Steam-threshing in Suffolk

Posted by Chris Graham on 3rd October 2020

With the usual round of steam events cancelled in 2020, some engines have been out working instead. Michael Pumfrey reports on a memorable, summer’s day spent steam-threshing in Suffolk.

Steam-threshing in Suffolk

It was pure nostalgia on Sunday, June 14th on a farm in Suffolk, when 1905 Burrell 6hp engine, Sir Gordon, was put through its paces all day on traditional threshing duties. (Pic: Michael Pumfrey)

On Sunday, June 14th, an engine was hard at work on a farm in Suffolk. This was August 1905 Burrell 6hp single-crank compound single-drive, sprung-mounted No. 2770, PC9300, Sir Gordon. The engine was new to Walter Loxley of Bookham, where there were other Burrells in the fleet, then to GH Cookson of Weybridge, also in Surrey.

In 1926, she was with JO Lugg & Son of Billingshurst, West Sussex. The former site here is now a modern housing estate and, since that time, Billingshurst has undergone another massive change, with a huge housing complex now being built on the edge of what used to be a sleepy, country town. Towards the end of the Second World War, the engine was damaged by a nearby bomb strike, whereupon she was towed back to the yard and wasn’t used again.

Steam-threshing in Suffolk

Michael Lugg did a lovely job finishing off Sir Gordon’s restoration; the spark arrestor adds to the engine.

Sir Gordon is named after Gordon Lugg, who ran the business for many years. She was later sold to Jon Bush, who was part-way restoring her when he unfortunately died. Michael Lugg completed the work, before she went to Preston Steam Services in 2016. Then, in October 2018, she was purchased by the Easton family, from Norwich, and has been on the East Anglian rally circuit ever since.

So, on that sunny Sunday back in June, Sir Gordon was to be found on a farm near Bungay, Suffolk, looking very smart with a new nameplate and cast chimney. The day’s job was the threshing a large stack of wheat for thatching straw, using a Ransomes, Sims & Jeffries drum, and Claas low-density straw press. The stack was a couple of years old, and provided plenty of entertainment for the dogs every time a rat or mouse made a break for freedom!

Claas balers were very much part of East Anglian rural life, especially during the 1950s. The Claas family owned farms in Scotland and East Anglia pre-WW2.

My father and I had been helping with the Burrell last season, while our own engine is off the road for boiler repairs. We’d been missing steam this year, so we were delighted to be invited along on this occasion. It was nice to be driving an engine again for the first time this year, especially as this was a commercial job, rather than the usual, 20-minute display we’re used to.

It gave me a small insight into what my ancestors did every day, although not with a Burrell SCC, which was only kept for two days before being returned to Thurlow’s of Stowmarket for being too hungry! No such problem on this occasion though and, with a ready supply of water in an authentic bowser, our every need was catered for.

Plenty of people to help load the RSJ 54in threshing drum, as the Pickering governors work well.

With the prevailing conditions, the number of people in attendance was limited, but those who were there worked hard and all enjoyed themselves. By 6pm the stack was finished, and it was time to clear up and head for home.

There’s a kind of magic to threshing with steam, the sounds and smells of the engine and tackle, and it’s all the more worthwhile knowing that the product of all that hard work is actually going to be used. All-in-all, it was a lovely day, and a good remedy to several months without steam. I’d like to thank all those who made it happen.

Steam-threshing in Suffolk

There’s nothing better than an unlined engine on strakes and ‘on the belt’, as seen here. (Pic: M Pumfrey)

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