Sandstone Heritage Trust - News

HTN 95 - Sandstone cooperates with Western Cape Enthusiasts to restore McCormick threshing box and Mitchell baler

5th June 2006

In January 2001, part of the historic Elgin Valley farm called De Hoop was sold at auction. Although I pass this farm often in the course of my work and the farm is easily visible from the approach road from the North, somehow I had never noticed a large metal object looking very much like a threshing machine!
Maybe a tree had been cut down? With a new owner wishing to clean up his yard, there was no time lost for Philip Gray-Taylor and I, both committed collectors of Stationary Engines and Farm & Horticultural Equipment to make an appointment to view it and perhaps make a deal which would keep it out of the hands of the Scrap Dealers! There was also an Australian-made Mitchell stationary baler standing next to it.

A deal was struck, and the following story describes how they was brought to my workshop, written as the story progressed:

I made a deal yesterday with the new owner of the farm where the McCormick 'blikbak' and Mitchell baler are standing. So the baler is now mine, and the blikbak is 50/50 with Philip, who shares the Ransomes 10 NHP steam portable with me.

I managed to get three of the four wheels off the baler, the 4th will definitely need a chain saw, as a tree which has since died, has grown up between the wheel and chassis, and then over the wheel. I was using a high lift jack and hoped that the root may have rotted away underground and pull out. No way! I had managed to get hold of 4 old 600/16 tyres recently, and will have them fitted, and then hopefully, just tow her away. How old were these old balers? What is amazing is the decals are almost like new, although the paint is almost gone, and there is some rust, caused by the seed pods of the tree (a gum) which tried to kill the baler, before the baler choked it to death!

It looks as if the colours were red, with yellow wheels.

I went back to the baler this evening and put on the three wheels which I had had the old 600/16's put on to. (they are getting scarce!). I had to lift the one side higher than it was when I took off the flat tyre, and as I lifted it, I heard a crack underground...a root breaking! some more,and more cracks. Then I realised I had the Hi-lift on one of the roots, and moved to another place, with more joy. I put that wheel on, and put a block under it, lowered it, and went to the side with the tree. Also feeling around, and placing the jack between the roots, I have now managed to pull the whole root out! OK, you get roots and roots, but this is a ROOT! I still can't get the wheel off, though, and the thing is still standing on the jack. I will just have to take a photo, before I start cutting!

Paid another visit this evening to the Mitchell. Managed to saw the piece that was growing down over the top of the wheel, and then thought I'd get lucky and take the split pin out of the hub and pull the whole wheel & hub off. Fat chance, even with the hi lift between the chassis and the wheel. The tree has grown right over the lip of the rim. Then I thought I might still be able to get at the heads of the bolts. (it doesn't have studs, just loose nuts & bolts. Got 3 off, but the tree has filled up the entire space between the chassis and the inside of the rim, and there's no way that you can get at the heads. I managed to put the hi lift between two legs of the tree, and broke one off at the root, but that still didn't expose anything more. Now, I think I'll have to disconnect the axle from the chassis (it hinges at one point in the middle, to be able to traverse very uneven ground), and lift the machine up, and try to move it away, and deal with the axle on its own. I took some shots.

The lower picture shows the hi-lift jack forcing the two limbs of the dead tree apart.

Back at the workshop:

I tried again to get the wheel off the baler. Didn't have a heavy enough hammer for the pin in the axle. I'm sure it will go better from there on. I have been greasing every time I go, and each hub has taken 200 pumps of grease! I managed to free off the input shaft and the angle drive box (which I'm not planning to use, but it might be handy some time)............

With much sweat, I managed to get the wheel off the Mitchell baler today. This morning, I tried to saw more through the trunk, but it was too big for the bow saw. As I thought, I would have to take the axle off. The two trailing arms were no problem, but the pivot pin was stuck, so I went back to the thing after doing another job in that area this afternoon, with a big hammer, and managed to get the pin to move, but it belled out. So I tried the other way, but couldn't get at it, and bearing in mind I didn't know how to deal with the machine once the pin was out, I decided to tip the machine on its side. 2 goes with the hi-lift, and an unbelievable tilt, and she flopped gently onto her side.

This meant that I could get a good swing at the pin, but in the process, that end belled out too. Bear in mind that the whole root and trunk had also tipped over with the machine, and was now free to rotate a bit, (about 90 deg) With a sweat, so I could swing it this way and that, to get at the end of the pin. I then had to saw through the section of the pin sticking out, and knock the pin back the other way. Of course, the punch I was using got stuck in the hole, and that was a whole process to get out!

Once the pin was out, the wheel at the bottom got trapped, and the whole machine had to be lifted up again. Once the axle was off, it was a question of the hi-lift in exactly the right place, to wrench the axle out of the wood and free the wheel. Phew!
There is a perfect indentation of three quarters of the inside of the wheel dish in the dead wood!

The Mitchell has since been given to Emile Cronje of Brakfontein, who must by now be world renowned for his collection of mostly restored grain harvesting equipment, which he showcases once a year on his farm between Heidelberg (Cape) and Riversdale. The show is usually held early in December.

Then the Threshing Machine, or Blikbak as we call it. In NZ it would be called a 'Tin Mill'.

The 'blikbak' is safely at the workshop! I rocked it out of its resting place with the Mercedes Benz Sprinter service-van and reinforced towbar, and then found that the slope out of the farm was too much for the van. I let it roll back, but as you know, drawbar things are not easy to reverse! The whole caboodle landed up crossways across the new owner of the farm's drive way!

Switch to plan B. I had to go home for lunch past a friendly customer, and borrowed a biggish (for us) 4wd tractor. (One of my own Fendt 203V vineyard tractors would have been pushed dangerously downhill, even if it had been able to get up!) It is 14km from the farm to my workshop, 1⁄2 on gravel, 1⁄2 on tar. The gravel section was really slow, whereas on the tar section I managed at a fair lick of speed, watching all the time that the left rear wheel didn't go over the edge off the tar. The right rear wheel needs a visit to the bicycle shop, for the spokes to be tuned, it wobbles like mad, and makes the whole machine shake! But the worst noise and shaking came from the feed chute, folded down, right behind me. At one stage Philip and Ryan were trailing me, picking up fallen-off parts and a pulley. One other pulley had fallen off on the farm already. It shows nothing is seized up! Time for the trip, about 13⁄4 hrs. What a pleasure to drive the unencumbered tractor back! (a Lamborghini) (about 3⁄4 hrs).

I felt I needed to pay for the use of the tractor, besides filling the fuel tank, so luckily found the oil pressure sender unit not working when I put it away. (It had been handed over to me running, otherwise I would have noticed). So I was able to donate and fit the unit as, it being similar to a SAME, I travel around with spares.

Now it's at the workshop, I can see how big it is, and how Derick Kleynhans can say it can be towed behind a bakkie (once fitted with rubber tyres) I just don't know. It really pushed me downhill!

One interesting thing was inspecting the bushes of the pulleys which came off.....100%!

Thinking back to the collection and inspection of this machine..... I have no idea when grain was last planted in this fruit growing area, still less when last it would have been threshed with a stationary Threshing Machine. There was no sign of a shed on the farm which could have housed this big machine, so we can assume, I think, that it has been outside all along. Yet apart from superficial rust on the angle-iron framework and adjusting threads, no single axle was stuck, all the fan shafts turned, shakers shook, and augers turned.

We didn't have undercover space for it either, so our 'preservation' for the last 51⁄2 years has amounted to greasing all the nipples profusely and raising the steel wheels off the ground to on to lorry rims, to prevent them from rusting.

Some time ago, I had a visit from oom Jannie du Toit, from Gordon's Bay, over the mountain. Everyone knows oom Jannie is the last word when it comes to McCormick Deering. I saw him walk several times around the machine and asked him why he was so interested. He replied that he used to contract with exactly such a machine! When asked whether he saw his way clear to restoring this one, he said "Yes" straightaway! A word with Philip, and he agreed that oom Jannie would be just the right person to take on the challenge.

However, logistics, not keenness, have prevented him from making a start, but he obviously hadn't forgotten the offer. So it came as no surprise to get a call from Sandstone Heritage Trust, to say that he had asked them to assist. Oom Jannie is behind most of the splendid collection of International, McCormick Deering and Farmall tractors and implements already in the Sandstone Collection.

We are looking forward to news of this machine's return to pristine running order!