Innocents Abroad Or In England It's Corn

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R.D. 2, Granville, Ohio

Once in a while Elmer, life comes into real sharp focus and you realize that land marks are suddenly familiar. I had this feeling last Saturday when Lyle Hoffmaster and I pulled into an Amishmans barnyard to load and bring home a 28 inch Nichols and Shephard thresher. Except for its being 10° above zero and just sun up I had the feeling that I ought to be cleaning the flues and hunting up kindling so the Mc Namar Engine would be ready when the dew was off.

Lyle reminds me a good deal of 'The Specialist' in that he takes pride in having all the rigging on hand and in good condition. We never made a false move in hoisting the thresher aboard and hauling it 50 miles.

We still thresh and shred corn at home and last year we declared dividends to study the art in England. You see the time was ripe for us in that the kids are about to leave the nest.

Our means of travel was deliberately old-fashioned - overnight train to New York, Queen Mary to England and return and a British car while in England. Elmer, we sat on the wrong side of the car and drove on the wrong side of the road for one thousand miles.

As you might expect we visited Castles, rode a cog railroad and did the things most tourists do. We also were most polite in Lampeter, Wales from whence my Forefathers left while the police were wondering who might have destroyed all those twelve Toll gates between Grandpappys farm and the only market. British law just might hold a grudge unto the 4th generation.

Be that as it may, what interested me most was the use of steam and the threshing tackle.

The railroads in England are still about 90% steam - and for certain good reasons. Welsh steaming coals are so fine and abundant that it is economical, no doubt - the alternate being to import oil or other fuel. Then too, there is not the slightest smoke -I saw only a white vapor from any British engine in operation.

We rode into London back of a steam locomotive and in the London Waterloo Station there were some 20 express trains coming and leaving -all steam without exception. The cog railroad up Mt. Snowdon is powered by Swiss built steam locomotives -all over 40 years in service. When I sat in a coach on a 21% grade looking right down the stack of that little giant, operating a cutoff and 200 pounds pressure I got an entirely new appreciation of the tremendous power of steam.

Just one more incident. One early morning in Wales I sat on a bank watching and listening to little two and three coach steam trains make accommodation stops at villages about a mile apart. I could have sworn I was a boy again in a bygone age listening to the staccato exhaust as the trains started and then the sound of lost motion in the reverse gear as the throttle was closed for a glide into the next village. One sour note - I wonder why they didn't perfect the British whistle a bit further?

Threshing in England, what little is done, is hard to reconcile with American practice. Just why sheaves have to be thrown 10 feet high to the top of the threshing box, bands cut by hand and straw handled several times I can't explain.

We did see one Marshall outfit in operation that was a revelation. The Marshall tractor was a single cylinder diesel of about 1930 - running backward, like the Case cross-mounts. The drive belt was about 5 inches wide and ran straight. The Marshall thresher took sheaves at the top, blew chaff to the side, dropped straw from the front (away from the tractor) and hung 4 sacks at the rear or driven end. Most unusual also, the machine re-bound the straw, using a binder knotter for the purpose which, shaggy bundles were then re-stacked using a 4 man passing team. The owner stated that this straw was in demand for thatching - as is still practiced in some entire communities.

The fact that the Marshall had no cylinder teeth nor concaves but worked on the rub-bar principle led to a little research at the Museum of Science in London. The Curator kindly helped me examine several models of early machines and a couple of models of later or current design. We found only rub-bar cylinders in these models and with the Curator's concurrence I would conclude that the spiked cylinder and concave was used very little, if ever, in British threshing practice.

Turning to an old reaper standing near, the Curator, with some little pride, called my attention to Bell's original experimental grain reaper. Now the Reverand Bell in 1827 did give the world many new principles in cutting grain. The adjustable reel, the revolving canvas for side delivery, the grain divider and the shear principle for cutting were original with Mr. Bell. The cutting head on his machine was, in principle a number of shears, like hand sheep-shearing tools, mounted side-by-each and given motion by a gear train and cam from the ground traction wheel. This cutting device was fairly satisfactory and in use for a number of years after 1827.

In examining this well preserved and historic machine I told the Curator I was disappointed not to find Rev. Bell's cutting device. At this effrontery he whipped out his spectacles and read from an explanatory card - which card admitted - in small print - that the cutting device had been added at a later date. The Curator then asked, in a less bellicose tone, whose cutting device this was. My answer was to the effect that this, and every cutting bar used in England and elsewhere was an American invention by Obed Hussey - the Man who made bread cheap. I hastened to add that we in turn generally credit the threshing cylinder to a Scot - by the name of Andrew Meikle. My host then showed me some fine Fowler and Marshall Steam Engines - not yet ready for exhibit.

This experience in England convinces me that we have a fine hobby going here, Boys. It is best enjoyed at home with good friends and hearty fare, but travel as far as you will, there are new and instructive machines to study and enjoy. At the Meets it pulls together men and women who provide the bread of life and the salt of good fellowship. Our hobby has moreover a patent that issues from the gates of Eden.

I do really enjoy the letters from the old time threshers and engineers who contribute to it. I have become acquainted with many old and odd machines that I had never heard of before. Why is it that so many of these old relics are just now coming to light, any why have we not seen or heard of them before? Years ago I was a reader of the old American Thresherman Magazine and I don't ever remember of seeing any thing like some of the odd machines that come to life in the Album.

I was most interested in the odd combination thresher in a 1958 issue showing the blower and feeder on the same end of the machine. I took it to an old thresher friend to look at and he would not let me have it back until he had read the entire book so I do not have it with me now. Every issue comes up with some interesting oddity. I write to nearly every one who has letters or articles and have built up a very large correspondence and have great fun swapping yarns and experiences with men who have gone through the sweat, dirt and heat of the threshing days. I find that they were the same in every part of the country but we all loved every one of them.