Agriculture in bygone times

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by grebeman, Aug 11, 2012.

  1. grebeman

    grebeman Old Codgers Group

    Before the coming of steam power and the internal combustion engine agriculture relied on the power of the horse


    The amount of work that could be done in one day was limited, so steam power was introduced. Some of the biggest and most powerful engines were the steam ploughing engines which, working as a matched pair, hauled implements across the field drawn by long wire ropes wound on drums located beneath the boiler of the engine.

    This is a Fowler K7 class compound ploughing engine, built in 1918. Here the wire rope is slack indicating that this engine is ready to pay out its rope as its opposite number at the other side of the field pulls the implement across the field away from this engine

    In this case the implement is a cultivator being used to break up a previously ploughed field. The operator on the cultivator steers the implement and also raises and lowers the tines that break the soil up. When it reaches the other engine at the far side of the field that engine driver will allow the wire to go slack and then move his engine a short distance forward. He then gives a whistle signal and the other engine gently takes up the slack on the wire which will turn the cultivator round, then it's pulled back across the field.

    Here it's approaching the engine on my side of the field

    The wire is now taut as it is coiled up onto the winding drum, indicating that this engine is pulling the implement towards itself.

    The engine at the other side of the field will have its drum coiling mechanism on the opposite side to this one, thus engines were said to be left handed or right handed, worked as a pair and were usually ordered from the manufacturer as a matched pair.

    Panasonic GH2, 14-45 f/3.5-5.6 zoom

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  2. bartjeej

    bartjeej Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Nov 12, 2010
    very interesting photos and explanation, Barrie! Thanks! :smile:
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  3. Lightmancer

    Lightmancer Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2011
    Sunny Frimley
    Bill Palmer
    Great photo-essay, very evocative. Thank you for sharing.
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  4. pdh

    pdh Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    I seem to remember hearing on tv (probably "Edwardian Farm" or similar) that it was these steam pairs that did for the horse in agriculture, rather than the later self-powered tractors. I can't remember what the factor was of per-day acreage by which they outdid a pair of horses, but I do remember thinking it was amazingly high.
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  5. grebeman

    grebeman Old Codgers Group

    Paul, the legacy of the period 1914-1918 didn't help either, both in terms of a shortage of manpower and a shortage of horsepower.

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  6. pdh

    pdh Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    yes, of course.
    well pointed-out, thank you Barrie.
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  7. snkenai

    snkenai All-Pro

    Oct 5, 2010
    kenai, AK
    Stephen Noel
    I am 65, raised on the farm, with mules, then tractors. I am an avid old tractor fan, and I had never seen or heard of this system. I think it must never have made over the water. Thanks, for the picture story.
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  8. Isoterica

    Isoterica Hall of Famer

    Dec 6, 2011
    Superb series!!!!!
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  9. grebeman

    grebeman Old Codgers Group

    Interestingly enough this engine and its partner were built in 1918. Looking at the production figures for Fowlers shows that between 1900 and 1914 in general engines built for export exceeded those built for the UK market by a ratio of at least 10 to 1, sometimes more than 20 to 1. In 1918 and 1919 with similar numbers being produced, those figures reversed before reverting to type in 1920. The year 1930 saw the last ploughing engines produced by the company.

  10. grebeman

    grebeman Old Codgers Group

    Paul, tonight on BBC4 some light was thrown on this conundrum, a team of 8 ploughing oxen would be controlled by the ploughman carrying a long stick capable of reaching the leading oxen, the stick was 5½ yards long, a perch, 4 perch are a chain (the length of the cricket pitch), 40 perch are a furlong, a furlong x a perch is an acre, the area of land that could be ploughed by a team of 8 oxen in one day.

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  11. pdh

    pdh Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    haha I saw that too.

    by the way, I wondered where those exported engines were going - do you happen to know?
  12. grebeman

    grebeman Old Codgers Group


    Fowlers had an agent at Magdeburg in Germany (a relationship that obviously ended in 1914) who took a significant number of the exports, where they went to then I don't know. The colonies would have represented a considerable export market. Some of the last, and biggest engines built went to drain the Pontine marshes near Rome, I think a project initiated by Mussolini himself.

    I understand that a heavy horse could exert a pull of 1 tenth of its own weight, so a single furrow plough cutting a 7" deep furrow 10" wide would require a three horse team. A typical ploughing engine could easily draw a plough turning 6 or 7 such furrows and at a considerably faster speed.

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