The British Steam Plough Club

| September/October 1977

3, Ridge Side, Haw Lane, Bledlow Ridge, High Wycombe, Bucks, HP14 4JN., England

By American standards, the British Steam Plough Club may well appear rather small and specialized. It was formed in 1966, and although its progress has never been spectacular, the club had grown steadily into a successful unit which has now a membership of nearly two hundred, including a few ladies. Twenty of its members actually own plough engines. I think that it can be said, quite truthfully, that this club has certainly stirred up an interest in the now historical method of ploughing by steam.

In antiquity it was considered desirable, before launching out upon new or doubtful projects, to consult oracles or look into the entrails of animals for propitious signs. The Steam Plough Club was, perhaps, lucky in that it had immediate unsolicited Divine prompting, for the inspiration to form it came like a flash from the blue whilst the writer was attending Sunday morning service in the flint-walled hilltop village church at Bledlow Ridge in Buckinghamshire. So blessed, the club's luck has held good.

Action began with a dozen interested people having lunch in the Great Northern Railway Hotel at Peterborough in Northamptonshire on December 3, 1966. Over a very enjoyable meal, our minds animated by a few light draughts of beer or wine, we talked about steam ploughs, their boiler explosions and other mishaps, as well as about their wonderful achievements in breaking up big acreages of land. A private room in the hotel had been hired for an afternoon meeting, at which we were joined by another dozen chaps. Taking count, we found that we had people representative of nine English counties, although at that time most of us were complete strangers. It was decided to form a club with an annual membership fee of 1, a figure which has not required increasing one cent during the intervening eleven years, thanks to the good treasureship of bank official Richard F. Jackson of Walsall in the West Midlands.

As I am talking about a British steam ploughing club, it has to be said right at the beginning that practically all our activity concerns cable type work, using a pair of engines, one on either side of the field. Of the alternative methods: one stationary engine with a fixed windlass and round-about style ropes passing round the field, or the direct traction pulling the plough by the engine style; the two remaining examples are preserved by Lt. Commander, J. M. Baldock of Liphook, Hampshire, and Frank Smith of Boston respectively.

Practical field operations began the following April when the club staged a display of steam cultivating on the biggish and well-managed farm of Brian Hailey at Great Wymondley near Hitchin in north Hertfordshire. A cultivator is a three-wheeled, self-turning implement having thirteen long strong tines and known to the old steam ploughmen as a scarifier or drag. Batchelor farmer Brian remembered with affection the steam ploughs which his grandfather and father had used on the family farm; so he not only welcomed us, but he also paid for the coal and counted the cost against the cultivating of his field by the one pair of engines we had in use. Mike Goodman brought his eighteen ton 1920 John Fowler of Leeds compound AA7 class engine No. 15563, rated at 18 nominal horsepower (about 175 i.h.p.) named Wayfarer. Bill Colebrook, a motor maker in Vauxhall's Luton works, came in with his 1917 AA No. 13880, but since both engines were fitted up to pull their ropes from the left side, Bill's engine had to progress backwards along its hedgerow. During the weekend the engines ripped up about ten acres; but less than fifty people came to look at us. Our only misfortune was to let the outside tines on the cultivator tear out the bank alongside the narrow lane that led from the village to the work site. This upset the tidy mind of Brian who took five years to forget it and before he invited us on to his land once more.