548 Windermere Rd., Durban, Natal, South Africa
It is our pleasure and privilege to present here a letter from South Africa. Not many ALBUMS get that far from home, but when they do and then report to us we are very happy. And so we shall let Mr. Hobson speak to you and hope he comes again.
I hope you don't mind my addressing you in this familiar way. I've read the Album for so many years that I just can't think of you as anything but Elmer. You may recall using an article of mine on steam threshing in England in your Spring, 1949 issue. Since about 1948 I have taken the magazine by regular subscription through my friend Bob Pratt of Ipswich, England. I send Bob some money from time to time and he keeps sending each issue until I send some more, and that's how we go on. I have every copy for the past 14 years. I look forward to it and read it fully before filing it away. It is one of the very few magazines which improves with time. My only grouse (beef) is, that it should be twice as big and come out twice as often.
Looking through my back numbers, I find an interesting article by Mr. J. F. Percival in September-October, 1955, on grain binders. He refers to the scarcity of right-hand binders, which a later correspondent said were mainly for the export trade. That may well be so, but to my knowledge right-hand binders were equally scarce in England. I only saw one and this was a Deering 'Ideal' on a farm in the West Country about 1937. The man driving over 70 and he said that in all his experience it was only right-handed binder he had ever seen. Yet right-handed mowers were quite usual. There does not seem to have been any special reason for this; it seems to have been a sort of convention. I think Deering were later taken over by McCormick, which would account for several references to right-handed McCormick machines.
When I was a boy in England, from 1918 to about 1930, combines were virtually unknown and nearly all grain was cut with horse-drawn binders; there must have been thousands in use. Many were American machines; in fact, the first binder I can remember seeing at work was a 'Walter A. Wood' made, I think, at Hoosick Falls, New York. It was very small, only about five feet cut, and was drawn by two beautiful chestnut horses. Other makes often seen were the McCormick or Internataional and the Massey-Harris (Canadian). Deering binders were not often seen, but there was plenty of their mowers, including a very handy little one of only 3 feet cut, drawn by a single horse. Leading British binders were the Harrison McGregor, or 'Albion', the Hornsby, and the Wallace. They were heavier than the American machines and were hard work for three horses on damp soil, though they lasted a long time. Later some were motorized with a little petrol engine driving the sickle, reel, canvases and knotter, so that all the horses had to do was to pull the machine along. The 'Adriance Platt' binder was also used with no canvases, but I was never lucky enough to see one. Their mowers were, at one time, popular here in South Africa, but not in England. Leading English mowers were the Albion, Bamford, Bamlett, Edlington and Wallace. The Viking, a Swedish mower, was used both in England and South Africa.
Early tractors were also mostly American. The first one I ever saw was a Titan (International) working on a friend's farm. To begin with they were only used for ploughing. They were owned by the British Government and leased out to farmers, driven by war veterans who were unfit for Army service. A very few survived and I believe have been preserved; I saw one driving a threshing machine as late as 1931. Other American tractors, of which one saw isolated examples, were the Overtime, the Mogul (another International product), the Samson Sieve-Grip (very dangerous; one near us overturned and killed the girl who was driving it), and the Wallis Junior. The favorite tractor after 1918 was the Fordson; it was partly assembled in England and more than any other make encouraged the small farmer to go in for power cultivation, for it cost only 150 (about 750 dollars in those days) and it was very easy to drive. I spent many happy hours on my school holidays driving one for a neighboring farmer (who was glad to get off the thing!) and I also drove an 'International Junior', of which you have illustrated several, with a sloping hood like the old International truck (which was also used in Britain) and the radiator behind the engine. This was followed by the International '10-20' and '15-30' which by 1930 were in common use on larger farms.
Three years ago I made a trip through the Cape Provience, about 400 miles from here, and met an old gentleman who showed me a photo of a remarkable tractor he had owned in 1913. It was a huge machine, with very high wheels and a big four-cylinder kerosene engine. He said it was an 'Emerson-Brantingham', and the unusual feature about it was, that it had an automatic steering device. This consisted of a drum under the frame, with a long cable which was hooked on to an anchor in the middle of the field. Once started, the tractor went round the field steering itself, with no driver on it. At first I thought it must travel in an ever-decreasing spiral, but he said no; it went in a straight line to the headlands and then steered itself for a quarter-circle, then down the next side, and so on. When it reached the center it automatically switched itself off! He said it was so noisy, you could hear it working miles away, and if the engine stopped he just mounted his horse, and galloped off to set it going again! Have you or your readers heard of this one? It must have been a boon to the hard-worked farmer.
Many of your correspondents seem interested in stationary oil engines. So far, nobody seems to have mentioned the Amanco, made by the Associated Manufacturers Co., of (I think) Milwaukee, Wis. Their smallest model was a tiny engine called the 'Chore Boy'; then came the 'Hired Help' and 'Hired Man', each with a picture of the person after whom the engine was named, by way of a trade mark. There was also a small motor-boat engine, assembled from Model T Ford parts and called the 'Amanco du Brie'. Some friends of ours used a 'Hired Man' for cutting up firewood. It had a peculiar exhaust beat, because of its 'hit-and-miss' governor, and at the age of five I tried to cure this by slipping round the back of the barn and pushing a rag into the exhaust! I soon found out my mistake, and escaped with seconds to spare! They never did find out just why the engine suddenly stepped half-way through a log, and believe me, it was quite a long time before I remembered to tell them!
The larger Amanco range started with the 'two-mule team' and so on up to the 'Seven-Mule-Team' which was a massive affair with two huge flywheels I remember a 'Five-Mule-Team' used for driving a bread-mixing machine in a country bakery. It was a brute to start, but once going, it would run for 24 hours with no attention whatever, and often did. Then the problem was to stop it! This was usually done by pushing a heavy piece of lumber under one of the flywheels, and blowing out the subsequent flames from the friction! Another good American farm engine was the Fairbanks Morse, with low-tension ignition.
Of course, my greatest pleasure was the steam traction engines and wagons and I never missed a chance of climbing on the footplate and going for a ride. These were nearly all British, American engines not being used in Britian. Aveling, Allchin, Burrell, Brown & May, Davey-Paxman, Foden, Foster, Fowler, Garrett, McLaren, Mann, Marshall, Clayton & Shuttle-worth, Ransomes, Robey, Ruston, Tasker and Wallis were the leading makers.
Well, I've talked enough about early days, but I felt I had to write to you both and wish you everything for a very happy New Year. Tell Earlene that I can sympathise with a lot of her problems because I, too, am a school teacher. I have thirty or so of the little dears waiting to greet me in a few weeks' time! I have also been taking Modern History with a group of senior students and this is very interesting because we have been doing American history from George Washington onwards. At present, of course, everyone decent is horrified at the cruel death of your President. I think few Americans can realize how much he and Mrs. Kennedy were admired and respected in other countries. Only a few weeks ago I was telling my students of the deaths of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, and said 'let's hope that ends the list', little anticipating the tragic outcome.