What was it like for Scottish agricultural implement makers in 1914?

The year 1914 was one of contrasts: peacetime followed by the start of the Great War, or the First World War, that was to continue until 1918. At the end of 1914 implement makers in south west Scotland reflected on their year and their prospects. They were all affected in various ways and to different extents.

The Dumfries and Galloway standard published an extensive account of the reflections from a number of businesses on 23 December 1914. It is worth quoting at length for the honest and frank reflections by the makers, including the leading ones, in the district.

“Motor trade

Nithsdale Motor Works

Mr Andrew Millar, Nithsdale Motor works, Dumfries, writes: When the year commenced prospects for a good season were bright, and throughout the spring and summer we were kept so busy with repairs that a good deal of overtime had to be worked, in order to overtake the work in a reasonable time. The demand for new cars, especially Humbers, was exceptionally good; but so great was the difficulty experienced in getting delivery of cars from the works within a reasonable period after the orders had been placed that several orders and to be refused. This delay was caused by the large demand exceeding the rate of supply. When the war broke out the motor trade practically collapsed, and for a time everything was at a standstill, and a number of workmen joined the colours. There was also a scare about the scarcity of a petrol supply, which was, however, short lived. Trade is now again back to its normal condition, and work for the winter is fairly good, the usual number of owners taking advantage of the winter season for having their cars overhauled and done up. The demand for new cars is at present not very brisk; abut when the war closes the demand should be great to replace the number of cars, private and commercial, which were given up and commandeered for army purposes, most of which will be rendered useless. The coachbuilding department is decreasing each year, as a large number of farmers are now going in for motor cars. In many cases this is due to their horses having been bought for the war, and it also enables them to attend markets at greater distances.

The Corn Exchange

Mr James Wyllie of Dumfries Corn Exchange writes: the year 1914 has seen a steady demand for all kinds of feeding stuffs. Prices during the spring and summer months were at a very reasonable level. Many farmers contracted for their supply of cakes and meals early in the year, so that the rise in price since the outbreak of the war does not affect them, the war risk falling largely on the merchant. Prices are still moderate and the demand good, showing that users are quite alive to the fact that liberal feeding is the most profitable method. Since harvest started the oat trade has been a brisk one, and most farmers have been using oats sparingly at home, turning them into cash as threshed. A long spell of dry weather enabled a large amount of threshing to be done, and the grain was marketed in good condition, and at prices which few men in the farming line have obtained before. Old ryegrass hay got well cleared out during the autumn, and the new crop is but a small one, and there is very little demand for it so far. Potatoes have been the crop of the season, but in some districts there is a good deal of disease. Prices remain at a remunerative level both for seed and table varieties. Dairy produced still takes the lead as a paying concern; and with feeding stuffs secured at a moderate price, both cheese and milk have done extra well. Cheeses are presently selling at record prices. The demand for all kinds of agricultural implements continues good, especially for Sellar’s digger ploughs, which sell more readily than ever.

Palmerston Implement Works

Mr Gavin Callander writes: After a quiet opening, the spring turned out quite up to the average. During summer I was exceptionally busy. The demand for mowers and reapers was very heavy, and owing, I suppose, to the scarcity of farm labour, I had difficulty in coping with the demand for self-binders, a great many of which I sold, while the number I had for repairs was largely in excess of former years. The autumn has been quite a busy one, so much that I have had to buy many implements I usually make, but could not overtake this season.

Messrs Cochran & Co., Annan

Messrs Cochran & Co., Annan, Limited, report that they had a very busy year up to the outbreak of war, their output and sales for the first seven months of the year being greater than in any other period of equal length. The outbreak of war cut down their business almost at once by about half, owing mainly to the interruption to the report and donkey boiler business. A number of boilers have been sold for various purposes in connection with war service, and lately there has been an improvement in the demand for boilers for commercial use. About one quarter of Messrs Cochran’s employees have left for active service.

Messrs J. & R. Wallace, Castle Douglas

Messrs J. & R. Wallace, engineers and agricultural implement makers, castle Douglas, report that with the exception of the past five months business has been well maintained during the year. The demand for their specialities, namely, manure distributors and milking machines, so far as this country is concerned, has been very gratifying, as was also their trade in the implements for which they are agents. Before the war was declared they had just received a large continental order, and had good prospects of a large business with several of our colonies. Eleven of their men have joined the forces, and the firm is working their usual number of hours per week.”