A festive steam threshing event

Posted by Chris Graham on 2nd March 2022

A festive steam threshing event in Piltdown, East Sussex, saw a gathering of equipment, vintage machinery and knowledgeable enthusiasts.

A festive steam threshing event

A festive steam threshing event: Clearing up is essential when doing a job like this. (Pic: Peter Love)

It was back in June last year when Dave Mansi first asked Bryn Kemp and Trevor Manuel whether they were up for a festive steam threshing event involving some of their implements, with the power being supplied by Dave’s ex-Tasmanian 1908 Marshall 6hp No. 51007 single-cylinder general purpose traction engine, called Jess. The Marshall, made at Gainsborough, came back to the UK as a complete engine via Michael List-Brain of Preston Steam Services, Wingham, Kent. The engine was given the full works by the previous owner who even added a third speed in 2012, short canopy, chimney cap and smokebox ring.

Will it ever get done? It sure did and was working well at the end of 2021. (Pic: Bryn Kemp)

The engine has been with Dave Mansi since 2018 and he thoroughly enjoys roading Jess to many events with various road wagons behind. With the thought of using the engine to work on the belt with the Marshall, the cross arm governors were overhauled and ‘tuned in’ during 2021, and they worked so well on 28 December.

As Dave says, “Rallies are very boring just standing there all day doing nothing, working your engine is what it’s all about.” And he is perfectly right and that will be the case on 18-19 June at the new ‘High Weald Steam Working’ event at Danehill, Sussex, just off the A275, so do make a date and go along to see this exciting new event. It’s being organised by Dave and Ian Langley, so is bound to be good.

Restoration underway with the side panels coming off. (Pic: Bryn Kemp)

With the engine ready for use, Bryn Kemp and Trevor Manuel, who have been collecting agricultural machinery together since the very early 80s, decided it would be a fine opportunity to use their just-restored 1944 Marshall SML 54in threshing drum in anger. It has meticulously rebuilt to the correct Marshall paint specification and is a credit to the owners.

They purchased the threshing drum from the late Dick Theobold, Four Elms in 1991. It was said to have worked on a farm near Staplehurst, Kent during World War 2, operated by Italian prisoners of war. Dick purchased the drum in 1990 from a Lambert & Foster sale at Horsmonden conducted by John Butler.

A festive steam threshing event

The Marshall sees sunlight with plenty of weights holding the 1962 IHC B450 down, showing its timber ancestry. (Pic: Bryn Kemp)

The Marshall SML had worked inside a shed with a winnower on a hill farm at Detling, Kent, not far from where 1912 Allchin 6hp No. 1544 portable worked, before it was taken apart and the top works disappeared, including the crank. It was towed to Hucking where it was painted and stood at the Hook & Hatchet pub for some years, until Colin Knight was shown it while at the Kent County Show one year. After his purchase great progress was made, but it was not finished by any means and it was sold at the Hollowell Steam & Horse Show sale after his passing, where is it now? And has it been progressed since the sale? Old Glory would be delighted to know.

A festive steam threshing event

Harley Harris is seen working with the waterslide Marshall insignia decal, they need some practice to get right and have to be vanished after application. (Pic: Bryn Kemp)

Back to the threshing drum! After purchase Dick did not have the time to undertake the restoration as he was finishing off his 54in Foster drum so it changed hands to Bryn and Trevor.

Although the drum was free of woodworm, water had got into the centre section beside the bottom and top shoes, which meant replacing all the wood and some metal – that involves a lot of work! In addition all the outside steel panelling was replaced.

The sieve tray got stuck and was cleaned out with a Stihl blower! (Pic: Peter Love)

The World War 2-era Marshall drum No. 34421 was originally built on 700 x 20 cross-ply tyres and wheels which are hard to get in the right style these days. Two of the tyres are borrowed from Marion Kemp’s (Bryn’s wife) 1947 Guy Vixen 2 ton pantechnicon lorry, can any reader help them with some good tyres as the sidewalls are not very good, particularly on two of the examples used.

With the Marshall Britannia insignia water side transfer correctly applied by Harley Harris, the threshing drum was ready to take its first tentative steps threshing again, something it had not done properly for possibly some 50 years.

A festive steam threshing event

The Fisher-Humphries baler of a similar period to the Marshall drum. (Pic: Peter Love)

It was ready for a test in late summer 2021 and feeling unwell Field Marshall collector Derek Smith asked Bryn and Trevor whether they could thresh a crop of long straw wheat for a friend. This was done at Rotherfield with some success and no adjustments were needed to everyone’s surprise, the crop it produced was very fine too.

Just a few weeks later the team were out at Fletching, Sussex to cut a couple of acres of short straw wheat they had been growing. Fletching is known in agricultural folklore for Cyril Griffiths, the renowned Nuffield dealer. Even today many of the orange and later blue Leyland tractors sold by Griffiths have lasted into preservation times.

A festive steam threshing event

The 6hp Marshall makes it look so easy and its roof kept everyone dry. (Pic: Peter Love)

Back in the 1930s the company sold International equipment including the well-known black-painted International 10/20 owned by Fred Pragnell, which was out ploughing in September in 2021 at the East Sussex Championship even though fuel was in short supply.

On a very hot Tuesday in September Dave Mansi was out on his Fordson E27N Perkins P6, cutting the crop with his Massey-Harris No. 5 binder which has had a whole cluster of owners including Bernard Pike and Gerry Hillman-Smith, some have owned it twice! The binder tied the sheaves well and the twine did not break! Luckily the next day, even though it was even hotter, the crop had not dried out and was loaded away to be kept for the December event.

A festive steam threshing event

The bale tier worked well on the Fisher-Humphries baler with Bryn and Cameron Kemp in charge. (Pic: Peter Love )

As is known, after threshing the crop, the straw needs to be baled and the team brought out their 1940s Fisher-Humphries tie-baler made at the famous and very old Atlas Works in Pershore, Worcestershire.

The baler worked at Harnets Farm at Edenbridge, Kent and was purchased from Den Longley of Ashurst, Kent, who was a very keen agricultural preservationist in the 1970-80s. He and his then young son restored the baler and it was sold to Bryn and Trevor in 1990. The later owner’s replaced the steel wheels with a set of pneumatics, which made it so much easier to manoeuvre about.

A festive steam threshing event

Roger Wheatland makes sure the drum is not getting too hot during its workout. (Pic: Peter Love)

On Monday 27 December the drum and baler were pulled by two fine and powerful 55hp (for their time) International B450 Doncaster-built tractors which cost £795 new + £90 extra for a PTO. Bryn’s example, 192 LPE, dates from 1959 and Trevor’s (498 HBP) was made three years later and worked in a timber yard at Billingshurst, West Sussex. Trevor bought it from Dick Theobold in the 1980s and rebuilt the engine early in his ownership with parts coming from IHC in France of all things; despite the fact that IHC at Doncaster was still going at the time!

The mighty International Harvester Co was taken over by Tenneco in 1984, they already owned J I Case who actually owned David Brown by then of course. In fact the IHC Doncaster plant carried on to 2006 and was pulled down in 2009. FIAT bought Ford New Holland in 1991 and Case-IH in 1999 to create CNH, keeping the red Case-IH range separate to the blue New Holland brand and that’s the way it stands today.

A festive steam threshing event

World-renowned electronics expert Trevor Manuel feeds the drum from the trailer. (Pic: Peter Love)

The hard-surfaced yard was certainly tight, but in working times such machinery worked all through the winter in similar circumstances of course. These experienced professionals didn’t take long to line it all up and had things belted up ready for the next day in rather damp conditions.

It’s all so easy when you have people about who know what they are doing. (Pic: Peter Love)

The crop was well covered up and the hope was that it would still be dry enough to be thrashed on Tuesday. The weather forecast was rain overnight, drying out early morning with heavy showers to follow. It didn’t look good, but everyone was full of hope and cheer, which you always want to see in these circumstances.

Everyone was assembled by 10am on the ‘official’ Boxing Day, and Dave Mansi’s 1908 6hp Marshall Jess was all lined up and belted up in no time at all to the Marshall threshing drum approximately 36 years its junior. By then of course the governor belt had been attached to Jess.

The two International B450s with the earlier engine design used in this model to 1964. The British B450 had a long production life from 1957-70. (Pic: Peter Love)

The engine was run up slowly as the crew forked the stooks up to Trevor on top of the drum – he was the feeder for the day. Fellow threshing drum owner Roger Wheatland was on the sacks and was joined by yet another threshing drum owner Jeff Burgess who all came to enjoy the occasion. Others here included Charlie Ralph, Leonor Austin, Jack Waterman, Thomas Metcalfe, Cameron Kemp, Austin Hawkins and more.

Dave Mansi was well prepared if he hit any trouble! (Pic: Peter Love)

Colin Evans was thoroughly enjoying the occasion and there were beverages and refreshments for all who were there. Also spotted was Wayne Elphick who is nearly there with 1913 Marshall 7hp traction engine No. 61880 and is looking forward to getting his original-style pressure gauge – there is a waiting list for these. Wayne is making new lagging sheets at present to the original pattern with the ‘show only’ beading attached, which just a few Marshall traction engines ever had fitted.

The concrete surface made lining the machinery up so much easier. (Pic: Peter Love)

The crop was dry enough to be threshed and after a heavy shower had passed over and wetted everyone for a while, it was all action again! It produced eight bags of wheat and was a very impressive occasion. Luckily the huge block and tackle on the back of Jess was not needed as the party cleared up after the grand event which was concluded by 3pm as the weather became brighter.

The following day Bryn and Trevor were back on site to take the drum and baler back home. Trevor on B450 498 HBP was at the head end of the Marshall drum this time with road user awareness boards in place on the drum and baler, all the equipment is fully insured.

Trevor blows the top structure down as the clearing up starts. (Pic: Peter Love)

Talking of which, implements need to be insured at all times, particularly when used on the road and at a public working event. Both tractors were running on white diesel rather than red, which is illegal of course, and will be even more so when the new regulations come in on 1 April 2022.

All-in-all, the event was a great success and it’s hoped it can become an annual event by those who were involved.

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