Saturday, 6 August 2011

I Remember the Threshing Machine Mishap

Ozzy came with face like thunder, chewing on his pipe,
We dropped and run so fast, and hid away from gripe,
He found a whippy nut stick, and chased us when we showed,

"Within seconds we found ourselves hanging ten foot up in the air not knowing if it was safe to drop".

Ozzy Allcock lived at Woodseaves, and ran his contracting business from there. He was the man who drove the steam engine that pulled the threshing set around the area, going from farm to farm. On the larger farms it could be two or three days, and in the village of Seighford usually it was a day to a farm, sometimes a bit longer then on to the next customer.

Ozzy had two sons of his own, one joined him when he was old enough to operate the machinery, his name was Norman. Originally they travelled out to the job they were at on their bikes, with a bag to carry their breakfast lunch and a flask of tea. When they converted to tractor ( from the steamer) Norman had an old van to carry the fuel and tools they needed. With the steam engine it was up to the farm they were working at to fill him up with coal and water, so they had no fuel to carry.

Ozzy was a wiry determined sort of chap, with a dark complexion from the oil and coal smoke that he worked in. He always wore a peaked cap that was totally water proof from his oily hands and always used his hat if there was something too hot to undo or adjust on the steam engine. He had determined set to his jaw which stuck out almost to the length of his nose, and gripped his pipe in a permanent position in the side of his mouth. His eyes were deep set and wide open and alert, if any of us kids were where we shouldn't be he could tell you NO with one look. His jacket and overalls were in the same waterproof condition as his cap, and a pair of hobnail boots on his feet. He had a serious face, which hid his sense of humour from people who did not know him, and Norman was a younger version of the old man but not so oily and no pipe.

I Remember the Threshing Machine,

During the winter short of straw, call in the threshing machine,
Ricks of corn all stacked and thatched, oats peas and beans,
Mixed corn to feed the cows, and straw to bed them up,
Ozzy Alcock on his steamer, he brings his whole setup.

See the steam and smoke a puffin, o'er bank before he's seen,
Calls at the pool by Seighford Hall, for water he is keen,
Polish up with oily rag, and oil can in his other hand,
Keep busy while the tank fills up, next farm he's in demand.

His teeth have keen grip on his pipe, swinging steamer into gate,
Some of the train he leaves on the road, peg pulled out by his mate,
One at a time Box, Baler and binder, positioned to get belt into line,
Steam engine is last to shuffle in place, start in the morning by nine.

Ozzy and his mate are here by six, they travel about on their bikes,
Light fire in the old steamer, match from his pocket he strikes,
Oil all the dozens of bearings, check the belts are all tight,
Time for breakfast and a brew of tea, and fill up his pipe to light.

At quarter to nine he opens his regulator, steam to the piston apply,
All the spindles and shafts and pullies and belts all begin to fly,
Lot of dust rises from threshing box, and sets to a steady hum,
Men from the neighbouring farm who help, they know its time to come.

It takes a whole day to thresh a bay, just a bit more for a rick,
Onto the next farm up the village, he makes his way quite quick,
This is repeated around the farms, about three times each year,
Dirty and dusty job it was, not looking forward for him to reappear.


When travelling about they always took a baler and a trusser, so if anyone wanted to save some thatching straw he would use the trusser, and the baler for stock bedding straw. It was one of the occasions when the trusser was standing to one side with its drawbar on the ground. It was a two wheel machine which was heavy to lift the drawbar from the ground, then as it got higher it over centred and fly in the air. There was four of us kids in the gang waiting for the rats to start running all with sticks, getting board we though we would try to lift the trusser drawbar. It was very heavy at first, then to our surprise it started going up and all four of us shot up with it, trying to hold it. Within seconds we found ourselves hanging ten foot up in the air not knowing if it was safe to drop. Ozzy never missed a trick and we could see him striding our way with a long nut stick in his hand making whippy noise with it. There was no option left but to drop and run as fast as we could. Later we made an attempt to return only to be jumped at with the same whippy stick, from round a corner. I don't think he was too savage, but he made sure we never attempted that again. It took five men to recover and lift the trusser back upright.

I Remember the Threshing Machine Mishap

This was in the winter of 1948 when I was 10 years old. We were baling the straw and it was the binder to (save thatching straw) that was stood by.

We were playing around the yard; the threshing machine was here,
It took nine men to operate, and came three times a year,
Ozzy was the contractor, he was owner of all the machines,
One was stood aside this day; it bound the straw in sheaves.

Four of us thought were strong, see if the drawbar we could shift,
With a struggle got it off the ground, then lighter was the lift,
This machine was on two wheels, and top heavy was in shape,
At shoulder height it pulled us up, ten foot we dangled no escape.

Ozzy came with face like thunder, chewing on his pipe,
We dropped and run so fast, and hid away from gripe,
He found a whippy nut stick, and chased us when we showed,
All morning he kept it up with vigor, till too tired was he to follow.

Took five men to lift it back, as we watch from a distance,
For years he told us with a smile, you've got to find the balance,
He will always be remembered, for his pipe, and oily cap,
A wirery man with hump from age, cheerful spoken apart from mishap.


During one bad winter the packed ice on the road made it near impossible for Ozzy to get his heavy train of equipment out of Seighford over Bridgeford bank. Not even one unit at a time as the tractor was too slow to take a run at it. So arrangements were made for a local milk lorry, loaded with milk. and chains on his wheels, to pull the threshing box over the bank to his next call. Being inquisitive us kids thought we would watch this exercise closely, so close we trotted behind holding onto the rail where the bags are hung when in work. In the first hundred yards it was OK just a steady trot, then past the front of Seighford Hall the driver put his foot down to get a good run at the bank. As the speed increased so our stride bounced longer our feet touching the road every ten foot or so, it was still great fun to this point, then it got serious and we dare not let go. The bag hooks were swinging along the bar that we hung onto, and a big danger of hooking into our sleeves or even our hands. On the last bit of straight by Cooksland Hall, he must have got to his maximum speed and we could no longer hold on, so we worked our way to one side and took a dive into the snow drifts at the side of the road. No one knew of this escapade but our gang, but we never got the chance to try it again, fortunately the snow gave us a soft landing.

To win without risk is to triumph without glory.
Pierre Corneille (1606-1684)

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