The Durham Harvest trip.
This story starts early 2013 on the www combine forum,I put out a question on specific settings on our Massey 750 at that time, within a few hours I had the first of several replies the first one being from County Durham a delightful gentleman called Chris Hodgson, a farmer who had a 25 yr experience of running these Canadian built combines, he answered all the issues I had listed and I thanked him and asked for his contact details which he duly sent.
Over the next few weeks we spoke at length about our interest in these combines and I was amazed he had 3 865s he kept 2 in running order for his harvest and the other for spares but any spares taken from the 3rd machine was always replaced during his trips to Doncaster down to Dave Pantrys combine breakers so effectively he had 3 working machines and over 380 acres to use them on.
Chris and Phill run there 500 acres growing wheat /barley, and have 200 head of cattle.
During our many conversations I asked him do you ever run the pair of 865s together, Chris replied I would like to but at harvest time it's so busy and any chance of getting someone in who might want to drive one or has the experience to operate one it will probably not happen I guess, so I asked him if he would like me to come up and help him for a few days and run the pair, this could work because our crops were spring sown so not normally ready until mid August and Chris had over 100 acres of winter barley potentially ready to cut late July depending on seasons weather.
Chris was more than happy with this idea, I said to him if you get number 3 running I'm pretty sure finding an operator won't be a problem my good friends Robert White And Barry Taylor would probably be interested and it would be nice to see these 3 classics working together, in the mean time my good friend Hillary co owner of our 860 said he would like to make the trip with us and run the trailers!.
I think at this point Chris couldn't quite believe all of us especially Rob White would want to come up and drive his combines after all we had our own crops to cut and Rob runs 2 of his own 865s on 200 acres contract cutting.
So everything seemed set everyone was on-board for the trip and having American wheat belt ex custom cutter Rob White on-board made the trip that bit special. As we approached the end of 2013 the trip looked like a goer for summer of 2014.
During the spring of 2014 I had an email from Chris with two pictures attached of a 865 being unloaded from a low loader!!? Yes this was to be combine no 4 ! a machine just purchased from lincolnshire, this combine was saved from an uncertain future as most of these are, so it seemed we now had 4 combines ! and Chris really had his work cut out going through all of these machines and putting them in harvest order quite a feat indeed!!
During the late spring of 2014 Chris had some reservations about combine no 4 the spares ship this combine hadn't been used for probably 15yrs! and despite doing all you can to eliminate potential problems you just can't tell until your into crop how a machine will perform, also the combine just purchased although looking pretty good it hadn't cut for 2/3 seasons also.
During the early part of the summer while in contact with Chris and Rob we were aware that Tractor and Machinery, and Classic Tractor would like to feature this classic harvest in there magazines, also the Farmers weekly would feature it in there Machinery section.
As June turned to July the weather seemed to point to a good season and the hot dry spell meant that crops were ripening quicker and in Norfolk Rob White said his contracting acreage would probably come forward of the usuall early August, so fingers were crossed that the Durham crops would be ripe later in July, well on the 16 July and a flurry of e mails Chris said he thought the crop would come within a week and following a couple of unsettled days we had the call on 20 July that the crops would be ready in 2 days as would the weather that was forecast to be hot dry sunny for at least the next seven days.
Our trip started at 5am on Tuesday the 22 July a short drive to Bristol Airport and a 1 hour flight to Newcastle Airport where Chris would pick us up for the 30 mile trip to his farm.
Rob had set off from his home in Norfolk early and was due to arrive at midday.
On arriving at the farm and meeting up with Rob and Chris's brother Phillip we had a quick cuppa and got straight to work on the combines checking all the vitals and adjustments, after this each one was power washed off its always a good idea to wash the machines off at the begining of harvest as the hot dry weather quickly eliminates water hanging in places that can cause corrosion, with the cleaning carried out the combines were now ready to proceed to the first field, a small patch had been previously cut to allow the coupling of combine tables.
At about this time we were taken back to Chris's farmhouse for a superb afternoon lunch courtesy of wife Alison, to be honest the trip to Darlington was worth it just for the delicious food and hospitality of Chris Alison and Phill who made sure are stay was as comfortable as possible, sorting out our accommodation at the farm, The generosity and friendship shown by Chris and family came as no surprise to us all as farming family's are by nature the backbone of the agricultural industry, an industry that has by nature not fully rewarded there huge efforts and enthusiasm to sustain a country that can feed itself and be less reliant on foreign imports!!.
Returning back to the combines the crop of volume winter barley was showing 15% moisture so it was all systems go Chris led the pack myself on red top no2 followed by Barry on the latest combine purchased in lincolnshire which had the Massey powerflow header, then followed Rob with no4 the spares combine that had not seen action for 15/16years! We had a photographer on scene from farmers weekly and Tractor and machinery magazine to capture some classic shots, but within a short time Barry on no3 had pulled up with straw walker overload sensor alarm! And subsequently problems with even feed of the crop caused by the suface rust on the table,Barry soon settled into a pace that the combine was happy with, and apart from a couple more warning alarms things soon settled down.And Rob had exactly the same problem feeding in crop due to the surface rust on the table auger and surfaces, also the slightly damp greenish straw didn't help, after a few stop and starts with these two machines gradually everything settled right down as the surfaces on the tables began to shine crop flow made it a lot easier on these old veterans specifically designed for the drier American market!!.
Within an Hour just as everything seemed to be going well Robs hydraulic pump drive belt shredded and took the alternator belt off for good measure! This is not uncommon as the belts run very close proximity to each other, within a very short time Chris returned with spare belts and Rob made short work of fitting these despite his badly injured thumb he sustained a few days earlier ,and he was soon back cutting.
As the evening progressed the perfect sunset and dusty silhouettes of these Brantford giants moving majestically across the field side by side I slid the side window open of my combine and soaked up the reassuring throaty roar of the Perkins v8 and felt very privileged to be harvesting amongst good friends.
Also helping Chris with his harvest, after all this is his livelihood and as he says there just isn't the returns in the job to run the new shiny kit on his acreage at least, also even at nearly 30 yrs old now they still are more than capable of delivering the goods and if you are prepared to tinker about with them the cost of ownership is very low, also running several combines means that if one breaks down you have back up! and if he ran one single new machine he wouldn't have that luxury, and when you use the combine forums New kit is not as reliable as you might expect ,and in an industry that is all about input costs then this system works at least until the spares situation dictates otherwise.
As the light faded we had just opened up the 2nd field for the following day before shutting down for the night, it had been an eventful day the weather was just perfect nearly 80°blue sky and the promise of the same for the next few days, we pulled up some straw bales and then the arrival of Alison and the Chuck wagon! Tea was served tuna lasagne garlic bread followed by Apple cake and ice cream and hot tea on tap! It doesn't get much better than this, the conversations quickly turned to Robs harvest past in the USA wheat belt working for legendary Dale Starks custom cutter, Dale ran 9 of these Massey combines from Texas to Canada over 6 months harvesting and Rob and his friend Charlie Norman signed up for 5 seasons from 1979, so on this day it brought memories back to Rob of his experiences on those vast expanses of land.
With the days proceedings behind us it was off to get some well earned sleep, it had been a long day.
The day started off overcast and misty not uncommon in this area according to Phill, he said it will be gone by 11am! And he was spot on the blue sky reappeared and the mercury rose for another hot sunny day, combining got under way just after midday after yet another feast in the field served up by Alison from the Chuck wagon!! We had several visitors today one in particular was Chris and Phills retired brother Thomas who although living a more leisurely life now after a lifetime of farming he came and ran combine no1 for a short while so Chris could capture some pictures and film and it was very nice to meet him. we were very fortunate to be able to access the other fields without removing the 18ft Dronningbourg tables, some of the land Chris farms is quite a distance from his farm so he is well use to roading these combines every year,Chris and Phillip would normally not have the luxury of stopping for lunch and tea but when you have this capacity of combines in your fields you are as quick as the trailers can remove the precious grain, without doubt Chris has never cleared so much acreage in a day!!.
As we proceeded to cut the final few acres of this barley crop we were joined by another magazine photographer from classic tractor who proceeded to capture some more classic shots of this harvest, all to quickly the day was done this barley crop was safely gathered in thanks to Hillary and Phill who ran the trailers so successfully in a field with four combines running at full chat they certainly done a Stirling job !.Chris's combine no1 gave no problems at all and my red top no2 also drove faultless, Barry's combine no3 settled down as the metal shined up on table and performed well after these initial problems,Robs combine no 4 to be honest we all had reservations about this old lady, Rob volunteered to break this one in after such a long period being parked up, and despite the early problems, from day 2 this ageing Brantford survivor also showed us that she ain't finished just yet!!
All the combines were detached from there tables and cleaned off in field and returned to there purpose built sheds awaiting further crops of Wheat and spring barley a week or two off, we said our goodbyes and Rob set off on the long trip to Norfolk and Chris drove us back to Newcastle Airport for our flight back to Bristol, as I left the farm I had hoped that I might just see the old red top 865 again someday!?
I would like to personally thank everyone for there efforts in putting this trip together, what follows now is a selection of photos that will hopefully capture those harvesting days in July 2014 in Darlington.
The Team at Darlington
Gloucestershire contractor Barry born into a farming family, his father ran 2 400 Massey combines Barry spent a lot of his youth on these machines but also helping out his neighbour who ran Clayson New Holland's, Barry has a collection of 3 vintage New Holland's which will be featured on here shortly, we have been friends for over 30 years helping each other out in our similar businesses.
Chris had an earlier carreer in heavy mechanical engineering but returned to the family farm when there acreage was vastly increased and the company he worked for moved out of town.
Phil also works the family farm sharing the work with Chris and he also looks after there 200 head of cattle.
Rob has been contracting for 40 years specializing in fertilizer applications, in and around his home in Norfolk and he also contract cuts 200 acres of crops with his Massey 865s, Rob has also written about his experiences with legendary custom cutter Dale Starks to whom he worked from 1979/ 1983 combining from Texas to Canada, the book Starks Harvesters really captures the reality of what life was like on a harvest crew in these days, the highs and lows and an in depth description of this beautiful country.
Colin Cloude Hillary Pugsley see homepage.
Farming is and has always been an industry at the mercy of elements that are out of control of the good people who try and make it all work year in year out,generation after generation,but the changes put upon this industry in the last decade has stretched the economics of making it work to breaking point,unlike any other industry the risk factor especially for arable growers ie weather,global commodities market,the constant restraints from the Eu,have pushed many farming businesses out of business and sadly that trend doesn't seem likely to change anytime soon,in my opinion it will be a great loss to the uk if Farming is allowed to continue on this path!!.
This is the first batch of photos'more to come and film clips, shortly!!