th).Those present included J. Ryan (Tatarepo),
J. Lindsay (Strathmore) and W. Saunders (Ringway).
[From the original glass plate negative in my collection]

The road wheels for this model were described as having a face of 22 inches (width), the power being transmitted to the wheels by means of friction clutches rather than a cog. The engines were started on petrol then ran on kerosene, having a single cylinder with an 8¾ inch bore and 15 inch stroke, being rated at between 12-25 hp. Total weight was around 5½ tons. These machines could apparently haul anything up to 25 tons on the road or drive a threshing machine, chaff-cutter, and of course – and with the greatest interest to William – it was especially suited to ploughing.

The IHC Company, determined to ensure that their customers and agents received full satisfaction, employed a large permanent staff of experts who could supply technical knowledge along with a good stock of spare parts around the country. Many of the IHC New Zealand staff were well trained and thoroughly conversant with the use and repair of the various agricultural implements being sold by their company, having come from the Company’s own factory at Milwaukee just out of Chicago. The local Southland agents for IHC were “Henderson & Co.” with offices in Invercargill, Gore and Wyndham.        

The above photo of the IHC "Type C" tractor with original caption
as it appeared in the "Otago Witness" of the 8th March 1911 

Mr John Fisher, owner and Head Reporter of the local paper, and along with an interested entourage, were not long in visiting William to view the new “motor traction” at work, his article being printed in “The Otautau Standard and Wallace County Chronicle” on the 20th December 1910. Here are some edited transcripts of his article :

Motor Ploughing :

On Saturday [17th December 1910], a small party from Otautau visited Mr William Watson’s farm at Heddon Bush to witness the work of the motor traction (now called tractor) that gentleman had installed for doing his ploughing. The party consisted of Messrs. J. Ryan, Tatarepo (President of the Wallace Agricultural & Pastoral Association), J. Lindsay, Strathmore, W. Saunders, Ringway, and Mr John Fisher, “Otautau Standard.”….

Mr and Mrs Watson’s hospitality was extended on arrival, after which the motor was set going, and soon convinced the visitors that ploughing by motor traction had developed a long way past the experimental stage.  The engine was working in a 30 acre paddock with a pretty fair show of canadians. It was attached to two digger ploughs (a double and a single furrow), which Mr Watson explained was not its capacity, but was all he had of the ploughs to give it. Travelling was done at a good walking pace and the work appeared to give no trouble to the machine, which was ploughing 8 acres a day at a cost of 4/- per acre, and this, Mr Watson reckoned, could be reduced by giving the machine more to do so as to get the maximum out of it. To show the visitors with what ease a change could be made, the ploughs were unhitched, the engine run across to another part of the field and coupled to a disc harrow with tyne harrows behind and with these two implements it simply walked round the field.
The gearing is so simple, the whole time occupied in changing the implements was not two minutes. An excessive downpour of rain coming on work was stopped, and all hands camped on the engine under the hood.

[A very similar International Harvester Company 
"Mogul" Type C 20hp]

Mr Watson is very well satisfied with the work of the machine. It does all that was claimed for it and is a splendid implement for getting work done expeditiously. Already 270 acres have been treated this season either in ploughing, discing or harrowing, and as Mr Watson remarks, even if no saving was effected in doing the actual work the benefit that results from having your work forward and your crops in in time more than compensates, and is in itself profit. The machine can be started in a minute or two, and saves all the trouble and expense of feed when not in work. A small house in winter is all that is wanted. No expensive stables, horse feed, paddocks or covers. Mr Watson’s enterprise is well worthy of the attention of other farmers, and a visit while the motor is at work will prove an education.”  

"Old and New" - The IHC "Type C" Tractor would soon displace
the trusty Draught Horse, taken at 'Mayfield', circa 1913.
William Thomson on the horse with James Watson at right.
[From my own collection]

The last photo I hold of the International Harvester Company "Type C" 20hp is dated around 1913. We know that in August 1918 he purchased an American built "Moline" Model B. Ironically, William’s ground breaking experiments in top dressing led to his moving away from regularly ploughing vast tracts of land for winter cropping and by 1924 he relied totally - and quite successfully - on simply wintering stock over on well managed and top-dressed grassland. In that year only 80 out of his 800 acres were cultivated. The results of his pioneering work on top dressing formed an outdoors scientific display at the New Zealand Dept. of Agriculture stand at the Dunedin and South Seas International Exhibition held in Dunedin during 1925-26. William was also the first farmer to introduce the Southdown breed of sheep to Southland, not only achieving record prices for his fat lambs but also receiving rapturous accolades for the quality of his 1927 lamb kill when it reached the British market. Even up until his sudden death in May 1931 [and] “In spite of his advancing years he was always looking forward to “next season,” and laying plans for further improvement in farming methods.” 

Mr William Watson of 'Mayfield',
Heddon Bush, taken circa 1925
[From my own collection]

William Watson held an unshakeable belief that new if not revolutionary farming methods and equipment were the way of the future for the New Zealand farmer. Although he was not the first tractor owner in Southland William Watson is however recorded as the first Southlander to fully "tractorise" his farm thus dispensing with the trusty draught horse. His contribution to Southern New Zealand farming was significant.

Copyright : The content of this blog, including images, may not be reproduced for commercial purposes without the express permission of the writer. Excerpts may however be freely quoted for non-commercial use subject to suitable acknowledgement being given, including a link back to this page.

Bibliography / Rārangi Pukapuka :
  • Watson Family Papers and Photographic Collection (held by the writer)
  • "Papers Past" [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
  • Dunedin City Libraries / Kā Kete Wānaka O Ōtepoti (McNab Room Resources)
  • A Century of Farm Tractors 1904-2004” (NZ), by RH Robinson
  • Stuart Landry, Victoria, Australia

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