One Man's Madness / Part 07
Before work started I had to get some light and power into the dark barn. My friend and neighbour George spent a Saturday in there with me and did all the wiring. When George switched on, suddenly everything was thrown into garish relief as I regarded my beautiful combine in the new fluorescent light. He’d also put power points on several of the vertical support beams so I could use power tools at random. With the full size oxy-acetylene bottles wheeled in on their own dedicated trolley, that old barn began to look like a proper workshop.
First things first, I had to remove the front cutter bar assembly. If this was going to be a ship, it needed to be pointed at the front. This meant some heavy duty unbolting – by which I mean plenty of WD40 releasing fluid and lump hammering. They were mostly big bolts, fully painted over. A few hearty bangs with the lump hammer might loosen them. If not, spray on the WD, put a ring spanner on and whack that with the lump hammer. If all else failed, I’d fire up the oxy-actelene and apply intense heat. As the bolt and the nut heated and cooled at different rates, this treatment always managed to separate them.
Most of the cutter bar I took away and sold for scrap to earn a few more quid for the essentials, but the big spiral drum (or "stalk auger") and the hard steel “grain auger” (for hoisting the grain up into the hopper) I kept. The former, weeks later, became a painting project for the kids at our festival; the latter, decades later, I found inexplicably semi-buried in the underbrush at the meadow’s edge.
At the rear (or stern), I first unbolted and removed the down-facing back section of the main housing. This left a handsome opening directly into the innards. I clambered inside the superstructure and unbolted all the tossing and turning apparatus I could. Some of it had to be cut out so I was working in close quarters with the oxy-acetylene. At one point some of the residual straw at the bottom caught fire between me and the back exit. Luckily a couple of pals were on hand and managed to douse it with water. A retrospectively obvious and valuable lesson learned, almost too late.
With all that front apparatus removed, the poor combine looked emasculated, and at the back it looked naked and exposed with the gaping opening where the down-turn section had been.
However, I’d been using the local press coverage as a means of asking for old steel bed frames. The angle steel sections of these were perfect for the body work I had in mind and there was now a pile of it on hand. I began cutting these up and welding a “skirt” directly on to the machine – all the way around and coming to a point at the front (or bow). As I wasn’t an engineer, I had no idea as to the appropriate strength of this structure but I would regularly clamber up on to it and jump up and down. And whenever anybody visited, I’d get them to jump up and down on it with me. Very scientific.
The only things I couldn’t scrounge were sheets of 8 foot by 4 foot marine ply (marine not because we were going to sea, but because of the inevitability of being out in the rain) and the 10 mm bolts I needed to attach the sheets to the bed frame skirting. In fact, the bolts and their associated nuts and standard and lock washers proved to be the most expensive single item on the whole ship!
I started doing the sheeting at the bow and, with this new nose cone assembly in place, I couldn’t resist firing up the machine and driving it back and forth again a few times, in and out of the barn.
I relocated the diesel fuel tank to run crossways across the ship just "aft" of the top mounted engine. I fashioned a funnel out of the grain hopper unloading tube and welded it in place between the hopper and the engine. I put rails around the latter and some protective grill around the belts and pulleys on the port side. I laid thicker ply sections on top of the steel framing to provide decking all the way round and inside the rear housing. I attached blue nylon fabric at the bottom edges of the ply to cover the distance to the ground. This stuff flapped pleasingly, looking vaguely like wavelets as the ship moved. Eventually, all that was left was to paint the whole thing white and get my co-arts-workshopper Moon to paint the name “Free Speech” on the stern plate.
When the whole thing was ready, I was faced with the task of taking it on to the public road, down about a hundred and fifty yards, and through the gate into my meadow. I figured the best time to do this would be very early in the morning when traffic would be at its minimum. With this in mind, I invited friends and neighbours to come out at about 5 am for tea and cake in the barn. Everybody showed up – apart from the stockbrokers opposite who were probably busy staking us out from their enormous bay windows. After our tea, I fired the magnificent beast up and brought it out of the barn. I couldn’t hear anything over the roar of the engine just behind me, but I could see gasps of appreciation and a round of applause as the assembly saw the final transformation edge forward in all its early morning glory.
With one neighbour backed up the road with flashing warning lights to ward off any approaching traffic and (in retrospect – rather foolishly) a couple of the children sitting in the bow section, I advanced cautiously down the short steep decline of the driveway. As I hadn’t done anything but back and forthing up to that point, it was a bit scary coming down that steeper than anticipated decline and on to the public road (no road tax, no MOT, no insurance) for the first time, especially with the children ecstatically but dangerously swaying below me down in front. It was a hard left, and then we were trundling down the dawning road, with the hazard flashing Volvo following behind.
At my gate, it was hard left again. I’d measured it and it was technically wide enough, but coming in at a slight angle coupled with the mysteries of steering from the rear meant I scraped one of the sides rather badly. Not to worry. We were “on location” and I was able to go for a little uninhibited toot around the meadow, with the little gaggle of friends and neighbours clearly admiring the expert manoeuvring. I finally pulled up on a slight slope beside the ancient hawthorn tree and clambered down on to the front deck to hand children back to their relieved parents. A final round of thanks (from me) and applause (from all parties) and we slowly dispersed into our separate days.
- One Man's Madness / Part 08
The story of one man’s 60 year love affair with 2.5 acres of Essex countryside.
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