Reverend Bell's Reaper

Content Tools

North Street, Granville, Ohio 43023

The picture at the top of page 19, Nov.-Dec. 1970 issue of Iron-Men Album Clydedales and an early reaper has a fascinating story, and since I had a brush with this machine I make bold to hope the story may be of general interest.

Now, at once, I must admit that as a student of reaper history I bow low before Lyle 'Reeves' Hoffmaster, known to many engine men at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and Eastward.

The reaper pictured was invented by Rev. Patrick Bell in 1826 near Dundee, Scotland, and represents the culmination of British efforts to produce a practical reaper. That it was a successful reaper may be judged from the fact that it was built in large numbers by Crosskill of London, certainly through 1857 a few being exported to America.

In passing, it is interesting and not unusual in Britain, that Rev. Bell tested his early machines in the dead of night. This was done to prevent destruction of his machine at the hands of workmen whose job it threatened.

Rev. Bell's reaper had all the essentials of a practical reaper to wit:

(1) Cutting apparatus. Grain was cut by means of a gang of shears resembling hand grass shears. One blade of each set of shears was fixed, the mating blades of the several sets were joined by a bar and alternately opened and closed upon the fixed blades by a traction driven cam. This cutting apparatus was original with Rev. Bell.

Bell's cutting apparatus was practical in dry, clean, standing grain and was used for from 25 to 30 years in some Bell reapers. It is obvious that the shears would and did clog badly in damp grain or in green growth and the technique was replaced throughout the world by the sickle-bar and guard system which was invented seven years after Rev. Bell first built.

(2) Side Delivery. Rev. Bell arranged a moving canvas belt to deliver the cut grain to the right or left side to clear a path for the next cut. The picture referred to (I. M. A. Nov.-Dec. 1970, Page 19) shows the right-hand delivery of cut grain. These features were original with Rev. Bell.

(3) Grain reel adjustable fore and aft and adjustable for height of reel. The Grain reel was known before Rev. Bell began his work.

(4) Grain divider In fact Rev. Bell's machine had two, short type, as the machine was adapted to deliver the swath to either right or left. The divider was not original with Rev. Bell.

(5) Clutching device for disconnecting the gearing from traction wheels while travelling idle. This device was not original with Rev. Bell.

(6) Means for Guiding the Machine Note in the I. M. A. picture the driver holds such a guide lever in his right hand. This device may or may not have been original with Rev. Bell.

Reverend Bell was properly honored in Britain for the incalculable service to his country by his inventions being awarded, in 1868, a testimonial of 1000 pounds subscribed by the Highland Society and other Agriculturists.

A few years ago at the Museum of Science in London the Curator of Agriculture and I examined several models to determine whether the British ever used the tooth and concave system of threshing. Our conclusion was that from the earliest to the latest British threshers only the rub-bar cylinder construction was in general use.

When we finished our investigation my guide turned with some pride to point out one of Bell's original reapers standing nearby. I looked for Rev. Bell's cutting shears and noticed instead a sickle-bar cutter of early manufacture. When I chided the Curator for not having Bell's cutting apparatus, but instead one of American design, he read a placard attached to the machine to me. I'm quite sure he read further than he ever had before, since he read: 'the cutting device on this machine has been added at a later date.'

Turning to me he then said, 'Well, who's cutting device is this?' My answer was 'This is Obed Hussey's cutting bar, by means of which all the grass and grain of the world are cut. We Americans gave you the cutting bar, but this is not a one-way street you gave us the threshing cylinder and the steam engine. Why don't you put Rev. Bell's shears on that machine as they deserve to be.'

I'll be willing to bet Reverend Bell's original reaper hasn't been restored yet so few people know the difference.