Learning about implements and machines: the factory tour

A visit of Scottish farmers to the Lister and Blackstone works in 1939

Have you been on a factory tour of an implement and machine maker? Specially arranged tours were an important way that farmers and agriculturists learned about how the implements and machines were made as well as well as a host of other information about the businesses making them.

Some organised tours were reported in the newspaper press and allowed even more farmers to read about them. One such one took place in 1939, when a large number of Scottish farmers visited the Lister and Blackstone plants at Stamford and Dursley. Her is an account of their visit that appeared in The Scotsman on 26 July 1939.

“Mechanised farming

Tour of engineering works

Scottish guests

Of all the departments of the farm none is subject to more rapid and revolutionary changes than the machinery and implements necessary for the economic development of the land.

The cost of labour required for farming arable land keeps mounting up, and it is little wonder, therefore, that the farmer has been obliged to abandon the methods of his forefathers and to look towards mechanisation and other new developments to assist him in his struggle for greater and cheaper production. He has been obliged to supplant the horse to a large extent by mechanical power, and had evolved a new system of mechanised farming to keep down costs and carry out essential operations on his land. It is generally recognised that a sound and live system of power farming must be pursued-a system which is regarded as highly desirable in times of peace, but essential in time of war.

A party of forty farmers from Scotland, including members of Council of the National Farmers’ Union and Chamber of Agriculture of Scotland, had the privilege last week, as the guests of Messrs R. A. Lister & Co., Dursley, Gloucestershire, and their associated company, Messrs Blackstone & Co., Stamford, of visiting the extensive agricultural engineering works at Stamford and Dursley, where they saw the latest developments in labour-saving devices. The part, which was under the direction of Mr James Picken, Milton, Kirkcudbright, was drawn from all parts of the country, from Ross-shire in the North of Galloway in the South.

Blackstone engines

The first day was spent inspecting the Blackstone works at Stamford, which were established 100 years ago to supply Lincoln and the counties that stretch to Stamford with agricultural implements. To-day the firm continues the old while making the new, and is best known for the manufacture of Diesel engines-and pumps. Every country in the world knows Blackstone engines and uses them. In this country they are to be found in factories as well as in countries and on farms. The Scottish party saw the various operations which go to their making in the foundries and workshop, and were much impressed by the skill of the craftsmen and the quality of the output.

The Blackstone works cover over 27 acres and employ about 27 acres and employ about 1200 men. With the reconstruction just completed there is now a total floor space in the shops of over 27,000 square feet. Concrete roads traverse the works in all directions. New cupolas have been erected in the foundry, each with a capacity of ten tons an hour. Castings up to seven tons are now made regularly, and the visitors were much interested in the process. Engine erection has been centralised and extended, and two engine test beds are now in operation. All tests are carried out with electric and hydraulic dynamometers. A similar programme of reorganisation has been carried out in the agricultural departments of the works.

The House of Lister

Proceeding across country by motor coach to Birmingham and thence by train to Gloucester, the party spent the night there, and set out next morning for the Dursley works of Messrs R. A. Lister & Co. The House of Lister, as it is a familiarity called, was founded 72 years ago by the late Sir Ashton Lister, and five of his sons, along with Mr A. E. Mellerup, constitute the directorate to-day. It is one of the few surviving “family” firms of the country. Started in a small way in a smithy, the works to-day cover 35 acres and employ over 3000 men. The firm was responsible for the introduction of the cream separator into this country and Canada, and it supplies the sheep-shearing machinery with which over a third of the world’s sheep are shorn every year. Its engines are working irrigation, farm, and industrial machinery all over the world, and its lighting plant provides light and power in many of the best-known houses of both the old world and the new. Lister auto-trucks, the latest of the Lister lines, are revolutionising internal transport in railway stations, docks, factories, and exhibitions. A fleet of 50 auto-trucks, it will be remembered, were engaged at the Glasgow Empire Exhibition, and carried one and a half million passengers in six months round the exhibition.

The various operations of the firm were closely inspected by the small groups into which the party was divided, and keen interest was shown in the wide range of finished products for which the firm is well known.

Government ploughing scheme

During the tour the party were interested to learn that following the Ottawa Agreements the firm entered into an agreement with the Cockshutt Plow Company of Brantford, Ontario, to market the famous Cockshutt tractor plough on a barter basis-Cockshutt selling Lister cream separators in Canada. This year, as a result of the Government’s decision to grant £2 an acre for all land ploughed and re-seeded before October 31, the firm have doubled their normal order for the Canadian plough. Early this year the firm set up a special A. R. P. department, staffed by skilled engineers, to advise not only on emergency lighting plant, in which they specialise, but also on other A. R. P. questions.

At both Stamford and Dursley the party were much struck by the facilities afforded for the welfare of the employees. Side by side with the large-side development in the plant has come a corresponding expansion in social activities. Large club premises adjoin the works, and there are facilities for all. Kinds of indoor games and outside sports. Clinics, provided at each of the works, supply the needs for first-aid, dressing, and dispensing.

Before returning to Scotland Mr James Picken expressed the thanks of the party to their hosts, and said they would have pleasant memories of their visit. Efficiency, he said, was stamped in all departments they had seen. There were, he added, many things in the factory which might usefully be copied by farmers. Mr Picken also took occasion to thank Mr E. Rea, agricultural adviser to Lister’s, who accompanied the party throughout the tour.

Mr Robert Lister, who replied, spoke of the pleasure it had been to welcome their friends from Scotland, and said they were not ashamed to show their plant or their products to anyone.”