by Rambler 4/05/2001
FREE of school, out driving a pair of horses in a field close to the road, where his erstwhile classmates could see him, and already being talked about as building bicycle wheels, Tim was on 'cloud nine'. He had never had it so good.
But it didn't last. Harvest time soon passed, and the dark dreary November days closed in. The back barn where he had done all his fixing was cold and draughty, a miserable dump.
His dad and Alex Kilpatrick did not seem to mind constantly getting wet and mudsodden, out and around the farm. Both of them wore puttees as working clothes, and leather leggings when dressed. Knickerbocker trousers which ended in a two-buttoned cuff below the knee, had just come into fashion for teenager lads and Tim had got a pair for dress up, but, at work, he just had ordinary trousers and stout hob-nailed boots, and he would have spent his days lounging in the warm boiler shed, if he had been given peace.
He couldn't stand the cold outside.
He didn't get peace! His mum and dad kept after him, for there was much to do. When he was sent to clean out the byre with a four-pronged graip and a wheelbarrow, or asked to go out and harvest turnips, by the ton, the glamour of farm life disappeared. Very soon, he discovered that there was more muck to shift, than money for the labour.
Where could he get a few bob for himself? There was no easy answer, but eventually he found an opportunity. Traditionally empty hessian meal bags had been cast aside and used anytime a sack was needed for odd jobs. Some were opened out and stitched together to form winnowing cloths. Some were used as covers for sick animals, others were used to bung into crevices of sheds to stop draughts.
In brief, an empty sack was treated as of little value.
With purchases of poultry and pig feeding much increased, empty sacks became more plentiful and Tim began looking after them. Soon he found a buyer, and his dad said nothing when the lad pocketed the money. He admired Tim's initiative, but as well he knew that he was beaten as the lad wouldn't have heeded him if he had held out his hand. All he would have expected would have been a cheeky grin.
On wet days, James had to get on with jigging grass seed. A tedious, monotonous, chore and, now that he was available, Tim was called upon to turn the handle of the jigger - a primitive contraption used to clean Italian rye grass threshed in the barn.
I would need a lot of space for a detailed description, which I have not got, so I will be brief, very brief
The basics are these. Take a rectangular wooden box, say, five feet by 2½ and ten inches deep. Bottom it with sheet tin, perforated with eleven holes to each linear inch. This is the sieve and it will only let clean grass seed through when jigged rapidly, ie shaken to and fro.
A horizontal crank shaft mounted on two upright stanchions has a pluck-stick attached, waist high. This connects with the centre of one end of the sieve. By turning a wheel on the end of the crankshaft, the sieve, which is suspended on four chains, also waist high, from the roof of a barn, jiggers ie moves rapidly to and fro.
Threshed seed, buried in debris comprising small straws, weed seeds, and all kinds of impurities, lies heaped on the barn floor.
One man shovels it on to the sieve, where he agitates it manually with a short wooden batten, sweeping off all that remains on the sieve when the seed has fallen through onto a patch of floor scrupulously kept clean.
One end of the box sieve, the one opposite the pluck-stick, is open to enable the sweeper (of the sieve) to dump the dross.
Primitive, but well contrived, but what a boring job for the operators! Ponder the time taken to. salvage, say, one cwt of seed. But Italian grass seed was like gold dust. It paid the rent when other farm produce was practically unsaleable. James, by careful husbandry, made sure that not one grain was lost between the swathe and the twelve-stone jute sack which the seed buyer provided. Pollutants like clover seed, called `red' were like a red rag to a bull when the merchant McCausland drove his scoop deep into a full sack to test for purity. 'Take it away' was a dread verdict, for every stone re-cleaned was money lost.
Tim was jiggered, and soon tired of turning the wheel, but there was no let up. He nearly regretted leaving school!