This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
On Wednesday, May 27, we joined the company which went to Wimbish Hall Farm, to witness the trial of a machine that, beyond a doubt, is one of those inventions destined to supersede, to a certain extent, the most ancient implement of husbandry, the dextrous management of which has hitherto, constituted the proudest achievement of the agricultural laborer, and the glory of the farmer. Notwithstanding the claims that prescription confers upon this old and favorite servant, simplified and perfected as it has been by science, and beautified by artistic skill, its condemnation as a cultivator solely dependent for its application upon animal power, is sufficiently insured to render its decline but a question of time. Ere long, it must be allied with, or superseded by, the monster energy of steam in place of horse power.
Wimbish Hall is situated at the distance of four miles from Saffron Walden, in Essex. On the farm on which the trial of the Traction Engine took place, the soil consists of a strong, very strong clay, common to the district, but having a subsoil of a mixture of clay, sand, and marl. The field on which we found the machine at work, was, perhaps, as unfavorable a one, for the success of the trial, as could have been selected in the whole kingdom. With a soil naturally heavy, adhesive, and intractable, it had, as a matter of course, been latterly neglected by the out-going tenant; and, being under a dead, untilled fallow, was sufficiently hard-baked by the sun, wind, and rain, alternately, to make it difficult enough to manage under any circumstances, bat particularly so with a new machine, handled by men unaccustomed to its peculiarities. Added to these disadvantages, was the arrangement by which the land was to be ploughed athwart the old ridges, which greatly increased the difficulty of working the ploughs.
It was remarked to us by several old farmers, that "if they worked well on that land, they would do so anywhere".
There were only three ploughs at work when we reached the field. On the first day, there were, as we understood, six, or, rather, three double ploughs; but it was evident these were not adapted, in point of strength, to the stubborn character of the soil, for all of them were broken or strained. Those subsequently used were the common ploughs of the farm. The machine was travelling at the rate of about three miles per hour, or probably two and three-quarters miles, exclusive of stoppages. Its motion was steady and direct; and it appeared to be under as complete control, in regard to stopping and backing, to an inch, as a horse, the ploughs performing their part with perfect efficiency, if not with ease to the men who held them, and who had evidently no sinecure berth of it. The furrows turned were fully a foot in width, and four, six, eight, and even ten inches in depth, accordingly as the managing engineer wished to test the capability of the machine. We particularly observed that the furrows, instead of being turned over in one continuous, unbroken surface, which, in the common ploughing of such land, renders the harrow useless until the soil has been mellowed by the atmosphere, were, by the quick action of the ploughs, broken up and separated, so as to expose the whole body of earth to the action of the air.
We have no doubt that, if necessary, the harrows might have been efficiently employed the next day; for, on pressing the soil with the foot, it at once crumbled to pieces. We mention this as of particular importance on so adhesive a soil as the one on which the trial took place. In conversation with several of the farmers of the district, they one and all expressed their approval of the manner in which the ploughs performed their work. Some of the older ones feared the ploughing "was too deep," admitting, however, at the same time, that; where the land-drains had been dug (which, of course, were much deeper), they would expect the best crops, either of corn or roots. A delay of three hours took place, in consequence of the breaking of a piston belonging to the pump. This, however, was neatly repaired by a smith in the village, and the machine got to work again about four o'clock.
Having thus given our opinion of the work performed (in which respect, we consider the trial to have been successful), we have the less pleasing, but not less necessary task of stating what, according to our views, are the most apparent defects of the machine. These are chiefly confined to the mode of traction, which, as applied when we saw it, appeared irregular and confused, rendering the ploughs very liable to be thrown out of their work. It struck us that this was chiefly owing to the distance between the tractive power and the plough; or, in other words, the length of the traotion-chain, which increases both the difficulty of holding the plough and the irregularity of its movement. In common ploughing with horses, it is considered that the nearer the plough is to the motive power, the steadier and more regularly it works - on the principle that the segment of a small circle is under more complete control than that of a large one, the gyrations of which, too, are wider when a disturbance takes place.
Another inconvenience (arising, we apprehend, from the same cause), is the great strain upon the men holding the ploughs. This, on such a soil as that of Wimbish Hall Farm, must very soon exhaust their strength. And besides, the chains approaching so near each other, are liable to get entangled, whilst the men find it very difficult to keep clear of them and avoid an accident. They certainly ought to have nothing to think of bnt the work before them, which, with a machine of such power, requires undivided attention; and this cannot be given with the chains in such close proximity to the legs of the ploughmen as was the. case on Wednesday. Possibly, this objection may be, in some respect, modified with the double ploughs, which allow more space between each chain. But the former objection holds equally good with them as with the single plough, being, at the same time, of double the importance in regard to delay.
The Endless Railway, unsightly though it be, performed its task with perfect efficiency, and conveyed the eight or ten tons' weight over the land, without any material indentation to mark its pressure. The steam-engine was of ten-horse power; but, with a pressure of seventy pounds, is equal to thirteen-horse. This allowed four and one-third horse power to each plough, though it was the opinion of some of the farmers that it would have required five or six horses to have drawn a furrow of the same width and depth on the same land. The engine consumes about ten cwt. of coals per day, when at full work; and the engineer calculated that it would turn over eight acres of such land as that of Wimbish Hall Farm, in the same time.
On the whole, we consider the trial to have been a perfectly successful one, and that it demonstrates, to a certainty, the applicability of steam, as a motive power, to the cultivation of the land. BoydelPs machine had already been tried with success at Chelmsford, Thetford, and other places, upon soil both of a kinder and lighter texture, and that had also been previously under proper cultivation. At Thetford, as we understand, with six ploughs, it turned over twenty acres per day, and had the whole power of the engine been applied, it would have completed thirty acres. It only wanted a trial on such soil as that at Wimbish Hall, to complete the series. We consider that and the Thetford soil as the two extremes of light and heavy land, after cultivating which with success, no doubt can be enter- , tained of the machine working well upon soils of intermediate texture.
Whatever defects, therefore, the machine may exhibit in this, its infancy, they may scarcely interfere with the question at issue, as they will undoubtedly be rectified as experience points them out. Certainly, we have advanced far enough already to be assured that steam-ploughing is perfectly practicable. And with so many mechanical heads at work on the subject, we confidently expect, ere long, to see a perfect and simplified machine, applicable to all soils, and at least as economical as horse-power. - London Farmer1* Magazine.