Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Beautiful Machine

This was my big find at the Carp auction - a Victorian machine for...well, nobody was quite sure just what it was for. Even the farmers were a bit perplexed. It has a set of teeth at the back, which push whatever is put between them forward, and then the wheel has a large blade that goes round and slices it into pieces. We finally figured that it must be for corncobs or even cornstalks; the teeth squash and mangle them a bit (but they stay intact, because the rows of teeth are pretty far apart) and then the blade cuts them into pieces. Probably a way of breaking down large items into order to feed to the livestock. The flywheel originally had 2 blades; one is missing. Also, the crank is missing the large wooden handle that must have been originally there to turn it. It doesn't matter for my purposes, but eventually I may be able to find a handle to replace the one that's gone.

What I liked about it was its elegance. It stands about 4.5' tall - it's a big machine - but it looks almost light, because of the flowing lines. I think it looks like a big cast-iron spinning wheel. Look at the graceful lines of the flywheel, and the curve of the handle. Even the legs it stands on are a bit serpentine.

It's amazing to look at a piece of machinery like this, and think of those Victorian foundries taking the care to turn this into something beautiful. It's a machine for grinding feed for your pigs; it was destined to spend its existence in a barn or storage shed somewhere, never near the house, and yet it's built with an attention to aesthetics that manufacturers today spend on luxury items like cars. If you look at some of the other pictures from the auction, you can see the same thing - iron wheels with curved spokes instead of straight, just so they seem to be surging forward when they turn. There's no real purpose for it - it's just that they could do it and they wanted to.

This machine (which cost me $50) is going to go in the garden. My oracle on gardening matters is Dianne Benson's 'Dirt', and she writes early in her book that every garden needs "garden bones". That's ornaments of some kind, to attract the eye and blend with the garden so that it's more than just a series of plants. I've always felt my garden lacks good bones - we've got the stone birdbath in the front, but nothing in the back. I just couldn't get excited about any of the ornaments for sale in the garden places - Buddha heads or gazing balls or sundials or whatever. I wanted something different from anybody else, and also substantial. A little stone or resin figurine would be overwhelmed by the foliage by the end of the season - I wanted something that would stand as a sentinel over the garden. Well, this will do the job. The roses and daisies will grow around and through it in the summer, but it will still be visible because of its size.

We unloaded it from the van today and stood it up in the front yard. I'll have to take my dolly to the gas station to get the wheels inflated, and then Dean and I will try to manhandle it into the back yard. It's not so heavy it can't be moved - I'd guess 120 lbs or so - but it's got the solid stand and "teeth machine" part on one side, and so when it's not standing flat on the ground, it's lopsided in its heaviness. I'm sure we'll manage with straps. Once it's installed in the back garden, I'll take another picture of it. I think I'll remove the blade, just for safety's sake. It's still rather sharp, and the wheel turns very easily, so James could get hurt if he started meddling with it. I don't think it would affect the appearance at all - it might even improve it as it will be more symmetrical.

UPDATE: Well, what do you know? I did a websearch for the name of the manufacturer, R.A. Lister in Dursley, and found this. Scroll down the page, and right there is a picture of the very same machine, from an 1878 advertisement. It's a Chaff Cutter - as we thought, it's to chop up animal fodder.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

How appropriate, that you would buy something that separates the wheat from the chaff.


11:38 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep an eye on the kids... Looks dangerous. Maybe cover the hopper?

7:33 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Aww, thanks, NBS! What a nice compliment!

Yes, anon, it's sharp enough to be dangerous. In fact, we've decided to keep it in the front yard after all, where the kids won't have access to it. James couldn't resist spinning the flywheel when he went out to see it; I can just see him getting a nasty cut on a rusty blade if it's in the back. Or worse still, he'd try to move it and cause it to fall over. It'll stay in the front garden after all.

9:10 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks - I knew you'd take precautions. I just wanted to deprive the Swan of an excuse for calling CPS... ;p

12:01 pm  

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