Tuesday, 31 May 2016

"Power on the Farm" - A Demonstration of The First Moline Tractor in New Zealand, 1918


William Watson of Heddon Bush with his
"Moline Universal Tractor", Aug 1918
[Source : Mr Lindsay Fleming, Winton]

I am currently feeling somewhat contrite as in a previous blog I misattributed two old unidentified family owned photos in my Blog about the British built Cyclone Agricultural Motor. I have now replaced those images. After even some initial confusion among themselves, eagle eyed vintage tractor enthusiasts have now positively identified the incorrectly attributed images as being of a slightly later American built "Moline" tractor, almost certainly a model "B". Additionally, newspaper reports of the demonstration, which have only become available within the last 12 months, fully support this attribution. But I should also take the view that if I had not put these historic images out there the correct attribution may never have been made. Any further input there is appreciated.

This Blog is an effort to set the record straight but again demonstrates to me the "go ahead" attitude of my Great Great Uncle William Watson of Heddon Bush in Southland New Zealand and his unshakeable belief that mechanization on the farm was the only way forward.

The First Purchase of a Moline Tractor in the Dominion, 1918

A small newspaper reference in "The Southland Times" news of the day for the 3rd August 1918 simply states;

"Mr William Watson of Heddon Bush has purchased a Moline tractor, driven by kerosine power. It is being used at present hauling a double-furrow plough, and is working very satisfactorily. It can also be attached to any farm implement."

I am now assuming that this replaced the American built International Harvester Company "Type C" 20 hp which I also wrote about Here.

On the 9th August, "Ploughman", being the paper's agricultural reporter, tells us a little bit more;

"Mr Wm. Watson, of Heddon Bush, one of our most enterprising and wherewithal successful farmers, has recently invested in a Moline tractor, which develops its power by the aid of kerosine. I think Mr Watson was one of the first in Southland to invest in a motor implement for the farm, and it is hoped that this venture of his will prove highly successful and more serviceable than his early venture. Mr Watson reports the Moline as working very satisfactorily at present in the work of drawing a double-furrow plough. It has the ability now common with most tractors of being capable of drawing any implement. In this little country of ours we have no conception of the demand that is setting in for these tractors in other lands, but it is declared that over 300,000 tractors will be sold to American farmers this year."

From these comments it would appear that his International Harvester Company "Type C" 20 hp, having been purchased in 1909, was not the great success that he had hoped but of course technology and power output would have rapidly improved over the previous nine years. While the reporter states that William Watson was one of the first to invest in a "motor implement" in Southland I believe this is actually incorrect. Robert McNab appears to have been the first to own a "motor tractor" in Southland, demonstrating an Ivel machine at the Gore show as far back as December 1904.


"Old and New" - How it was in 1913 on William Watson's
farm at Heddon Bush. The trusty draught horses would
soon disappear and by 1918 even the new "International
Harvester Company" Type C 20 hp tractor would be
replaced by the new "Moline"
[From my own collection]

The First to Fully "Tractorise" his Farm

But what appears certain, and this fact is significant, is that William Watson was the first farmer in Southland to actually "tractorise" his large farm, in other words to fully dispense with his trusty draught horses. This is also supported by anecdotal family stories but the date the changeover to fully mechanized farming occurred is unknown so I assume in 1913 when the above photo was taken or slightly afterwards. But furthermore, the "Moline" agents confirm that William Watson was the very first farmer in the whole Dominion of New Zealand to purchase a "Moline Universal Tractor" in 1918.

We now find that a public demonstration of the "Moline Universal Tractor" would take place at William Watson's farm during the week of the 12th to 17th August 1918, being organised by the agents, James Macalister Limited of Invercargill.

While there was some discussion whether it was a Moline model "B" or "C", David Parfitt, a very knowledgeable tractor enthusiast from Devon England identifies it as a "B". He states that the way to tell the two models apart is that the semicircular mudguard and control levers bent at a right angle belong to the "B" while on a "C" the mudguards have a square corner and the control levers are straight.

A full write-up of the demonstration duly appeared in "The Southland Times" on the 24th August 1918. I have reproduced the relevant parts of this article which emphasize the need to mechanize farming and embrace new technology to increase production and reduce the reliance on the Ploughman. I will let this article speak for itself as it marks the era when this fundamental shift in farming methods took place :


A reporter setting up a comparison between modern
power on the farm with the new "Moline" and the old
method of hand ploughing using draught horses
[Source : Mr Lindsay Fleming, Winton]

"Power On The Farm"

"A Convincing Demonstration (Aug 1918)" - 

"The most imperative necessity of the day is increased production from the soil. In this country the cry is for more land settlement and greater production. The problem of production is just the problem of farm labour. Production depends upon cultivation, and cultivation depends upon the labour available... The President of the New Zealand Farmers' Union, Sir James Wilson, said the other day that the ploughman is the most essential man in the country at the present time, meaning that the amount of produce obtained from the soil depends upon the area of ground cultivated. The inadequacy of labour for the farm has always been a difficulty. 

The trend of population is not towards the farm but away from it. Instead of town workers seeking work in the country, the tendency is for the men of the country to drift into the towns. Farm work is not attractive, otherwise there would be a perennial dearth of labour. One reason why the worker is not attracted to the country is that on the farm he has to work with the most primitive form of power. To cultivate the soil, the principal work of the farm, he has to use horse labour. The ploughman is a teamster. He has to get in and feed his horses before he starts his day's work; he has to feed them and turn them out again after his day's work is done. His work is limited by the quality of his team, and is made arduous by the care which he has to give to his horses. To solve the problems of production and far labour, it is necessary to get - 

Power For The Farm 

That movement is in progress all over the world. The internal combustion engine is being adapted to farm work. By means of it, the farmer can work as long as he pleases. With mechanical traction he can, when condition are suitable, work from dawn to dusk; by using artificial light, he can work all night... He does not need to set aside so many acres of his farm to produce feed for horses. His machine, propelled be kerosine, only consumes fuel when it is working; when it is not working it consumes nothing. It pulls a heavier load and covers the ground faster than horses. It has a longer life than horses. It gives a new interest to farm work, and attracts to the farm men who would otherwise obtain employment in the town. It enlarges the market in which the farmer may look for labour... Mechanical traction, in a word, goes far to solve the problem of farm labour which is the problem of production.  

William Watson with his "Moline" Tractor and 
two furrow plough, While we can see his horse 
and cart he was in fact also the first in the 
local district to own a motor car.
[Source : From my own collection]

The Moline Tractor Demonstrated -

During last week, farmers were invited to the farm of Mr William Watson, Heddon Bush, to see at work a mechanical tractor that is destined to revolutionize the agricultural industry. This was the Moline Universal Tractor [manufactured by] The Moline Plough Company of Illinois, USA... It is light, weighing less that 30 cwt., and 98 per cent. of the weight is on the [two] driving wheels, which are also steering wheels. It is the perfection of mechanical efficiency...It turns in a 16 ft. circle, and is therefore easily operated in a farmyard and with any implement gets into the corners of the paddocks.

The plough attached to the tractor was a special double-furrow made by James Macalister Ltd., to Mr watson's order as he required a plough to turn two furrows each fourteen inches by seven to eight inches deep, The tractor will just as easily draw a 3-furrow plough [as supplied by the Moline company]. The tractor was doing perfect work in a lea paddock which had not been ploughed for several years. Although there had been a good deal of rain for some weeks previously, the tractor, combining ample power with lightness, was running over the ground with ease at a speed considerably faster than any six-horse team could travel... Experienced farmers who visited the farm to see the machine at work pronounced the ploughing absolutely first-class... 

Because of its light weight it can be used for discing, harrowing  or sowing, without unduly packing or pressing the soil. It will draw the harvester, and can be used as a stationary engine to drive a threshing mill or chaff-cutter, a belt pulley being provided for the purpose. It is in a real sense, a "universal" tractor... The demonstration of the handiness and efficiency of this tractor was a revelation, and beyond any doubt it has come to stay. Mr Watson [stated] that despite the high freight on the machine at the present time [due to war conditions] and the high cost of fuel, he was certain that he could plough land at a cost considerably less than of using horses, and when prices return to normal after the war, the saving will be materially increased.    

Complimentary -

After a few acres had been turned over, Mr Watson mounted the tractor and said that he felt he must take the opportunity of congratulating Messers James Macalister Ltd. on introducing this latest farmer's friend. Fifteen years had elapsed since he himself had first talked over the question of farm traction with Mr James Macalister [ie, in 1903]. Much experimental work had been done since then, and the machine that they were all looking at had at last been found in the tractor which the visitors had seen at work that day. He was quite satisfied that he had got hold of a good thing in the Moline tractor, and he was sure that its use would become general.   

....Mr Macaliser said he felt confident that the machine would revolutionise farm work. .. It was constructed on sound mechanical principles, and carried every device that could be thought of to increase its efficiency and make it reliable, economical and easy to handle. He had been in correspondence with the Moline Company for nearly five years in regard to this tractor, and suggestions which he had made to adapt the tractor to local conditions had been adopted by the firm.

The extent to which tractors were coming into use could be judged from the fact that the Moline factory was at present turning them out at the rate of 40 a day, and that to meet the demand, the plant was being increased so as to turn out 75 tractors a day. The farmers present had seen the work done by the machine and could judge for themselves. It would do other work just as well, from drawing loads on the roads to sawing wood at the backdoor. 

His relations with Mr Watson had extended over many years and he always found him progressive and enterprising. He congratulated Mr watson on his enterprise in buying the first Moline introduced to the dominion, and also Mr Alex. Roy, Mossburn, who had placed his order for the next one to arrive, and he was sure both would be amply rewarded for their enterprise...

After the demonstration had been concluded, the visitors were hospitably entertained by Mr and Mrs Watson at the homestead and left for home after spending an extremely interesting afternoon."  


The New "Moline" Model "D", Feb 1919

The "Moline" agents, James Macalister & Co. Ltd, had hoped to "to make an imposing display of lines manufactured by this Company, namely, the "Moline" Universal "D" Type Motor Tractor, their latest and most improved farm tractor" at The Southland Metropolitan Agricultural & Pastoral Summer Show" held at Invercargill in February 1919 but due to shipping delays they had not yet come to hand. 

Again, mention is made of William Watson having purchased the first Moline Universal Tractor imported by the firm and that Mr Watson considers it the best investment he has made. But Macalisters were at least able to exhibit their "Moline-Adriance" Reaper and Binder with the "Macalister" patent overhead picker attachment, "A novel device which overcomes the difficulty that all binders encounter in heavy and tangled grass and grain crops as it absolutely prevents choking or clogging besides reducing the draft and wear and tear on the mechanism of the binder."  


A period advertisement for the "Moline Universal Tractor", 1919
[Source : Papers Past]

A Demonstration of the "Moline" Model "D", July 1919

We now find that another demonstration of a "Moline" Tractor, being the above-mentioned Model "D", was held on William Watson's property at Heddon Bush on Wednesday the 16th July 1919;

"This tractor is of the two-wheeled type, and it seems to have great advantages over the four-wheeler for farm work; it is of American invention, and improved by a combination of French and other Continental skill. It is provided with self-starting apparatus and an appliance for locking the differential gear, therby increasing its tractive power at times of emergency, and steering attention is not necessary. It is also provided with powerful electric lights, so that a farmer can work by night as well as by day... The operator sits on his implement to watch and regulate its work; his position is also within easy reach of the controlling levers and steering wheel of his tractor.   

On the day of the demonstration mentioned the land was in a very unfavourable condition for working. The quantity of rain which had fallen and the melted snow caused the ground to be in a very soft and sloppy state. In defiance of this the tractor turned... without the least trouble, its wheels, armed with gripping spikes, kept a firm hold of the ground... The plough was a double-furrow one, cutting and turning furrows seven inches by fourteen with revolving skimmers attached in front... The tractor ran up and down the field pulling its load at a speed from 3½ to 4 miles an hour, even though the mud and water was squirting from beneath its wheels...

After ploughing for a couple of hours, Mr Watson detached his tractor from the plough and yoked it to a dray of large dimensions with a short pole. Two tons of lime were loaded on to the dray and six men got on top; the tractor pulled this load along a soft, sloppy headland round the field without any trouble at a good walking pace. It was then attached to a 15-coulter seed and manure drill, which it pulled up and down the ploughed land with ease.

The demonstration clearly showed that the petrol-driven tractor can successfully take the place of a six-horse team on a farm. It might be contented that the cost of petrol will counter-balance, and perhaps exceed the cost of horse feed per square acre of cultivation, but it must be remembered that the tractor requires no petrol when it is not working, while the horse team requires food every day in the year whether it works or not..."


William Watson's Testimonial to the "Moline"
[Source : Papers Past]

William Watson's Testimonial for the "Moline" Tractor

Thereafter I note through to 1920 regular large advertisements for the "Moline Universal Tractor" appearing in "The Southland Times", together with the following headline and testimonial;

"Read what the first Southlander to tractorise his farm has to say about his Moline Tractor -

'Heddon Bush, 12th November 1919. The Moline Tractor proves that it can do all the work that is claimed for it. It is a machine up to date and satisfactory in every way. The two-wheeled design is just first class. Implements are easily attached and operated by the driver. As a substitute for a farmer's horse-team, for road carting, it has proved itself to be more than equal. William Watson".    

I have (as yet) no record of what tractors William Watson owned after this date up until his death in 1931, but "In spite of his advancing years he was always looking forward to “next season,” and laying plans for further improvement in farming methods." [a quote from his obituary]


My grateful thanks to :

- Mr David Parfitt of Crediton, Devon, England.
- Mr Lindsay Fleming, Winton, Southland
- Mrs Sharman Bennetts Dykes, Heddon Bush  


Sources :

- "Papers Past" [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- Watson Family Papers and Photographic Collection (held by the writer)


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