1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Machines for Preparing the Crops for Market: (a) Steam Engines

(Part 26)


Machines for Preparing the Crops for Market: (a) Steam Engines

The extent to which steam-power is now employed for the purposes of the farm is another marked feature in the recent progress of agriculture. We have already referred to the value of water-power for propelling agricultural machinery.

When it can be had an insufficient and regular supply. As it is only in exceptional cases that farms are thus favored, the steam-engine is the power that must generally be reckoned upon, and accordingly its use is now so common that a tall chimney has become, over extended districts, the prominent feature of nearly every homestead, It has been satisfactory shown that grain can be thrashed and dresses by well-constructed, steam-propelled machinery, at one-fourth the cost of thrashing by horse-power and dressing by hand-fanners. So great, indeed, is the improvement in steam-engines, and so readily can the amount of power be accommodated to the work to be done, that we find them everywhere superseding, the one-horse gin, and even manual labour, for pumping, churning, coffee-grinding, &c. Wherever, then, a thrashing-mill is used at all, it may be safely asserted that, next to water, steam is the cheapest power by which it can be propelled. The portable engine is the form which has hitherto found most favour in the southern parts of the kingdom. Mr. Pusey thus states the reason for which he regards them as preferable to fixed engines: --- "If a farm be large one, and especially if, as is often the case, it be of an irregular share, there is great waste o labour for horses and men in bringing home all the corn in the straw to one point, and in again carrying out the dung to a distance of perhaps two or three miles. It is therefore common, and should be general, to have a second outlaying yard. This accommodation cannot be reconciled with a fixed engine.

"If the farm be of a moderate size, it will hardly --- and if small will certainly not --- bear the expense of a fixed engine: there would be waste of capital in multiplying fixed engines to be worked but a few days in the year. It is now common, therefore, in some countries for a man no invest a small capital ion a movable engine, and earn his livelihood by letting it out to the farmer.

"But there is a further advantage in these movable engines, little, I believe, if at all known. Hitherto corn has been thrashed under cover in barns; but with these engines and the improved air at once as it stands. It will be said, how can you trash out of doors on a wet day? The answer is simple. Neither can you move your rick into your barn on a wet day; and so rapid is the work of the new thrashing-machines, that it takes no more time to thrash the corn than to move it. Open-air thrashing is also far pleasanter and healthier for the labourers, their lungs not being choked with dust, as under cover they are; and there is, of course, a saving of labour to the tenant not inconsiderable, But when these movable steam-engines have spread generally, there will arise an equally important saving to the landlord in buildings. Instead of three or more barns clustering round the homestead, one or other in constant want of repair, a single building will suffice for dressing corn and for chaff-cutting. The very barn-floors saved will be no insignificant item. Now that buildings are required for new purposes, we must, if we can, retrench those buildings for whose objects are obsolete. Open-air thrashing may appear visionary, but it is quite common with the new machinery; nor would any one-perform the tedious maneuver of setting horses and men to pull down a rick, place it on carts, and build it up again in the barn, who had once tried the simple plan of pitching the sheaves at once into the thrashing machine." [Footnote 324-1]

To us these reasons are inconclusive. A fixed engine can be erected and kept in repair at greatly less cost than a portable one of the same power. It is much easier to keep the steam at working pressure in the common boiler than in the tubular one, which, from its compactness, is generally adopted in portable engines. It is, no doubt, very convenient to draw up engine and machinery along side a rick and pitch the sheaves at once upon the feeding-board, and very pleasant to do this in the sunshine and "caller air"; but we should think it neither convenient nor pleasant to have engine and thrashing-gear to transport and refix every time of thrashing, to have grain and chaff to cart to the barn, the thrashed straw to convey to the respective places of consumption, and all this in circumstances unfavourable to accurate and cleanly disposal of the products, and excessive exposure to risk of weather. Sudden rain will no doubt, interrupt the carrying in of a rick in the one case as the thrashing of it in the other; but there is this vast difference in favour of the favour of the former, that the partially carried rick is easily re-covered; machinery, products of thrashing, and work-people, are safely under cover; and the engine is ready by a slight change of gearing for other work, such as bruising, grinding, or chaff-cutting.

It is urged on behalf of the portable engine, that in districts where the farms are generally small, one may serve a god many neighbours. Now, not to dwell on the expense and inconvenience to small occupiers of frequently transporting such heavy carriages, and of having as much of their crop thrashed in a day (there being manifest economy in having at least a day’s work when it is employed) as will meet their demands for fodder and litter for weeks to come, we are persuaded that on farms of even 80 or 100 acres, a compact fixed engine of two or three horse power will thrash, bruise grain, cut chaff, work a churn, and cook cattle food, &c., more economically than such work can be done in any other way. It is very usually to find on such farms, especially in dairy districts, an apparatus for cooking cattle food by steam, or by boiling in a large copper, where as much fuel is used every day, and as much steam generated, as would work such an engine as we have referred to, and do the cooking over and above. Even a small dairy implies a daily demand for boiling water to scrub vessels and cook food for cows. How manifestly economical, then, when the steam is up at any rate, to employ this untiring, obedient agent, so willing to turn the hand of anything, in performing the heavy work of the homestead with a power equal, perhaps, to that of all the men and horses employed upon the farm.

Whenever tillage by steam-power is fairly available, there will undoubtedly be an inducement to use the portable engine as a thrashing-power that has not hitherto existed, as there will be a manifest economy in having both operations performed by the same engine. Even then, however, there is a high probability of its being found impracticable to withdraw the engine even once a week for the needful thrashing during the six or eight weeks immediately after harvest, when it will be of such consequence to make diligent use of every available hour for pushing on the tillage.

The kind of fixed engine most approved for farm-work in the north of England and South of Scotland is the overhead crank engine, attached by direct action to the spur wheel, and sometimes even to the drum shaft of the thrashing-machine. Their cheapness, simplicity of construction, easy management, and non-liability to derangement, fit these engines in an eminent degree for farm-work. [Footnote 325-1]


324-1 Mr Pusey's Report on Implements. -- Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, vol. xii, p. 621.

325-1 See article on "Comparative Advantages of Fixed and Portable Steam Power for the Purposes of a Farm," by Robert Ritchie, Esq., C.E., Edinburgh, in Transactions of Highland Society for March 1852, p. 281.

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