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Ted Talks: Magnificent Threshing Machines

Alex Perry Published: 01 June 2024

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Red steam powered threshing engine in action
Photo credit: Anguskirk at Flickr, Creative Commons Licence 2.0

The threshing machine was a must have tool for the farmer; threshers were used to separate the edible grain from the rest of the crop, i.e. to separate grains of wheat from straw. The first threshers were horse-drawn; and the first threshing machine that Ted used in 1948, at the age of 16, was powered by steam.

Ted hired this thresher from Mr. Sheldrake in Cock Street, who owned three of these for contract work, and then he would use it all day (5:30 am till at least 6:30 pm) at local farms such as at the one owned by Mr. Gibbs in Little Melton. Some farmers such as Jock Alsten had their own threshers, and they preferred Ted to use them.

He recalled, “Those threshing machines moved at about 10 miles per hour. You had to shovel coal into a fire to keep the steam engine working, and you got very dirty.” Indeed, Ted had to change his soot-covered shirts twice a day, and find time to clean his soot-covered goggles; he was the original steam-punk!

Threshing was performed by a team of farmworkers in a coordinated manner, with a major responsibility assigned to each member (loading crops into the thresher, collecting the stalks, collecting the grain, shovelling coal into the steam-engine and driving the steam-engine).

The threshing apparatus was quite complex, “You had to understand the engine, the drum, the pitcher and the water container,” said Ted. There were specialists in this technology, such as Mr. Squires who worked for the local Co-op and who was twenty-four years older than Ted.

Over the years, farmers learned to perform threshing in a cleaner, less labour-intensive, and more mechanised way. “Billy Flint used to connect his thresher to his tractor,” said Ted. And ultimately, the thresher was replaced by the combine harvester, which gives you an inkling about what The Wurzels were so excited about – ooh aah!

Though there are certain countries and cultures which continue to use these magnificent threshing machines. Furthermore, the thresher drivers found other outlets for lugging heavy stuff. “Billy pulled airplanes across fields with his David Brown ‘Thresherman’ tractor,” remembered Ted.

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