Saturday, October 12, 2013

The electric and the tractor

As a child who grew up on a diary farm I know the importance of a reliable supply of electricity. It seems extraordinary to me that on the farm when there was storm and tempest that our electricity supply was more reliable than it is now in many suburban areas. Cows suffer badly if they are used to being milked twice a day and then don't get milked, so every dairy farmer has a plan B in case of power failure.  As far as I can recall, on our farm plan B only came into action twice, once mid milking when all the cups fell off the cows' teats.

I recall the first time that the power went off Father backed the tractor, the Fordson Major, into near the vacuum pump and the tractor had a spinning wheel at the side of it. A belt about 15cm wide was put onto the spinning wheel to the vacuum pump. Yes, no Occupational Health and Safety back then. The cows were milked. It was very brief period in my memory when the milk was put into large and battered cans. Not long after taking over the farm Father bought a large refrigerated vat with the most interesting to me stirring mechanism. I remember the truck collection parking place was higher than the vat, so the milk must have been pumped by the truck into its vat, rather than it being a gravity feed.

The second time power was off at milking time was when we had a new John Deere tractor. It did not have an exposed spinning wheel, only a power take off. I don't know how it worked but the power take off was rigged to run the milking vacuum pump.

That the electricity supply in the bush was so reliable is remarkable and a credit to the government owned State Electricity Commission. If the supply did fail, it was repaired very quickly. Now with privatised power delivery, people in Melbourne suburbs can wait for a day for power to be reinstated after bad weather has caused the system to fail. God knows what dairy farmers do.

These memories all flooded back as I was staring at the live time power price graphs being displayed in the Hydro Discovery Centre in Cooma.  The government owned New South Wales power supply was paying heaps for power back to the private generation companies of Victoria and Queensland. In the days of the aforementioned SEC, it was the role of the government owned authority to generate sufficient power at a reasonable cost and keep the electricity system reliable. How the world has changed.

Anyways, as my grandpop used to say, back to the Fordson tractor. I have ascertained that it was a Fordson E27N Major and it was a curious beast. It did not have as starter motor and had to be crank started. It was started on petrol and then switched over to more economical power kerosene. 

Here is a photo by Hugh McCall. You can see the wheel that would spin and power things by a belt. My memory tells me it was on the other side of the tractor, but I think this is an English model, so maybe it is different, or it could be that childhood memories are not reliable and perhaps the SEC was not as good as I remember it to be either. Ours did not have headlights or tailights. I expect they were snapped off.

Looks like an inconic grey Massey Ferguson  in the corner of the shot. I don't think the plentiful Fordson was iconic to Australians.


12 comments:

  1. Kerosene tractor? I'm impressed.
    I realise now where your interest in mechanical doo-dahs began. A farmer is a handyman jack-of-all-trades first, and a food producer second.

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    1. FC, last sentence yes. That describes my father. My first mechanical project began when I pulled a ballerina jewellery box apart to find out what made the music. The next was a one of those thrice folding travelling clocks. It was pointless to put either back together. Now if I take anything apart, I mark and number.

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  2. A farming lad Andrew? That seems to be quite heroic.,... farming families used to be the backbone of the Australian economy and society.

    Quite right about privatising the community's assets. That the electricity supply in the bush was so reliable was totally to the credit to the government owned State Electricity Commission. Giving away community assets to privateers was inefficient and immoral (of course) but I think illegal as well.

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    1. Hels, our dairy farm was quite big by standards then, with 100 cows. That was only because my uncle lived with us too and participated in the milking. Most farms around us were 40 to 50 cows, which is quite laughable by today's herd numbers.

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  3. I imagine the SEC WAS as good as you remember, I certainly remember a reliable electricity supply right through my childhood and teen years, even into my children's early years. When we came back to SA in 1986 we still had ETSA which was our version of your SEC. I don't remember when the privatisations all started. I think these days dairy farms and probably other farm types, chicken fr instance would all have back up generators for power during a failure.

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    1. River, I hadn't thought it through that far, but I am sure you are correct in that farmers would have generators. In our recent travels we were looking in a shop window in Bombala at a generator and it wasn't very expensive.

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  4. "... about 15cm wide was put onto the spinning wheel to the vacuum pump..." That's when my eyes rolled to the back of my head. But I did understand that the cows got milked!

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    1. Mitchell, great threats were made to us about going near the moving belts.

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  5. Maybe they all have gennies now, or a big wheel that they make the kids run in like hamsters! ;)

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    1. Fen, I think they probably would have generators. They could not afford to let the milk spoil at the very least. Dairy sheds were quite power hungry beasts, so they would need a large generator.

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  6. This one looks lovingly restored Andrew, I bet it looks better here than it did back in the days when it was a hard working farm tractor oui !

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    1. Grace, our Fordson never looked that. It was quite battered and faded but it was still blue.

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