Wheat from the chaff

August 2014 Perspectives Fr Kevin Neal It wasn’t long after I’d finally found a slide projector for some friends, when a second request landed on my door step. ‘Would I…

Wheat from the chaff Archdiocese of WellingtonAugust 2014


Fr Kevin Neal

It wasn’t long after I’d finally found a slide projector for some friends, when a second request landed on my door step. ‘Would I know how to find a chaff cutter?’
Oddly enough, I did, because we had them at home on our farm when I was a child. Before my family bought a tractor we had a fleet of beautiful Clydesdale horses. They had to be fed on chaff – horse feed grown in paddocks and cut by a chaff-cutter machine.

We bought a tractor when I was about five so I don’t remember much about using the Clydesdales. We had the only chaff cutter in the district so there was the odd use for them on other properties long after we bought a tractor. The Clydesdales were a dying breed because they were being replaced by tractor and consequently the use of the chaff cutter declined.

I remember chaff cutters as enormous machines that employed a busy team to keep them going. They probably weren’t all that big to a grown up but I was very small at the time and they looked gigantic in my memory.

We had a first-class machine and several others suitable for spare parts. They were towed along the road behind a tractor from job to job.

I guess they were originally towed by traction engine but that is getting well before my time. I remember chaff cutters from my boyhood and the dire warnings from my father about losing limbs while using them. They were sharp, very quick and people weren’t safety conscious in those days.

The second-hand dealer I contacted didn’t know much about chaff cutters but knew some people who could help.

He put me in touch with the local museum workers at Feilding Museum and said to visit them at their morning tea time.

They were all volunteers as it was a smallish museum and, like every town in this country, full of priceless things.

From the outside it looks like just another shed on the main road. But go inside and you’ll find it’s full of machinery on one hand and household equipment on the other. It has some incredible trucks and tractors.

My busy friend who was interested in chaff cutters was an hour and half away but soon arrived in his truck with his eldest son. There were probably four generations in that crowded morning tea room.

My friend discussed the machine with these wise-looking people and no doubt they will be looking out for a chaff cutter if there are any to be found. It seems they are now highly collectible because they are a 100 years old. New ones were made for a while in Australia, but people try to find original machines through the web.

For me the search has now ended. But what a search and a coincidence it has been. There’s at least a 60-year gap from the time I last saw a chaff cutter until my search for one now. After looking around for years, there in front of me at the Feilding Museum was real, live, chaff cutter. It looks ready to go along with a 1938 Chevy truck and a Ford Model T…