The Steam Reaper Field Trials

| November/December 1999

Agricultural Commissioner

On the field of Marmont was exhibited, for the first time in France, the steam-reaper of Aveling & Porter, of Rochester, England. It consists of a wide-swath reaper, on the 'Bell' principle, driven by a traction engine at its rear. It was a striking revival of the machine invented and used by the Rev. Patrick Bell, at For-far, Scotland, in 1828, but cut a swath of 12 feet wide at the rate of 2 miles per hour, over double the work of the Scotch machine. This was no extraordinary advance in point of economy, as the Bell machines worked with two horses and laid the swath in the same manner. The Aveling & Porter machine had a nominal power five or six times as great.

Like its prototype, the tongue of the machine extends to the rear, the power being behind, but, instead of a pair of horses hitched to the end of the tongue and facing their work, a 10 or 12 horse traction engine pushed the reaper into the grain, the cutting apparatus, grain-reel, and endless discharge-apron being worked by gearing driven by an endless chain from a sprocket-wheel or the fly-wheel shaft of the engine. The endless apron is inclined, and discharges the cut grain in a regular and continuous swath on the left of the machine, with the butts towards the engine and out of the way of the latter, which followed in the rear.

In front of the engine is a crane with tackle operatable from a drum, which may be thrown in connection with the engine when required. During the turning of corners while at work, and in transporting the apparatus to and from the field, the reaper is lifted and hangs suspended from the crane.

The machine is operated and guided by one man, the various levers being conveniently placed; so that the reaper may be raised or lowered, the locomotive moved forward, backed, or guided to left or right, and the gearing which controls the functions of the reaper proper put into or out of operation.

The machine did very good work, but it can hardly be said that it was regarded as of much practical value. The same objection was made to it that has always been justly urged against that form of steam-plow in which a moving locomotive drags the plows behind it over the ground. Without pretending to state accurately the relative proportions of the power which was exerted in moving the traction engine itself and in moving and operating the reaper proper, it was thought that less than one-half of the power exerted would have been sufficient to have cut a swath of the same width had the reaper been drawn by a wire rope on the round about method of installation, and which is sufficiently explained, for the present purpose, in the section treating of steam cultivation.