This fine model of a grain threshing machine will be on display in the Powerhouse marquee at Maitland Steamfest, 12-13 April 2014, along with model steam engines, toy trains, objects related to the timber, wool, dairy and beef cattle industries, and a wonderful group of historic agriculture-related photos and steam train videos. The weekend event also offers steam train rides, penny farthing bicycle races and much more.
So what is a threshing machine? After a crop was harvested and bundled into sheaves, these stationary machines rapidly separated grain from straw and chaff. This was in the era before combine harvesters, which cut out the bundling step and separated out the grain while on the move. A thresher was powered by a portable steam engine or a traction engine. While it required much less labour than the older method of winnowing by hand, it needed workers on the ground to throw sheaves up to workers stationed on top of the machine, who fed the material into it.
The threshing machine will be displayed alongside this model steam ploughing engine. Noting that the thresher was made by H Rand of Tweedmouth, England in 1931, I wondered if Mr Rand also made this specialised traction engine (note the cable drum on its underside, for pulling a plough across a field). It was a long shot, but worth a quick check in Model Engineering magazine’s online index.
Eureka! Rand made several agriculture-related models, among them a steam ploughing engine. Next stop was the Museum’s library. It was very exciting to find photos of our engine (one of my favourite models) in the 1928 volume of the magazine. The photos show views from above and both sides, and it is unmistakably our model. Knowing that Rand made the model solves another mystery: why a prominent letter R is attached to the front of the model, which represents a Fowler ploughing engine and which is otherwise faithful to the Fowler design and finish.
Another snippet gleaned from the magazine was that the engine was strong enough to pull a three-year-old child along on a trolley. I hope many families will visit Steamfest, and that many young children will have their imaginations fired by technology and history in action.
Written by Debbie Rudder, Curator