The great tattie digger trials

14425410_522899134570058_6342729045711175869_oThe Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland provided (as it still does) an important stimulus for the development of new and innovative agricultural implements and machines. In the past, an important feature of its activities was to hold trials. These included trials of potato diggers.

The Society’s first trial of potato diggers was held on 30 September 1871. A total of nine machines were selected for trial, most of which were both made and exhibited by the makers: Mallard’s Trent Foundry Co, Rugeley, Law, Duncan & Co., Shettleston, J. Bisset & Sons, Marlee, Blairgowrie, William Dewar, Kellas, Dundee, John Doe, Errol, John Hanson (entered by John Wallace & Sons, Glasgow), James Mollison, Ruthven, Meigle,
James Robertson, Coupar Angus, and Robert Stewart, Buttergask, Coupar Angus. It is interesting to note how many of these makers were Scottish, and more particularly, how many of them were located in the major potato-growing districts of eastern Scotland, especially Perthshire.

Following the trial, medium silver medals were warded to six of the exhibitors, five of which were located in Perthshire and Dundee.

14372333_522899224570049_6639003693129113739_oThe next trial was held on 18 and 19 October 1881 on the farm of
Hillhead, near Stirling. The judges considered thatt the trial was “very satisfactory both to judged and exhibitors, and that it was conducted in a thoroughly exhaustive manner.” They noted that “eleven machines appeared on the ground; the work, on the whole, was satisfactory, but the draught was in the opinion of the judges a great drawback to the whole of the machines, the lightest draught being 4 1/4 cwt up to 6 cwt under very favourable circumstances of soil. The judges would draw the attention of the makers of these machines to this objection.” Three awards were given: J. D. Allan & Sons, Culthill, Dunked (£15), William Dewar, Strathmartine, Dundee (£10) and John Wallace & Sons, 7 Graham Square, Glasgow (£5).

14409926_522899371236701_676821173554055210_oIn 1911 the Society arranged a further trial of tattle diggers or lifters. Given the length of time since the 1881 trial, this was a much anticipated event, and an important milestone in for the development and improvement of potato lifters.

By this time the Society recognised the need to encourage the development of tattle diggers, more especially so as significant advances were being made in the mechanisation of the grain harvest. Entries were to be on “entirely new principles, or possess radical improvements on machines now in use.” Each machine was also to have been exhibited at the Highland Show in inverness in 1911.

14424754_522899451236693_6800756242947754330_oImplement and machine makers took to the challenge and fourteen machines were entered for trial. Signifiant numbers of Scottish makers with outstanding reputations in making tattle diggers came forward: J D Allan & Son, Murthly, Alexander Ballach & Sons, Leith, J. Bisset & Sons Ltd, Blairgowrie, Andrew Pollock, Machine, John Wallace & Sons, Glasgow, and David Wilson, East Linton.

The trial, held at Turnhouse, Cramond, Midlothian, on 5 October 1911, was watched by a large number of spectators. The machines included some “novel” and “interesting” features. The machine from John Wallace & Sons had a rotating arm carrying the grapes or tines set at one side of the drill, and the tines were set so that they entered the drill laterally and lifted it up.

The judges concluded that the work done by all the machines was “fairly good” and “showed improvement as compared with the results obtained at the last trial.” However, there was no outstanding machine. As a result, equal premiums were awarded to machines from Allan, Pollock, Wallace and Wilson.

What the trial achieved was to stimulate the development in tattle diggers and to try to find ways to make diggers more effective. Like the 1881 trials, they went down in the annals of the Society’s work to encourage technological innovation.

The photographs of the spinner diggers were taken at the Fife Vintage Agricultural Machinery Club Farming Heritage Show and Annual Rally, June 2016.

© 2016 Heather Holmes