Sunday, September 11, 2011

Threshing machines

click photo to enlarge
Mankind has a great capacity for invention. Throughout the ascent from cave to skyscraper inventions have been one of the driving forces of change, progress and a better life for many. But not every invention is an unalloyed good. For every person who argues that nuclear weapons have prevented a third world war, there are many more who would wish that they had never seen the light of day. And the fact is, though we can invent, we cannot un-invent: once something has been formulated and exists there seems to be no easy way to prevent it existing - though nuclear war might accomplish it!

The first threshing machine was invented by a Scotsman, Andrew Meikle, in the 1780s. It was designed to take the place of hand flails in separating the grain from the husks and stalks. Hand threshing was slow, arduous and labour intensive and a machine offered speed, ease and a reduction in cost for the farmer. It didn't take long for those employed on farms to realise that such inventions reduced the number of jobs available. The Swing Riots of the 1830s were caused, in part, by the increasing adoption of threshing machines, and the rioters particularly targeted them as they roamed the countryside giving vent to their fury. The early machines were horse-powered though a primitive steam engine was used to provide power as early as 1799. However, it wasn't until the 1830s and later that steam-powered threshing machines became widely used, and they remained busy into the mid-twentieth century when combine harvesters replaced them.

Today's photograph shows a threshing machine built by William Foster and Company of Lincoln. I don't know when it dates from, but it is probably the early twentieth century. I photographed it at work, powered by a big traction engine, at the Bicker Steam Threshing event. This is an annual country fair held in the village of Bicker, Lincolnshire, that features traction engines in particular. A strong wind was making the work of those feeding the threshing machine with their pitchforks a little more unpleasant than it otherwise might have been.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/640
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -1.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On