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This page last updated on: Sunday 11 August, 2002

Steam Contracting in Orwell

by Clive Flack

S.A. Flack & Son - Agricultural Contractors.
Esmond Flack Ltd - Hay & Straw Merchants.

Some in Orwell may remember my father's hay and straw merchants yard in Fishers Lane, where numbers 17 and 17a now stand. Up to the late 1960's, the yard was used for many years as a steam ploughing and threshing contractors yard and it was owned by my grandparents Sidney Alfred Flack and Anna Maud Flack.
Sidney Alfred Flack
Sadly, most of the steam traction and ploughing engines were scrapped in the mid-to-late 1940's. Some of Grandfather's engines would have been rare examples today had they survived. Amongst the nine engines (approx.) were a pair of Burrell Single Crank Compound Universal Side Drum Ploughing Engines numbers 2889 and 2890 built by Charles Burrell of Thetford in 1906 and a early pair of Fowler Single Cylinder Ploughing Engines number 2670 converted to Tandem Compounds by Goode’s Agricultural Engineers of Royston.
Burrell Universal Side Drum Ploughing Engine No. 2890 Single Crank Compound 16 nhp built in 1906 shown pulling a cultivator. Note the horse drawn watercart.
Burrell Universal Side Drum Ploughing Engine No 2889 These engines were manufactured in pairs, a left and right handed engine standing at opposite ends of the field hauling the implement alternately between the two engines by means of a heavy duty steel cable.
The Fowler-Goode engines had outlived their useful life by 1945 when they were unfortunately scrapped and the Burrell's followed the same fate in 1949. A later pair of Fowler Ploughing Engines survived until 1950, as did the two of the Threshing Engines. One of these was Burrell 6 nhp registration number CF 3397 which was last used in 1951. A small Marshall traction engine No. 39442 registration number CE 7871 named 'Tom Thumb' suffered the same fate as the Burrell Side Drums in 1949.

Fowler-Goode No. 2670. Converted from single cylinder Fowler engines to tandem compounds by Edwin Goode of Royston

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Clayton & Shuttleworth
Compound Traction Engine
owned by Yeoman's

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The only surviving engine that I know actually worked from the yard is a Clayton & Shuttleworth Compound Traction Engine which was hired from Yeoman's. This engine was mostly used on a saw bench (because of its narrow rear wheels it was not particularly good in muddy rick-yard conditions).

Fowell Single Cylinder Traction Engine No 95 built locally at St. Ives.
(standing left) Pop Robinson (on engine) Tommy Disbury.

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After Sidney Flack's death at the age of 65 on the 23rd November 1946, the business of S.A. Flack & Son was continued by my grandmother, Anna Maud Flack (some may remember my Grandmother's name as Hannah but after her death we discovered from her birth certificate that she was actually Anna Maud).

My father, Esmond Flack, who was working at Cobbs Wood Farm, left the farm to help my Grandmother run the business. My uncle, Sidney Oliver Flack, although involved in the running of S.A. Flack & Son, remained at the farm as the winter corn had already been planted. The tenancy of Cobbs Wood Farm, which the family rented from the Wimpole Estate, ended after the harvest in 1947.



Fowler-Goode engine in difficulties. When operating in wet conditions or on very soft ground, and due to the massive amount of power generated by this type of engine, it was not uncommon for the wheel on the cable pulley side to pull the rear wheels into the ground. Note the 'Spuds' on the rear wheels - these were carried on the engine and fitted onto the wheels over the wheel strakes to obtain more traction.

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S.A. Flack & Son continued to work as agricultural contractors specialising in threshing, baling and chaff cutting for a few years until my father and uncle decided to go their separate ways. Sidney Oliver Flack had by now returned to live at the Old Red Lion in Orwell High Street and was hauling hay and straw for John Innes & Co. Esmond Flack decided to carry on with the contracting business, the major part of the work undertaken was still threshing, baling, chaff cutting and later combining. At this time typical charges were: threshing at £2 per hour, baling (behind the threshing drum) £2 per ton, and combining at £4 per hour.
Work Docket
S.A. Flack and Son

In early 1965, my father registered his business as Esmond Flack Limited - Hay & Straw Merchant. By this time the company was primarily involved with the baling and supply of hay and straw to farms, riding establishments, racing studs and racing stables. For several years one of the more unusual contracts was the supply of hay and straw to Billy Smart's Circus. This involved delivering to the Circus wherever they happened to be, as well as regular deliveries to their headquarters and zoo near Windsor.

Also in the early part of the 1960's another regular customer was Townsend, Hock and Co in Kent who purchased straw for the manufacture of paper. Good dry baled straw at this time was delivered for 5 guineas per ton, a typical lorry carrying a net load of 5 tons (this was before the introduction of the metric tonne). The last job of commercial threshing of corn by Esmond Flack Limited, took place in Dunton in February of 1966.

Maud Flack in 1974

Maud Flack died on 8th February 1976 aged 94.

The last Threshing drum from the yard, a Marshall SM Class, as operated by my Father still survives and is still occasionally used by the National Trust at Home Farm Wimpole.

Clive Flack



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