If you haven't already, you may like to read
Part 1 of this story.
Although conditions were hard the system was well established and
functioned for years. Bill was always looking ahead, however, and
experimenting with design.
Conditions for the men on the mills
While they worked for Bill the men got their keep and Don recalls the
when the labourers got 1/9 an hour, while the engine driver got 3/-
mill feeder would be paid more than the other men in the mill. A penny
taken off from 1/9 for tax. The farmer paid Bill Clarke £3 (three
an hour while the threshing mill was working on the property.
The mills worked six days a week and most of the men biked home to
families for Saturday and Sunday nights, returning to a very early
If the weather was unsuitable and no work was done the men got no pay.
season there were such strong nor-west winds for three weeks that the
could work for only about two hours before the wind came up. In 1924,
however, the mills worked for fifteen weeks and never had a wet
There was no pay for the times when the mill was being shifted from
farm to another. Most of the jobs were within twenty miles of
The 3 speed Burrells could travel at up to 20 m.p.h. On one occasion
engines went to Sherwood Downs, a distance of forty miles.
Work began each day at 6 a.m. and continued till 8 p.m. There was a
hour break for breafast, another half hour for lunch, and fifteen
for morning and afternoon tea.
At lunch time the engine driver and the mill feeder had their lunch
and then while the others ate their lunch the driver oiled up the
The outfit of work clothes cost £1.00 - dungarees 5/-, shirt 2/6,
5/-, straw hat 2/6, plus socks and a handkerchief to tie around the
Bill Clarke an inventor
Bill liked to design his own equipment. He had his own design for the
bunkhouses which were towed to each job - the 'stinks' as they are
in the traction engine language. As washing between Monday morning
Saturday evening was confined to a rapid wash in cold water from the
it was no doubt an appropriate title. The men slept in bunks with
The traction engine pulling a mill, the galley, and the 'stink'
Although Bill's 'stinks' were well built the unions thought that they
didn't give the men enough space and ventilation, but Bill fought the
unions and won.
The cut-down mill
Bill was concerned about how hard the men had to work tossing the
from the dray to the top of the mill and designed a cut-down mill to
this part of the work easier. He took the design to England for
and Shuttleworth to manufacture one. Unfortunately the firm filed a
petition in bankruptcy on the very day that Bill landed in England.
didn't give up. He eventually had one manufactured to his plan in his
Men at work on the cut-down mill, Bill Clarke in the centre
His son-in-law, Tom Kyle, who later took over the mills, put in
to lift the wheat from the dray to the mill.
In Bill's time there was little in the way of red tape to tie him up
record keeping. Farmers paid him when and where they met him - often
the saleyards. Records were kept in a pocketbook - and in Bill's
He would quote what he believed was a fair price for a job and never
from it. He didn't join his competitors in price cutting. He
that quality work deserved a fair price.
No driving licences needed
At that time no driving licences were needed and Bill's seven sons and
daughter did a lot of the driving.
One story is that his son, Don, was at a sale at Pleasant Point and
his father that if he bought the Model T that was up for auction he
would drive it home. Bill bought the car. The auction was stopped
that everyone could watch and see if the eight year-old boy was as
his promise. He cranked the car and drove proudly through the gate
1931 - the Depression and drought
The height of the wheat growing and the use of threshing mills in
Canterbury was in the nineteen twenties. In 1931 the great depression
at its height and there was also a drought so severe that water had to
carted to the house as the usual sources had dried up.
This was a bad year for farmers and mill operators alike. The crops
poor and jobs were scarce. Only two mills operated instead of ten
they worked a short season. Bill Clarke kept some men on and paid
straighten the water courses on the farm. They had their pay and
keep and were given a quarter of a sheep to take home to feed their
Bill Clarke's mills had a high standard of maintenance and a good
record. No fires were recorded in his mills, though they occurred in
people's mills. A chaff cutter capsized on a hilly road and another
down a bank, but there were no fatalities in all the years of
On one occasion Bill's young sons were driving an engine when the
valve stuck. There was steam in all directions. Don remembers one of
brothers running away. Fortunately at that moment their father
tapped the safety valve with a spanner and freed it and all was
Driving on the hills was the most difficult so Bill put his best
the hills. Driving down hill was the most dangerous, so shoes (grips)
fitted to the wheels and a wire rope attached to a winch on the engine
sometimes used to control movement on a steep gradient.
Traction engine removing trees. (Note the shoes on the wheels.)
The end of working mills
In 1905 Bill started business with the engines, and in 1926, seeing
of the era in sight, he started selling them. Tom Kyle, his
who took over the business threshed till 1950.
Early over-cropped land like the area around Rosewill was hand
first. However, the crops diminished because the land had been over
cropped and insufficient fertiliser had been used in compensation.
Now one man can do what eighteen did because the header has taken over
work of the engine and mill. Most farmers growing crops now have
Some of the mills were cut up for scrap, and some were restored. Now
traction engine rallies are held. The first was held at Southbrook,
day after Bill Clarke died in 1958. A minute's silence was observed
Continued interest in the engines
Since that first rally interest in traction engines and vintage
has escalated to the point where there are numerous traction engine
vintage clubs in both the North and South Islands. Rallies are held
many places, especially Canterbury and Southland.
1999 Rally in South Canterbury
This year at Easter, April 2-5, a large rally of up to twenty engines
possibly up to 300 or 400 tractors will be held at the Winchester Show
Grounds, some 24 km (15 miles) north of Timaru in South Canterbury.
Threshing, chaff cutting and vintage ploughing will be among the
A farmer is lending an adjacent paddock for ploughing. A grand parade
be held around 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Check the Backchat for details of further rallies
Clubs, please use the backchat for your advertising and reach our
round the world.
With the advent of the traction engine clubs the future of the engines
assured. They were built to work for twenty years, but the English
would work for up to fifty years. Provided they are kept under dry
conditions they may last up to a century.
Photos for this article were supplied by Bill Clarke's son Don and his grandson John Kyle.