Another year has gone past, and Emile Cronje and the Southern Cape Branch of the West Cape Tractor & Engine Club have held their seventh concecutive Old Time Harvest Day. Hennie Richter, Secretary of the whole West Cape Club made the point that Emile and Co didn't invent the concept, but they have certainly perfected them! Consider that almost all of the big harvesting equipment belongs to Emile, and the work and expense involved in collecting, restoring and displaying it, must be enormous.
He has become a magnet for people wishing to watch the equipment working, and also to people wishing to donate machinery, knowing that it stands a good chance of being restored and shown working. Every year there seems to be something new to demonstrate, and this time was no exception. Thys Swart, collector and farmer from Swellendam has dispersed his well-known collection of mostly Lanz tractors, and he has donated his extremely rare Sunshine self-propelled Header-harvester to the West Cape Club. Where better for it to be kept and displayed, than with the Emile Cronje Brakfontein Collection?
There was a large crowd of spectators as usual, and it was great, but in a way, distracting from the main events, to be catching up with old friends. I had been looking forward to meeting Manie Muller all year. He is another Swellendam farmer, but the important point is that he was born and brought up only a few hundred yards from the Compagnes Drift Mill, which I'm restoring. We have made an arrangement to meet at the Mill on a Saturday early in the new year, where hopefully he can give answers to some of our riddles.
It was also great to meet the Crowther family from Oakhurst Mill (and farm) in Wilderness. Jake reported that he has repaired damage to the roof of their well-known pelton wheel-powered threshing and milling set-up. While no plans are in place to restore the machinery in the immediate future, the situation is stable and he has arranged for the place to be professionally fumigated soon, to arrest the effect of wood borers. The Mill, Pelton Wheel and Murray & Banff threshing machine are described in Chester Staples' recently published book Mills of Southern Africa.
As usual, the day began with demonstrations of traditional harvesting methods using sickles, scythes and matjiesriet, the locally grown reed, which after bruising, is used to tie the sheaves. It was good to see the old timers, still fighting fit, getting stuck in as if they were 50 years younger! Very soon, the three reaper-binders came in and showed us the incredible difference this invention from 1841 must have made to grain farming and food supplies. This must have had the same effect on the Milling industry.
Sheaves were then collected and both the blikbakke (tin mills), IH and Massey Harris, were demonstrated, followed by demonstrations on the stationary balers. After lunch, a short ceremony was held, officially handing over the Sunshine Header, which was then demonstrated, Emile driving, Thys on the bagging platform.
1. Sunshine Auto-Header in action, Emile Cronje at the controls.
2. Stephen Sokolic and his Farmers Friend engine belted up to his International Harvester Gyromill producing stone ground meal.
3. Demo of the use of the scythe and locally grown matjiesriet for binding the sheaves.
4. The towed pick-up baler, with seats for the two operators who have to insert and tie the wires. Above the machine can be seen a tube with the prepared wires.
5. McCormick WI industrial tractor from behind. Note the heavy duty hitch and lack of PTO and 3-point arms.
6. The John Deere 55 Combine Harvester. This bagger machine is what the Stationary Engine team went out into the land with!
7. Feeding the McCormick threshing machine from a trailer behind this immaculate Ford Bluebottle.
8. Emile driving an Allis Chalmers tractor, towing his Gleaner self-powered harvester, which is powered by a Wisconsin V4 engine.
9. Engine side view of the Sunshine Auto-Header of 1934.
10. Publicity picture of the same machine from the 1934 Sunshine Auto Header catalogue
Then the early combine harvesters were started up in turn and went out into the land. The Stationary Engine Team of Derick Kleynhans, Peter Boast and I landed up on the bagging platform of a Green Machine and found our work cut out to fill, sew up and tip the bags. Derick was seeing how full he could make the bags and how difficult he could make it for me to sew them up with the remaining bag! Once the land was cleared, at one stage there were ten of these old monsters gulping through the Korog (triticale), the pick-up machines being preceeded by Cockshutt platsnyer (swather), the hard work began!
First we loaded the bags on to Emile's immaculate Chev lorry, until its springs started looking flat. Then we took a tractor and wagon out and loaded that to capacity. What next? All that was left was the bulk-trailer. Ever tried loading a full bag over the high sides of one of them? However, we developed a system with three people, two lifting and one pushing, and soon that trailer was also filling up. One of the lads was actually catching the bags and putting them down in their places! We were shown last year the technique for the two lifters: you make one continuous lift, stand up and throw from the ground to the trailer, no wasted energy swinging the bag!
Before packing up, however, there was still some threshing to do. Another trailer-full of sheaves had been brought in after the demo's. Most of the people had gone, so now we had an opportunity to do it hands-on, changing bags on the grader and watching the grain as it came from the sieves. The first class grain was coming out very cleanly, just a few ears (and bugs) were coming through. I would have liked to put a bag of this through the Stamford at Compagnes Drift, pity it was korog!
Just when we thought it was all over, Emile casually mentiuoned 'more sheaves out in the land'....... we went out and found a cache of another fully-loaded trailer! These we collected and fed through the machine. This time I had the opportunity to feed the machine, standing on the trailer nearest the 'knives', a health and safety nightmare! It was another technique to learn, to feed the machine evenly, ears first, with one person at the far end of the feed chute, throwing in for all he's worth, the one closest to the machine filling the gaps in between. It's hard work!
It had been hard work loading the bags and doing the last of the threshing. There was still a catch! Peter, Derick and Stephen Sokolic had brought engines, the latter had brought his IH Gyromill which had been stopping the crowds while he was demonstrating. With our last reserves of energy, we got these loaded, mostly IH pigs (I think Peter's 5-HP must be pregnant!) and JD E's.
Then 2½ hrs home! A quick stop at Derick's for a pocket of his potatoes broke the trip nicely! We are looking forward to the Southern Cape Club hosting next year's Annual Show, preparations are already in motion!