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Special people operate historic agricultural machinery in world record attempt

Dorothy - 25/03/03

At the end of March it will be a hundred years since W J Clarke purchased his first Burrell traction engine and began his business as a threshing contractor in South Canterbury. The South Canterbury Traction Engine Club with the help of enthusiasts from other areas will attempt a world record by having up to 13 threshing mills operating at the one time - the same number which W J (Bill) Clarke had operating in the 1920s. Among the enthusiasts operating the machines will be descendants of Bill Clarke, and Esmay Pitt, the first woman to gain her "steam ticket" to operate the engines through the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. John Kyle, Bill Clarke's grandson, and Esmay will be on board their Burrell steam traction engine. Don Clarke, aged 93, the last surviving member of Bill's family, will be there enjoying the occasion and re-living old memories.

When I spoke to Esmay this week she said that the Club was expecting more than twenty engines to be at the rally. Nine of these were once owned by Bill Clarke. Thirteen teams will be operating thirteen historic threshing mills and a historic steam traction engine will drive each mill. People taking part in the rally will be coming from as far away as Rangiora and Edendale.

Esmay and John are exceptionally busy at present as it is harvest time on the farm as well as the last month before the rally. They took time to talk to me about it.

John Kyle's long involvement with farming and farm equipment
John grew up with traction engines in the sheds on the farm of his father, Tom Kyle. He was interested in the rallies from the very first one which was held the day after his grandfather Bill Clarke died in 1958. He has been involved in farming all his life and in 1972 he was in the finals of the Mobil-sponsored Silver Plough competition.

Esmay and John show Dorothy John's carefully maintained engine in its shed
Esmay and John show Dorothy John's carefully maintained engine in its shed
Esmay Pitt an enthusiast for historic farm equipment and for Country and Western singing
Esmay, well known for her singing, has not been singing publicly for the last few years as she has found involvement with the traction engines has taken all her spare time.

"Once you have got the steam in your blood you can never get enough of it. I can hardly wait for the rally at the end of the month." she said. "I qualified for my "steam ticket" two years ago. At present John and I are getting the Burrell traction engine ready for the visit of the boiler inspector. The lagging needs to be taken off and the boiler certified every two years. With the old technology there is an element of danger. You have to know what to do if something goes wrong. You're dealing with 200 lb of pressure.

"John and I are also restoring a Model T one ton truck which was used to carry coal to the engines. We are restoring it to its original state - every nut and bolt."

Esmay's enthusiasm for the old machinery is inspiring her to re-line a building on the farm and set up a museum to display two traction engines and other relics from the W J Clarke enterprise.

John explained that the teams operating the traction engines and threshing mills will have them working for twenty minutes at a time several times a day so that the public can gain a picture of what the work was like.

The Richard Pearse Airport in Timaru is the venue for the W J Clarke Memorial Rally and the Richard Pearse Centennial Airshow on 29-30 March 2003. On 31 March a replica plane will attempt the flight made by Richard Pearse a hundred years ago.

Plan to be there or watch the new articles in NZine in April. There'll be one about the rally and the airshow.

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