Farming Machinery


Steam engines were never numerous in the Bishopsbourne, Tasmania or Green Rises districts but did play an important part in farming for at least 70 years until being replaced by the tractor in the 1940’s.

The earliest engines were stationary units and were moved from place to place by teams of bullocks, however, with the passing of time later models were built to enable self propulsion, with these machines being known as traction engines.

Who owned steam engines?

Generally the only people owning and operating steam engines in the area were contractors with threshing machines, chaff cutters or stationary straw presses. Those known to have engines were:

  • Norm Shipp at Toiberry, two engines of which one was a “Marshall”
  • Alf Bosworth of Bishopsbourne
  • Carl Smith who lived and farmed in the Green Rises district near “Butleigh Hill”
  • Uncle Arthur Richardson of “Melrose” near Pitts Lane, Bracknell

At Cressy, there were at least three engines:

  • two owned by Fred Blake and his son Jack,
  • the other machine being owned by Jack Smellie.

The only machines that I’m aware that came to “The Grange” in Dad’s time was that of Uncle
Arthurs’ whose machine was brought to crush gorse prior to clearing and Norm Shipps’ who came thrashing grain and cutting chaff.

Norm Shipp with his steam engine and threshing drum at The Grange Bishopsbourne

How they worked

The steam engines were mostly fired with wood and in a full days work would consume about two tons. A small supply would be carried on the machine but would regularly need to be topped up during the day.

The boiler required some eighty to one hundred gallons of water with the engine carrying a further one hundred and thirty gallons in a tank which was located to the rear of the engine. When more water was required this would be carted to the machine and transferred to the engine by suction pipe. A fully laden engine would therefore weigh about twelve tons.

The wheels were of iron with the traction engines having grips attached to help with travelling. It is said that when on corrugated metal roads the ride was very rough, so much so that the engine driver would stand on his toes to soften the jolts.

Athol Richardson recalls when travelling in the Mountain Vale region the jolting was so violent and which probably caused the ground to shake, that the rabbits would scamper from their burrows as the engine passed.

The steam engines were fairly trouble free apart from the occasional blowing of a water tube which passed through the fire box. When this occurred there was a great hissing of steam and thumps and bangs with a cloud of steam surrounding the engine. Dad recalls a tube blowing at “Stoke” when Uncle Jeff was a small boy and on him witnessing the event, became terrified and ran inside and got under his father’s chair.

Horses were also frequently frightened by the engines and when people were travelling by jinker or cart or on horse back, would be cautious when meeting or passing them. At threshing time when carting loads to the drum, the wagons would be pulled in so that the horses were facing away from the steam engines, but even then would sometimes take fright and move, occasionally backwards pushing the waggon into the belt taking it off the machine


Dad sometimes recalled the coming of their first tractor, around the year 1936, a McCormick Deering 10-20, so named as the horse power delivered was 10 on the pulley and 20 on the draw bar.

It was purchased new, from agents Nettlefold’s of Launceston, and was delivered by truck to the farm with it being unloaded onto the pond bank near their “Stoke” home.

The engine was mostly run on kerosene, but when cold had to be started on petrol and allowed to warm up before being switched to kerosene. The engine was started using a crank handle turned by hand, with the necessary spark being generated by a magneto as the tractor did not have an alternator, starter motor or battery.

The wheels were of iron with the rear wheel rims having steel grips attached and were very
effective when working in wet conditions. Later pneumatic tyres were purchased and fitted to all four wheels, which gave a smoother ride and saved the need and time in attaching covers over the rear spikes when travelling on roads.

Uncle Jeff recalls that the only times they had any trouble starting the tractor was when they had a dog named “Spot”. He was a white dog with a fairly large and noticeable black spot around an eye, and when the tractor was being cranked would sneak up on the person doing the cranking and nip them on the backside if that person was not on the look out. On several occasions “Spot” was threatened with a second black eye for his unwelcome actions.

Another incident which Uncle Jeff remembers, comes from the time when a pin in the governors of the 10-20 gave way, resulting in the tractor uncontrollably “taking off”. He turned the tractor into a open space in the paddock and managed to turn off the fuel and rode the tractor at speed up and down the paddock until the fuel ran out.

The tractor did a huge amount of work on grandfather’s farms, “Stratheden”, “The Grange” and also on neighbouring farms when doing contract work. It was eventually sold to a property owner at Lebrina.


A few years before the coming of the 10-20 tractor, grandfather (Melvie) purchased a grain stripper, a horse drawn ground driven Sunshine unit.

It was obtained around 1930 at Roy Young’s clearing sale (where Peter Skirving now lives), at a cost of £25-0-0 with Dad bringing it home to “Stoke” with two horses. When he reached the steep descent at the top of Grubber’s Hill he gradually let the machine down the hill with chocks, this due to the machine having no brakes and secondly no pole to enable the horses to stop the machine running forward.

When working on average going, four horses could pull the stripper although was fairly hard going for them, therefore to ease the load six horses were mostly used and preferred. Uncle Trevor recalls that the horses would be coupled in such a way that each horse shared the load equally. After the 10- 20 was purchased, a tractor type draw bar was fitted and thereafter was mostly pulled by the tractor.

A few years after purchase, to make the stripper more efficient, Grandfather had Laurie French fit a motor to the machine but it never seemed to work well and eventually seized up when it ran out of oil. The engine was removed with the machine again being operated by ground wheel drive.


The growing of oaten hay for chaff was a major activity for Grandfather Badcock and family as
well as for other farmers throughout the region, as chaff was much in demand particularly for the large numbers of horses in use in Launceston and the surrounding towns.

When the hay was to be chaffed it would be cut when not quite ripe, or in the slightly green and still partly sappy stage. Using the reaper-binder (which was mostly known as the binder), the hay would be cut into sheaves and soon after stooked and left to dry. A stook would consist of eight sheaves propped up against each other in a circle, with butts to the ground and string knots facing inwards.

When sufficiently dry the sheaves were gathered and carted to a central stack and later cut into chaff according to demand.

Grandfather Badcock had a least two binders and over the harvest time were constantly in use. Before the coming of tractors, three horses were mostly used to pull a binder.

One of the binders was purchased when almost new, it having done only one season’s work on Mr. Charles Herbert’s nearby farm along the Elphinstone road. Mr. Herbert had ordered a new binder after his existing binder had been destroyed by fire. One day before going home for lunch he had placed his tobacco pipe in his coat pocket, which he left at the binder, but it would seem the pipe had not been properly extinguished and set fire to the coat which in turn set alight the binder destroying it.

A new binder was ordered but on its way from England the ship caught fire and it was also destroyed. The agent loaned Herbert a new binder until another could by got from England, with Grandfather purchasing the loaned binder when it arrived.


Neither Dad nor Grandfather ever owned a chaff cutter, instead relying on a local machine and
crew. The cutter mostly used was Norton’s who lived next door and which was later taken over by their nephew, Norman Shipp.

Chaff cutters came in a variety of makes and capacities, ranging from a one man hand operated machine to that which needed a gang of men and could cut up to two thousand bags a day. With twenty to twenty two bags of chaff to the ton this meant that about a hundred tons was cut and bagged in the day. One of the big capacity machines was an American made Bunkle.

Like the reaper binder, the chaff cutter has changed little in more than a century with the most obvious change in operations being in how the machine is powered, the tractor now having replaced the steam engine.

In my very earliest years the steam engine was still being mostly used, but from the late forties Norm Shipp started to use his Field Marshall tractor. The tractor was a single cylinder unit and it was always intriguing to see it being started, a cartridge being inserted into the cylinder and then fired to get it going. Sometimes the engine would start in the reverse direction and when this occurred the gearing would also be reversed, giving the tractor four or five reverse gears and one forward.

Quite a large gang was required when cutting chaff. In the days of steam one man would be kept busy keeping a supply of wood and water up to the engine, while the engine driver was responsible for maintaining a sufficient head of steam. Of the gang, the engine driver was always the first to start work, it requiring about two hours to get a sufficient head of steam when the engine was cold and about an hour if the engine was still warm.

Due to the danger of the steam engine setting fires, it was usually stationed on the down wind side of the stack and further distanced by using quite a long and heavy leather drive belt between it and the cutter.

On the stack at least two and sometimes three sheaf pitchers would keep up a constant supply of sheaves to the band cutter, who in turn would direct the straw to the person feeding the cutter, the sheaves being fed in heads first. At the bagging station at the rear of the cutter, another man would be employed putting on the empty bags and taking off bags when filled.

Most machines needed two people to sew the filled bags with a further three men stacking and carting. However, when chaff was being retained for use on the farm, the bags would only be partly filled and not sewn and carted to the chaff shed, usually located at the end of the stable, where the bag would be carried up the ladder to the loft doorway and the chaff tipped into the shed.

The workers pay in Dad’s time was 10d. per ton for all people working in the gang, with all being paid by the contractor with the exception of the bag carrier who was paid by the farmer and sometimes was the last man to receive his wages. This was due to some farmers insisting on getting the bag weights back from the receiving merchant before making payment, a habit which sometimes was a source of friction.

Gang shenanigans

Numerous stories would be told about the gangs and the antics of the individuals. One story related to the time that Norm Shipp’s gang was working at a property in the Campbell Town district. Near where they cutting was a deserted two storied house which had been offered for accommodation for the men but had the reputation of being haunted.

On retiring for the night they set up camp on the ground floor with the men declaring that they did not believe in ghosts. One of the gang, Tom Parsons, waited until the last man had gone to sleep and then crept upstairs where there was a single furrow plough with chains attached and proceeded to wheel it across the floor. By the time he got down stairs all the men had fled the house.

On another occasion Norm Shipp on finishing cutting, left his steam engine, cutter and humpy on the road corner immediately to the east of the former Little Hampton church and on the convey being spotted by a group of young men on their way home to Bracknell from a dance at Longford, decided to unhitch the humpy and which they wheeled a near half mile down the road to the church, where they placed it in the stable and shut the door.

In the humpy were the pitch forks and other essential equipment needed for chaff cutting. It took Norm about two weeks to find the humpy during which time work was stopped.


For a long period of time the thrashing machine, or drum as it was sometimes called, was a very familiar machine on farms. They were mostly English makes with the Ransom, Sims and Jeffries machine being the most common.

When the threshing machine arrived it heralded a very busy period, work would begin early and go late, with start up time being 7am and finish 6pm.

Breakfast would be put on at 6am, lunch at 12 noon, morning tea at 9.30 and afternoon tea at 3.30pm.

The lunch break was an hour and for morning and afternoon tea in later years, half an hour.

In grandfather’s younger days the day would be even longer with the gang doing an hour before breakfast.

With a gang of fourteen men needing to be fed, a heavy load also fell on those preparing food and drinks. Unless the workmen lived close by, they would stay on the job and sleep in available barns and sometimes in the stack, consequently food would need to be provided for breakfast, dinner and tea, as well as for morning and afternoon tea and supper.

With the work being heavy and energy draining, a good supply of nutritious food was needed plus huge quantities of liquids to quench their thirst. Aunty Joyce sometimes recalls that tea by the milk bucket full was fairly continuously carted to the men particularly in hot weather.

I do not recall the drum working at the farm as its operations were taken over by the header which was purchased in 1944, but till that time numerous machines would be scattered throughout the district. I have heard Dad say when lunch time came and the whistle would be blown to stop work, anything up to a dozen separate whistles could be heard.

The threshing machine needed a large gang of men for its operation. On straw stacks two men were required for pitching but when doing peas four were required as the rolls needed two men to carry them to the feeding platform.

For sheaves another man was positioned to turn the sheaves for the band cutter who also fed the straw into the drum.

As threshing took place the grain would be separated from the straw with the grain passing through a series of sieves and screens for cleaning and grading and then directed to a series of shutes at the rear of the machine, two shutes for first quality grain with the other shutes taking grain of progressively lesser quality, the last shute being of the lowest grade. At the shutes one man was required to take off the filled bags, passing these to the sewer with a third man carting and stacking.

The carrier was also responsible for threading the needle for the sewer. A bag of wheat or peas would weigh on average 180lbs., barley 150 and oats 120lbs. Another man would have the job of removing the threshed straw and stacking it.

When crops were being carted from the paddocks direct to the threshing machine, a convoy of three or four waggons would be used, each waggon carrying a ton to a ton and a half. With peas, two men were required to lift the rolls onto the waggon.

Several of grandfather’s family sometimes remember a strike by the workmen while threshing at “Stoke”.

A disagreement broke out over the time stopped for morning and afternoon tea breaks, the workmen insisting that 20 minutes be taken instead of the normal and approved 15 minutes.

With agreement unable to be reached, the workmen refused to work and were sacked, with the threshing being completed by a compliment of local farmers.

One of those involved in the strike, Mr. Alf Mahar from Bishopsbourne, returned a week later and apologised for his part in the dispute and going on strike, although I sometimes wonder whether he may have been under some pressure from his wife to do so as she was a member of the Shipp family and had brothers and cousins farming in the immediate area.

Athol recalls that in the 1930’s the pay for a 10 hour day was ten shillings, rising to 12/6 in the


On the 7th. August, 1944 Grandfather (Melvie) signed a contract with H.V. McKay Massey Harris Pty. Ltd of Sunshine, Victoria to purchase “One 8 ft. H.S.T. Power Take Off Header with tippin,
bagging platform canvas extension for Walkers and No. 2 5ft. 9in pickup attachment, pea screen and concave”.

The cash price was £360-19-0 with delivery scheduled for on or about the 15th. December, 1944. The machine was trucked by rail to the Little Hampton railway station.

In his diary Dad records its arrival and start up.
(Mon) 25 DEC 1944 – “We four boys spent a good part of the morning untrucking the header and getting it home……”

(Tues) 26 DEC 1944 – “We boys went to Little Hampton station and got the rest of the header and took it to “Stoke”. Trevor and I had dinner there after which we and Lloyd took the finger bar etc. out of the mower for extension”. Uncle Trevor recalls taking the mower bar to Vic Chapple at Bracknell and having a foot length welded onto the end. Initially the peas were cut with the mower ahead of the header but after several years the mower cutter bar was attached to the header immediately in front of the pea front pickup. This was a saving in both time and labour and reduced pea shelling.

(Frid) 29 Dec 1944 – “…….we went to “Stoke” to help them with the peas when they started the header, which they did after dinner in the 7 acres by the bush. Harold Nevin and Harold Doherty, an expert from Sunshine, were there to start it. Things went O.K. and we had 18 bags of peas off by knock off time”.

(Mon) 8 JAN 1945 – “Trevor and Jack helping Lloyd do the 23 acres of blue peas”.

(Wed) 10 JAN 1945 – “Trevor and Lloyd brought tractor, header, stripper and mower up for our grain”.

(Thurs) 11 JAN 1945 – “Trevor Jack and Lloyd were doing our blue peas……..”

(Frid) 12 JAN 1945 – “……….Trevor, Jack and Lloyd were heading blue peas, part of 45 acres (Stratheden). They finished at dark. There were 113 bags of good peas.”

(Sat) 13 JAN 1945 – “………Trevor, Jeff and Lloyd were cleaning up after the pea heading and stripped the 4 acres of Algerian oats in 25A at “Stratheden” – 29 of good oats and 6 of screenings. After that Jeff and Lloyd took the tractor and header down to do Dad’s little paddocks of blue

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