Category Archives: Out and about

A visit to the implement works of J. D. Allan, Murthly, Perthshire

There are a few accounts of agricultural implement works in the provincial press in Scotland. These provide details of what the works looked like, the arrangement of the works, activities and sometimes additional information on an implement maker.

One of the best accounts of one of the Perthshire makers is that of J. D. Allan, Murthly, near Dunkeld, renowned for reaping machines and potato diggers. In July 1896 the special correspondent of the Dundee Courier visited the Culthill Works. Here is his account of that visit:

“Leaving the Victoria May Hotel, Stanley, which had been our comfortable and home-like headquarters for a time, we drove out the Blairgowrie road, and, crossing the Tay by the splendid new girder bridge at Caputh, erected a few years ago now, we got into that district of Perthshire known as the Stormont, and soon reached Culthill, where we were to see the workshop and farm of Mr John Allan, of the well-known firm of J. D. Allan & Son, Mr John Allan being the sole partner and representative. Mr Allan is a son of the late Mr Douglas Allan, whose name is as familiar as a household word amongst farmers and ploughmen for the making of high-class light-fraughted ploughs, in which respect the high prestige hitherto attained by the firm is still kept up.

On entering upon the outside premises we were struck with the evidence on every side of the extensive business carried on in timber, the place having the appearance of an American logging yard. The timber grown in the district is famed for its large size and excellent quality, the larch, elm, and ash trees being remarkably fine. Mr Allan purchases the timber mostly on the root from the neighbouring proprietors, and conveys it in the log to Culthill, where it is cut up into planking sized to suit the demand. It is afterwards stored into large, well-ventilated drying sheds until it is properly dried and seasoned, and is then disposed of to the orders of those in the trade, such as cart and wheel wrights, coach builders, town and country joiners, &c, a speciality being made in the turning out of cart and carriage hubs or naves, fellows, and spokes, and all kinds of framing. The ends of the sawn timber in the drying sheds and even the ends of the large unison logs in the outside yard are all thickly coated with a composition of cow dung to prevent splitting or gelling.

The workshops are extensive and comprise a regular blacksmiths’ workshop, for the shoeing of horses, repairing of farm implements, machines, &c, a joiners’ workshop, where all kind of country joiner work is executed, and a very commodious and well-lighted workshop, containing the most modern and ingenious machinery, tools, and other appliances for the making of new farm implements and machines. The machinery is driven by water power supplied by a stream which passes the works, the large overshot water wheel which drives the outside circular saw also supplying the power for the machinery within the works. The water power is for the most part ample, but in case of scarcity a 6-horse power steam engine has been fitted up within the works, which, however, is not required more than three or four days in a year. Mr Allan says that all makers of implements are alive to the fact that it is only by the aid of labour saving, power-driven machines, which will accomplish the maximum amount of work with the minimum expenditure of hand-labour, that such works as his can nowadays be made lucrative. In the large workshops are machines for tenoning the spokes of wheels, and for boring the fellows to suit; shearing and punching machines capable of cutting iron bars 1 inch thick, or punching homes through same; emery grinding machines, which are driven at a very high speed, and are very effective, and also common stone grinding machines; a heavy geared turning-lathe capable of turuing shafts 4 1/2 inches in diameter; circular and band saws; vertical and horizontal drills, the boring tools being an American patent, which ensure the holes made through even the thickest iron or steel plates to be perfectly circular. In the blacksmiths’ department are six forges, the wind for which is supplied by a fan blast making 3000 revolutions a minute. Each forge has its accompanying anvil and hand tools, and in connection with the blacksmith department is an oven for heating wheel tyres, its capacity being four of the heaviest sized tyres at a time. A cool tyre is put in as a hot one is taken out, and this keeps the hands going, and facilitates the work.

Connected with the fitting department are all kinds of modern appliances, such as vices and hand tools, machines for punching out key seats, mandrels, and templates, to ensure the procuring of duplicate parts for any machine when wanted. In front of the works is the large, well-lighted and well-ventilated paint shop full of farm implements, such as farm carts, reaping machines, potato diggers, turnip slicers, &c, in preparation for the Highland Show at Perth. Mr Allan has been remarkably successful with his output of potato diggers, for which he has gained very high repute both at home and abroad. They are specially well known and very highly appreciated in the three sister countries-England, Scotland, and Ireland-a great many going over the Border and across the Channel every year, so much so that difficulty is experienced in keeping up with the orders. At the last trial of potato diggers at the Stirling Highland Show the firm gained the first prize of £15 amongst a lot of 22 entrants, comprising all the leading makers of Great Britain. They also gained first prizes at Glasgow, Coupar Angus, Lincolnshire, and Aberdeen; and silver medals at the kelso Highland, Coupar Angus, Strathearn, Dublin, and Aberdeen, and a handsome massive silver cup. value £10 10s, at Long Sutton in Lincolnshire. The firm further do a good trade in reaping machines, for which they hold several silver medals. For the making of cart wheels and axles the firm is also highly famed, especially for extra strong wheels for wood carting. The fellows are made 4 inches broad, and ringed with steel tyres to suit. These wheels, because of their being made of the very best seasoned wood, and because of the steel tyres being much tougher and harder than iron, are very strong and durable.

Another speciality is the making of turnip-slicing carts. The box is made to hold a load of 15 carts of roots, which, with the horse going at plough speed, it slices and distributes in from ten to twelve minutes. The cart is made with a grated bottom so that earth and grit may fall through. It is used principally for feeding cast ewes on grass land, and for lambs in the spring before the grass comes. Mr Allan’s make of banker carts for transporting large trees is unique. They are fitted with shafts which gives the horse full control over them, and makes them much safer to work than common bankers. They have a high rainbow axle, and two other strong iron bows, the one forward and the other shaft, with a powerful screw on each bow. Chains are attached to the screws, which are put round the trees, and by actuating the screws one man can load a tree weighing 1 1/2 tons with the greatest ease, and with no danger. One of these banker carts will be exhibited at Perth Show.

In addition to the works, Mr Allan farms Cairnsmuir, a farm of 96 acres. The soil is rather poor, but being liberally treated, good crops are produced. Cross cows are kept and mated with an Angus bull, and 7 or 8 calves, mostly blue greys, are produced. They are hand-fed on sweet milk and lined cake, no other condiments being used, and if there is reason for pride in the workshop, there is noels reason for pride in the production of excellent calves. They are kept on till two years of age, and being liberally dealt with all the time, come out splendid specimens. In the spring of 1895 the strikes, when about two years old, were purchased by Mr Morgan of Ardgaith, Glencarse, at nearly £20 each. They were well kept until Hay & Company’s Christmas sale at Perth, where two of them gained first prize for bullocks under three years of age, and were sold for £60 10s the pair. This year the stirks were sold to Mr Gellathly, Drumbachlie, another famous breeder, and doubtless they will be heard of at future shows. Mr Allan purchases annually a lot of grit blackface ewes in the spring. He sells the lambs when weaned, and keeps the ewes to feed. He finds that he can buy grit ewes in the spring for not much money than he can buy black ewes in the fall, and that they pay him much better than any other kind of stock. Mr Allan speaks in the most laudatory terms of the kindness and liberality of his proprietor, Sir Alexander M. McKenzie, Bart, of Delvine, who at great cost erected the extensive workshops, and gave him every possible facility for the carrying on of his large business. Before leaving, we had the pleasure in shaking hands and having a conversation with Mr Allan’s mother, widow of the late Mr Douglas Allan. The old lady was born in February, 1812, and is 84 years of age. She is hale and hearty, and has all her intellectual faculties unimpaired. She lives in a cottage on the preises, and is never happier than when bustling about doing her own household work.”

A contemporary account of Mr J. Douglas Allan in the North British Agriculturists provides some further information on the company and its activities:

 

“Amongst the whole Scottish implement trade there is no better liked man than Mr J Douglas Allan, of Culthill Works, Dunkeld. To fully appreciate the geniality of his character he must be visited at his works, which are driven by water-power, and are situated on Gourdie Braes, a picturesque slope on the Tay valley, about five miles from the fashionable summer resort of Dunked. Besides being an important maker, Mr Allan has also the advantage of being a practical farmer, occupying a fair-sized holding on the estate of Sir Alexander Muir Mackenzie, the genial baronet of Delvine. The potato digger is the implement by which Mr Allan’s name is best known. He was the first in the country to make those on Hanson’s principle wholly of iron, and shortly after their introduction by him they were generally made all over the country. Mr Allan, however, has succeeded in retaining his reputation for making one of the strongest, lightest draught, and easiest working machines in the market, and with it he succeeded in taking the first prize of £15 offered by the Highland Society at their Stirling meeting in 1881, twenty one diggers competing. At the Royal Society of England’s Newcastle trials in 1887, Mr Allan’s machine was not quite so fortunate, but in the opinion of many who witnessed the trials, it did the best work, and was entitled to a better place than that allotted to it. On the excellence of Mr Allan’s machine we need not dwell, but only quote the common saying throughout the trade. “For a tattie digger Allan is get ill tae beat”. Besides the digger Mr Allan also manufactures carts, reapers, mowers, and other implements, and he also does a very large and regular business in hickory spokes. Mr Allan never misses a Highland Show, where his kindly manner makes him one of the most universally respected men in the yard, whilst his constant attendance in the Perth market has made him one of the best “kent” figures in his county.”

The photographs are of a range of potato diggers at the Fife Vintage Agricultural Machinery Rally, June 2016.

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Moving business: George Sellar & Son, Huntly and Alloa

As we have seen from a number of posts a small number of Scottish implement and machine makers moved their businesses, sometimes over a wide geographical area. This allowed them to grow and develop their businesses, and take hold of new opportunities. Some businesses also opened new premises in other parts of the country. 

One business that developed over a number of geographical areas and undertook its work from a number of premisses throughout the country was George Sellar & Son of Huntly. By the early 1910s it was looking for opportunities to develop its business and have further opportunities for iron founding which was essential for increased plough and machinery production. 

The local newspaper press charts the development of Sellar’s iron founding premises at Alloa in 1914.

At the end of April 1914 the Daily Record notes that: 

“A new industry-At Alloa Dean of Guild Couty plans were passed for the preliminary buildings of a new industry to be started at Longcarse Road, by Messrs G. Sellar & Sons, Huntly, agricultural implement makers, who intend opening a branch establishment. The old Sun Foundry will be reconstructed at a cost of several thousand pounds, and when the work is in full operation, about 200 hands will be employed.”

By the following month the Aberdeen evening express, wrote: 

“It isn understood that Messrs George cellar and Son, agricultural engineers, Huntly, have got the transfer of a feu at Alloa, that of the Sun Foundry, in which they intend to start a branch of their works. It has not yet been decided on what scale this new establishment will be carried on, but there is no intention of removing the headquarters of the firm from Huntly, although some department or departments may be affected by this development. Alloa, a seaport on the Forth, is situated close to the Scottish coal and iron fields.”

By October 1916 the firm was advertising itself in the Scottish agricultural press as G. Sellar & Son, head office, Huntly and works, Alloa. The company continued to refer to itself as being of Huntly and Kelliebank Works, Alloa, until well after the Second World War.

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Implements in Roxburghshire in 1798

The Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement’s county agricultural surveys provide a great deal of information about the agriculture and political circumstances of the different counties of Scotland. The 1798 survey of Roxburgh provides a detailed account of the implements and machines in Roxburghshire. It notes:

“The Scotch plough, with a long stout beam, and a long narrow point, through still used in stiff clay land, especially when it is to be broken up from grass, and even in light soil, when the furrow is interrupted by stones, has in general given place to the Rotherham plough, improve by Small. The former is thought be some to expose a larger surface to the atmosphere, by which the soil, when harrowed, admits of a finer pulverisation; but the latter is allowed to make a neater furrow, as well as to loosen and turn up more earth from the bottom. it is commonly made exactly according to Mr Small’s model, with this difference, that the beam is two, and sometimes even four inches long. Th moulds (or mould-boards as they are termed) of cast metal, recommended by the dalkeith Society of Farmers, aare much used; and the head or peak, instead of being covered with plates of iron, is not infrequently made wholly of it, or of cast metal. The shath too or sheath, including the head or peak, is sometimes one entire cast piece of cast metal. Opinions differ with respect to the structure of the muzzle. All ploughs have a rod of iron, doubled so as to embrace the beam either perpendicularly or horizontally, with four or five holes in that part of it which crosse the point of the beam, in one or other of which the harness is fixed. This bridge, as it is here called, moves upon a strong pin piercing the beam, about four or five inches from its point in some ploughs, and in others about fifteen or sixteen inches. In the former case, the bridle is placed horizontally, and has a long tail, by means of which, the depth of the furrow can be regulated. In the latter case, piece of wood, with four or five holes in it, is fixed to the end of the beam, sometimes in a horizontal direction, to regulate the width, and sometimes in a perpendicular direction, to regulate the depth of the furrow, by means of the bridle, which is always placed the opposite way from the piece of wood. This structure is preferred, as making the draught more steady. And some use a chain, partly to strengthen the beam, and partly to assist the movement of the plough, in very stiff soil, by the shake which which it occasions.

The plough is drawn by a strong stretcher, commonly called a two horse tree, with an iron staple in the middle, and a hook in it to go into one of the holes in the bridle, and with two iron ends, in each of which there is a hole to receive a smaller hook coming fro the middle of two lesser stretchers, or single horse trees, to whose extremities the ropes were formerly tied, and now the chains are fastened, which reach from both sides of the collars of two horses placed abrest.

The common harrows are chiefly used, but are made in a neat and substantial manner. the thick bars are not weakened by large round holes, to admit stout rods, but are pierced by narrow oblong slits, into which thinner bars are nicely and firmly mortised. To prevent one from jutting love another, they are joined together, sometimes by a strong stick, each end of which moves up a pivot, and sometimes by a ring sliding on two iron rods fixed on the approximating bars of each harrow; but the most common contrivance is, two or three pieces of wood, placed erect or obliquely in the extremity of the foremost or left-hand harrow, and also of the middle one when three are drawn together. The improved harrows by Mr Low at Woodend, a plate whereof he has given in his “General View of the Agriculture of Berwickshire”, have made their way into the lower part of this county, and have received still further improvement from Mr Dawson at frogden. He draws them by the ends instead of the middle of the stretcher: he places the two hinges exactly on the same line of draught; and he strengthens the principal bars, by the addition of a few diagonal ones. Two chains, fixed both to the harrows and the stretcher, meet at two and a half feet from the harrows, and are fastened to the two horse tree already described. The harrows are in the form of a rhomb, deviating from the square as far as necessary to make the teeth or tines cut the ground at equal distances from each other. Harrows, when square, or of an improper rhomb, may nevertheless be made to go over a large surface, and to cut it at more equal distances, by lengthening one chain, and shortening the other, till the line of draught is brought to the degree of obliquity required. 

Few or no wagons are now to be found in the county. Nor are two horse carts so numerous as they were some years ago. there can be little doubt that they would be every where superseded by single horse ones, did not the frequent and steep pulls, in the public roads, along with heavy carriages pass, and in several parts of many farms, require two horses. The dimensions of both vary so much in length, breadth,a nd depth, as not to be easily reducible to an average standard. The single horse carts, in general, are about 16 cubic feet, and hold about 16 Winchester bushels or marl or lime in shells, or 10 cwt of coals. The two horse carts are about 25 or 26 cubic feet,a nd for every such fot hold hold a Winchester bushel of mark, or of lime in shells, or 16cwt of coals. Both kinds carry more on particular occasions, but are then heaped, or perhaps are of larger dimensions. The bodies always strengthened by iron stays, tightened by screws. The height of the wheels is from 4 feet 2 inches to 4 feet 6 inches. Iron axles are much used; and they are commonly cased in wood, to render their concussion less hurtful to the horses. there are many timber ones; and they would be still more general, were it not for the danger and inconvenience of their failing in long journies with heavy carriages. Some are of timber, with iron ends having long tails, bolts, and screws. There is a common cart at Riddel, with an additional wheel before to ease the horse’s back. Frames are often put above the common carts for carrying hay, corn or straw, adding about five or five and a half feet to their length, and about three or perhaps three and a half feet to their breadth. But long-bodied carts still continue to be made for these purposes, generally, but not always, with a kind of wings projecting quite over the wheels, supported in the middle by a board set across the top of that cart, and at each end by stout rods resting on cross bars, which, with that view, jut out from the bottom of the body; such a cart is commonly about ten feet long, by seven feet in breadth. It carries a larger load than a frame; and can be more safely conducted through fields that are sidelong and uneven. But it is more bulky and incommodious in the shed, and cannot be laid up or brought forth so quickly, and with so little trouble. 

Both Cook’s and Perkin’s patent machines, for sowing different grains in rows, have been tried in this county. They are so constructed, as to make the rows at any distance from 9 to 36 inches. Saw a field of barley, which had been sown with the one, and a field of wheat, which had been sown with the other, in drills nine inches asunder. Both were upon a declining surface, and both looked well. Though apparently thinner than what were sown broadcast on part of the same fields, yet the ears were longer, and the grains in them were larger. There are other machines for sowing turnips, on ridges previously formed by laying together two furrows with a common plough. These are of different forms, mostly drawn by horses, though some are drawn, and others pushed forward by men. All of them have a small coulter to make a slight furrow, or rather rut, on the summit of the ridge, into which the seed drops through a narrow pipe or funnel, immediately behind the coulter. A very light roller precedes the coulter, to smooth the summit of the ridge, and is so long as to go over the one last sown, and cover or gently press down the seed. Some of them have a little barrel, moving on to axis, with holes through which the seed falls, and others have a kind of canister, from which it is shaken, into the funnel or upper end of the pipe. They generally go upon two slender wheels, from two to three feet asunder, according to the distance at which farmers choose to make their ridges. But, where the top of the ridge is tolerably is tolerably smooth, may prefer one wooden wheel, about two and a half or three feet in diameter, and three inches broad in the rim, to go along the very summit before the coulter, and another wheel, less and lighter, to follow it. In this machine the barrel is always used, and turned round, by a pinion, or else by a band connected with the foremost wheel. A very small and light plough, with moulds on each side to shift at pleasure, is drawn by one horse between the rows of potatoes or turnips after they advance a certain length, to suppress weeds, and to stir and lay up fresh earth, from time to time, around the plants. 

A portable instrument, for hoeing drilled crops, was made, by the direction of an ingenious young farmer in this county, from a description which he read of it in a publication by an agricultural society at Bath. When it is carried to or from the field, the beam folds back between the handles. When used, one man draws it by the beam, and another directs it by the handles. Instead of a coulter and share, it has only a hoe, which cuts the weeds immediately below the surface; and a larger or smaller hoe can be put in it, according to the width of the drills. In fields free from stones and well dressed, it is very effectual and expeditious.

Brake harrows, with huge teeth, some of them very heavy, are used on ground, that is newly broken up, or full of clods, or overrun with inveterate weeds. Rollers, also, both of wood and stone, around every where, and are of very different sizes and weights. It is difficult to manage a strong clay soil without the aid of both these instruments. Mallets, too, are necessary to make a fine mould for barley, especially when clover is sown among it. There is little occasion now for brake harrows on the light soil, as it is, in general, brought into excellent order; but, even on that soil, it is found to be of much advantage to roll barley, wheat, and sometimes oats, immediately after they are sown; and wheat, oats,a nd clover, when in the blade, in spring. The lot designed for potatoes and turnips is likewise frequently rolled. 
The common scythes are employed in mowing hay, but corns are cut with the sickle. Both are put upon the cart and stack, with a common two pronged fork. A fork, with three or more stout and long prongs, and a handle three feet long, fills dung into the cart, and spreads it on the field. Lime and mark are spread with a shovel. Both the English and Dutch hoes are used in cleaning potatoes, turnips, and other drilled crops. Stones are loosened, broken, and removed from the earth by picks, large hammers, and levers both of wood and iron. Even gunpowder is sometimes made an implement of husbandry. Docks are taken up with a spade contrived for the purpose. Other weds, especially thistles, are cut with a weed hook. Hedges are pruned and dressed by bills and shears. There are one or two machines for chopping straw, and mashing corn. A spade is preferred to the knife for cutting hay. 

Milk vessels are sometimes scooped out of a piece of solid wood, and nicely turned and smoothed; but more commonly are made of oaken staves; Earthen cans are also used. Churns are of various forms; each mistress or dairy maid preferring that kind, which, she thinks, requires least labour, and is mostly easily cleaned. Cheese presses are constructed on the principles both of the lever and the screw; the last seems to prevail most, especially in pasture farms, where cheese is chiefly made. 
In the end of the year 1795, there were only ten thrashing machines in the county. They are now multiplying so fast, that about 20 more were erected during the course of the year 1796, and there will probably be 36 or 40 at work before this account can come from the press. Those first made, either were driven by water, or required four horses, and cost about L80. Though they did great execution, thrashing about 25 and even 30 bolls in a day, yet their weight and clumsiness have induced farmers to try lighter ones, pulled by two horses, which are found to switch from 15 to 20 bolls very completely in 10 hours, and cost only about L40. When fans are attached to either, there is an additional charge of L5 more. Those lately made have all rakes fro removing the straw. It is alleged that, by their circular motion and severe draught, horses are stupefied, become less eager of food, and more unfit for their usual work. It is also alleged that, in rainy seasons when the corn is little spoiled and the straw moist, they perform the work very imperfectly. 

This county can boast, not indeed of inventing fans, but of being the first in Scotland where they were made and used. It is pretty generally agreed, that one Rogers, a farmer on the estate of Cavers near Hawick, about the year 1733, or at least before the 1737, either saw a model or a description of one had been brought from Holland, and that from it, having a mechanical turn, he first made and afterwards improved those, which gradually came to be used in all the neighbouring counties, and which have since received further improvement from his descendants, who fell about 60 of them every year at L3 or 3 guineas each. They are remarkably simple in their construction, and answer the purpose extremely well; but corn mist be put always twice, and often thrice through them, before it is fully cleaned. An improvement upon them has been attempted by one Moodie at Lilliesleaf, which is much extolled by several farmers. He has introduced and happily combined some properties of other fans, by which the moving powers can be more easily regulated, increased, or diminished, and the grain, at one operation, can be both separated from the chaff and lighter seeds, and completely riddled from loose straws, and all other course refuse. The expense d double, the machinery is more complex, and one operation is not always sufficient; but the ingenuity of the structure deserves praise, and may furnish useful hints to such as are employed in attaching fans to thrashing machines.”

Haven’t the implements and machines used in south-east and the Borders changed since then! 

The photographs were taken at the Borders Vintage Rally, May 2014.

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Dressing tatties the old-fashioned way

The machines for dressing tatties have come along way since the mid nineteenth century.

Tattie riddles and sorters were developed to be used in various circumstances. They needed to be used for dressing the first earlies in the field, and so had to be portable and easily moved. They were also required to be used alongside the tattie pits to dress the main crops over the winter months. As a greater tonnage had to be dressed with them they were larger, but had still to be capable of moved along the pit. When boxing became fashionable, static graders could be employed, with the tatties being brought to the dresser rather than vice versa in earlier days. They had to be able to sort the potatoes into various sizes and sort the sound potatoes from the unsound ones.

15002467_543258275867477_2684529559020748091_oPotato dressing machines had been simple affairs. In 1875 P & R Fleming, Glasgow, sold a potato-riddler, invented by Sawney, for £3 10s.

By 1900 a range of riddles and machines were available. Matthew Dunlop, Glasgow, sold Dunlop’s galvanised potato screen at the cost of £1 5s. P. & R. Fleming & Co., Glasgow, had a galvanised potato riddler at a cost of £1 7s 6d. There were also potato sorting machines. John Scoular & Co., Stirling, had a new patent potato dressing riddle for £6 10s while A. & J. Main & Co Limited, Edinburgh, had a patent potato sorter for £7 10s. Penney & Co Limited, engineers, Lincoln, had a potato separator and riddle which divides the potatoes into three sizes at one operation for £9.

A number of companies that manufactured potato diggers also started to make potato sorters. Noted makers included Pollock of Mauchline, Ayrshire, (making a range of potato equipment in the 1870s), David Wilson, East Linton, East Lothian, and John Munro, Kirkcaldy, Fife. In 1914, David Wilson made and sold potato cleaning and sizing machines as well as potato washing machines and potato sporting boxes, a recent development. Wilson had won an equal premium (with 3 other machines) at the all-important Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland trials of potato digger or lifters in 1911.

14976825_543258395867465_958965128013641171_oIn 1939 potato sorters were made and sold by a number of manufacturers in Scotland. J. L. & J. Ballach, Edinburgh, made the Ballach’s potato sorter, new improved, with angle-iron frame and steel spared elevator. Thomas Sherriff & Co., West Barns, East Lothian, had a power driven potato dressing machine. Especially popular were the sorters of John Monro, Kirkcaldy, and Cooch & Son, Commercial Street, Northampton. Cooch’s machines were sold in Scotland from at least 1914, by dealers such as Kemp & Nicholson, Stirling. In 1939 Cooch exhibited six potato sorters at the Highland Show in Edinburgh, ranging from £7 10s to £60 for the potato sorter no 6A, with patent roller conveyor, feeding elevator, and petrol engine.

Cooch’s machines remained popular in Scotland as did those of Munro. By 1948 Kenneth Mckenzie & Sons, Evanton, Ross-shire, was to become associated with one of John Munro’s potato sorters, the “Eclipse potato sorter no 3”, which was the “outcome of forty-years’ experience in the manufacture of potato sorters.” It is worth describing the machine, as it was entered for a New Implement award at the Highland Show in that year:
“This machine … delivers both seed and ware onto the conveyor, which is wider than on the earlier models, and which has a division up the centre thereby delivering seed size at one side and ware size at the other, where both can be hand-picked before being discharged into bags, four of which can be fitted at the delivery end.
The machine uses the flat riddle principle with a circular movement, resembling hand-riddling. The potatoes do not suffer damage, and are better dressed and cleared than by other methods.
Although designed for power drive to handle large quantities of potatoes, the machine can be operated by hand in an emergency.
The machine and 1hp air cooled power unit with clutch are mounted on four large-sized wheels for travelling. These are fitted with very strong endless conveyor chains with octagon revolving slats so constructed that they revolve, thereby continuously turning the potatoes over and over, enabling defective tubers to be removed.”

14940003_543258115867493_2490003619895979447_oThe experience of working at the tattie dressing changed greatly over the years. Hand riddles represented an important step forward in dressing, as were the early sorters. Electricity and other forms of power made a huge impact in the work. Today’s dresser she’d is a far cry from dressing by the pit in the 1870s!

Source: The tattie dressers and sorters were photographed at the Fife Vintage Agricultural Machinery Rally, June 2016.

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Threshing machine makers in Scotland in the 1950s and 1960s

The introduction, adoption and increasing use of combine harvesters in Scotland in the 1950s and 1960s had a great impact on the use and making of threshing machines.  In essence, combines 14324356_521094928083812_5487391915687397495_owere mobile thrashing machines with a rotating pick-up reel that could cut a growing crop and pass it into the threshing drum.  Their use meant that the grain was threshed as it was cut and farmers and other agriculturists no longer needed to thresh the crops out over the autumn, winter and spring months.

According to the Farm mechanisation directory, threshing machines were made by 17 makers in Britain in 1952.  Of them, 12 were Scottish makers, some of whom were world renowned: Allan Bros 14324141_521094188083886_1528187846132763061_o(Aberdeen) Ltd, Barclay, Ross & Hutchinson Ltd, Aberdeen, J. Crichton, Turriff, Cobban of Inverurie, William Foulis, Deerness, Orkney, R. G. Garvie & Sons, Aberdeen, William Leslie, Glasgoforest, Kinellar, O. G. Mainland, Shapinsay, Kirkwall, James Reid & Son, Dingwall, John Scarth, Kirkwall, Shearer Bros Ltd, Turriff, and Wright Bros (Boyne Mills) Ltd, Portsoy.  It is interesting to note the geographical distribution and to the large number in Aberdeenshire and Orkney.

By 1963, that same directory listed only five makers, of which four 14352190_521095214750450_2335830534939751275_owere Scottish: Clark & Sutherland, James Crichton, R. G. Garvie & Sons, and Shearer Bros Ltd.  Of those whose names no longer appeared in the list for 1963, a number of them were no longer in business.

The 1950s was a tough time for the threshing mill makers.  Allan Bros passed a special resolution to voluntarily wind up the company on 8 June 1956.  Barclay, Ross & Hutchinson Ltd passed a special resolution to voluntarily wind up the company on 6 June 1957.  Wright Bros. (Boyne Mills) Ltd, Portsoy, passed an extraordinary resolution to wind up the company on 7 February 1956.  Cobban of Inverurie continued to exhibit at the Highland Show until 1954.  14258259_521094578083847_8250102721371578395_oWilliam Leslie and John Scarth continued to be recorded in trade directories until 1955.  James Crichton continued to advertise its activities as “millwrights, bodybuilders and engineers” until at least 1969.  R. G. Garvie & Sons, continued to make threshers as well as grain and seed owners until after 1970.  Shearer Bros Ltd continued in business until 1972, when the company passed a special resolution to voluntarily wind up the company.  Today, Clark & Sutherland Ltd, is still involved in making machinery for grain processing. So ended, but also continued, a tradition of eminence in threshing mill making in Scotland, for which Scotland had been a world leader.

The photographs of the threshing mills from a range of makers were taken at New Deer Show, 2014, Aberdeenshire Farming Museum, August 2014, Highland Folk Museum, May 2016, and Deeside Vintage Rally, August 2016.

© 2016 Heather Holmes

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Horse forks

The horse fork was an indispensable part of the stackyard at hay-making time.

13667800_496232400570065_7328100013684260044_o It was a means to lift hay in hay from a ruck or rick onto a stack that was being built.  It was, according to Stephens’ Book of the Farm in 1908, “a simple and convenient arrangement for hoisting the hay”.  It was a pole “about 35 feet high, which is held in upright position by three or four guy-ropes rom the top of the pole to iron pins driven into the ground.  A short “jib” or “gaff”, 10 feet long or so, is arranged to slide up and down the pole, being worked by pulleys from the ground.  The fork is attached to an 13692883_496232723903366_4580140465132658970_oinch hemp rope or 1/2 inch steel strand rope, which passes over a pulley at the point of the jib or gaff, thence down the upper surface of the gaff to its lower end, where it passes over another pulley, from which it runs down the side of the pole to about 3 feet from the ground, where it passes through the pole and under a pulley fixed in it, where it is attached to the tree or chains by which a horse draws up the forkful. 

13693014_496232753903363_412020990319723584_oThe pole is set with a slight lean to the stack which is being built, so that as soon as the ascending load has been raised above the portion already built, the gaff or jib with its load always swings round over the top of the stack, where it can be dropped on almost any part of even a large stack.”

The horse fork had a number of advantages.  Stacks built with one were more easily kept perpendicular than those built from hand-forking.  They allowed hay to be more evenly distributed onto the top of the stack as it was being built.  They allowed a larger number of forkers to work at one time, and for them to more efficiently build a stack.  And, of course, it was a great labour-saving device!

13725106_496232573903381_7729789575174057589_oThere were a number of makers of horse forks in Scotland.  In 1904 Alex Sloan, Greenhill, Crosshouse, developed one that was manufactured by Wm. Wilson & Son, Plaan Saw Mill, Crosshouse.   According to the Scottish Farmer, in that year “it has now been tried by some of the leading agriculturists, who bear testimony to its superiority.”

In 1910 other makers included P. & R. Fleming & Co., 16 Graham Square and 29 Argyle Street, Glasgow, had a “Flemiing” grapple horse fork and a “Fleming” spear horse fork.  Both cost £2 10s.  Thomas Turnbull, Pleasance Implement Works, Dumfries, sold a patent clip horse fork made by McGeorge, Dumfries.  In the north of England, William Elder & Sons Ltd, also made one.

The horse fork was a useful implement to have on the farm, greatly easing the work of building stacks at hay time.  It was also an implement that was made by a wide number of makers throughout Scotland.

The photographs from the Fife Vintage Agricultural Machinery Club rally, June 2014, show a horse fork in use.

© 2016 Heather Holmes

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