Horses to Horsepower: Farming Technology Over The Years

As April draws to a close and the weather begins to change, farmers have been getting stuck into another seeding season. Long days and nights spent sitting in the tractor, limited family time and frozen meals will be the norm for some, for the next several weeks. Of course, seeding is made easier by ever-changing technology so evolved that some tractors virtually drive themselves.

Technology in farming and agricultural machinery has come a long way over the years from horses to horse power.

Right here in Geraldton sits a piece of agricultural history that has taken Bob Taylor approximately four years to restore and stands as an example of farming evolution.

Bob’s pride and joy is an 1899 HV McKay ‘Sunshine’ Harvester that came from Williams in Western Australia’s southwest and is likely the only one of its kind – restored and running – in the country.

“It’s a passion I have and it’s seen me restore a 1904 6-foot harvester and a 1924 H.S.T header,” said Mr Taylor, who enjoys the work as a hobby.

Bob estimates he has spent about 910 hours working on the 1904 harvester and another 826 hours on the HST header, but admits he can only work on these when time allows.

“I started restoration of machinery in 1992 and over the years I have gained an appreciation for the engineering skills of that era.”

The Sunshine business began in 1890 in Bathurst where 400 employees would construct about 1,000 harvesters a year. In 1910, Sunshine employed more workers and were able to start exporting to South America and South Africa. Before long, they were exporting machinery to 160 different countries and soon the company merged with Massey Harris in Canada and later with H. Ferguson.

As well as restoring the Sunshine harvester, Bob has spent time building six models of other Sunshine equipment dating back to circa 1920. These include a field roller, a horse wagon bag lifter, hay rake, heavy duty bag trolley and a wheat bag dumper carrier.

Many of these machines are the only of their kind in WA and possibly the country, which has increased the challenge of restoration.

“Because of the age of these machines, replacement parts are very hard to come by and I’ve relied heavily on modifying other parts off later machines or building them myself,” said Mr Taylor.

In terms of what’s next, Bob says he has a 1912 six-foot harvester waiting in the wings and hopes to find a home for the 1899 HV Sunshine Harvester where the public can enjoy this rare piece of farming history.

“Hopefully it ends up in a show room or a museum where it will be seen and appreciated by people.”

4 comments

Well done Bob. Great to see our farm machinery history being maintained and restored. If you take more photos of the Sunshine Harvester and other implements could you email me copies, especially if you take them into the paddock. We have a Sunshine Massy Harris hay sweep which is still in good order. I assume it was horse drawn but I am not sure how the hay was unloaded?
We also have a small stationary thresher which I would like to restore but am struggling to find images which might help us work out how it was put together.
We still live in the original weatherboard settlers cottage dated in the 1880’s. More windows have been put in plus insulation, solar power, plumbing etc – very comfortable.

Hi Patrick, thanks for your comment! Bob will be delighted to hear about your interest in this project – I’ve passed on your email address to him in hopes that he can shed some light on the operation of the hay sweep! Hopefully he can provide you some more photos of his restored harvester, which potentially could have found a new home in a showroom… Best of luck with the thresher restoration!

Hi Bob, Im just about to start a full restoration of a 1906 Sunshine Harvester, It was bought new by my great grandfather, finding information has been hard but am looking forward to this challenge, my father thinks i’m mad

Hi Simon, sounds like a great project! I’ve passed your comment on to Bob – perhaps he has some wisdom to share about the restoration process!
All the best.

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