A piece of history restored to its former glory

Noel Blackwell with his restored 1886 Andrews and Beaven Canterbury No.4 chaff cutter. Photo: Catherine Fry.

It’s always exciting to walk into the shed of a vintage machinery owner. On this occasion it was pretty special to find a really old and rare piece of machinery that was manufactured in New Zealand and used here.

Noel and Anne Blackwell own a lifestyle block up in the hills of Kaharoa, Rotorua. His private collection contains interesting pieces and their history. The original plan of writing about one of the tractors went straight out of the window when a fully restored 1886 Andrews and Beaven Canterbury No 4 chaff cutter was spotted in a dark corner.

Chaff is finely cut straw from crops like wheat, oats and barley and is used to feed horses, cows and other animals as it contains fibre and minerals.

This model of chaff cutter was developed by Andrews and Beaven in their Christchurch factory from the 1885. They were world leaders in this genre and exported all over the world.

They originated and fully worked out a complete revolution in this class of machinery. The machines were portable and not only cut, but also cleaned and pressed the chaff into bags at the rate of two tonnes per hour.

Different sizes were available to suit farmers right up to mass producers of animal feed. They sped up chaff production to a level way above what manual labourers could achieve and were driven by steam engines.

This particular chaff cutter was part of the Tauranga museum for years but was outside and deteriorated. It was offered to the Rotorua Tractor and Machinery Club but sat in a paddock for a few more years.

In 2018 it was suggested that it was scrapped but luckily Noel put his hand up and decided to take it home and restore it. It was finished in January 2021 after many hours of dedicated work.

“It was a mess. All the timber had either rotted or was full of borer and all the iron parts were rusted solid and unmovable,” says Noel.

He was surprised that Andrews and Beaven machinery records was easily found on Google, and when he typed in the serial number, he was able to find out all about it and see photos of how they looked.

“This model (No.4) was the first to have the patented automatic self-bagger.”

Noel knew that the machine was an important part of New Zealand’s agricultural history and wanted to restore it authentically.

“I have all sorts of wood lying around my property and workshop. Australian hardwood power poles were used to recreate the main chassis. Tongue and groove timber from the old Ngakuru scout hall was used to make the chute.”

The vertical supports needed to be worked into a curve, so some macrocarpa Noel had was used as it is easier to work with.

“I spent hours patiently using rust remover and cans of CRC until all the iron came apart and I was able to clean each piece and get it all working again. I was able to use everything.”

Noel fashioned new pulleys from a big belt out of a round baler by trimming them down and using proper joiners.

Black and white photos don’t show original colours but Andrews and Beaven records describe the colour and the wood is painted in a pale blue. The photos show the calligraphy for the branding, and this was replicated by a local signage company.

The cutter runs perfectly, and Noel powers it using the pulley system on the back of his 1958 Farmall Super Cub. Demonstrations are always a big hit when Noel takes the chaff cutter to a show.


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