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Vintage Tractor Engineer has been out and bought a new County tractor toy!

Barth K150 draining machine

Barth K150

We’ve been searching the magazines and internet for a couple of years to find a trenching machine to lay drainage pipe on our farm.  We’ve replied to several adverts and each time we got the same answer – “Sorry, it sold immediately”.

View from cab of barth trenching machine

View from the drivers seat, digging chain lifted up.

Trenchers are clearly in demand and this is probably due to a number of contributing factors.  We’ve had several high rainfall years in the UK and with larger tractors and machinery, compaction has caused waterlogging of the fields.  I think the major problem, however, is the lack of maintenance of the agricultural drainage system and the fact that most of the field drains were installed many years ago.  Draining is an expensive business and farmers are reluctant to spend the money, particularly when farm incomes have been so depressed.

Things have begun to change though.  Farm incomes have been a little better in 2007-2009 and farmers have been calling in the drainage contractors to try and improve their wettest ground.  Much of the drainage system is at least 35 years old and some fields are still reliant on drains installed 100 years since (or more).  These drainage systems have had fantastic longevity and some of these are still working to this day.  Unfortunately many of these pots are only in at a shallow depth and the large heavy machinery and deeper working depths have sometimes cut through these drains and ruined the system.

Barth K150

The ‘K150’ numbering refers to the digging depth of 150cm and this machine was manufactured in 1982.  The machine is built around a County skid unit with a reduction box fitted to facilitate the low ground speeds required for trenching.  This particluar machine was first used by Alderson Drainage of Yarm, North Yorkshire and still bears their decals.  A quick telephone call to Aldersons was made and we learnt all sorts of things.  Aldersons were really interested to hear about the machine, where it was now going to work, and it was a pleasure to talk to them.  It its heyday the trencher had covered 300,000 metres annually.  The only reason Aldersons sold the machine was because in the Yarm area they have stone to contend with in the soil and this would cause the top drive shaft to break.  We will be using the Barth in predominantly sand and loam (no stones), and we were told the ‘little Barth’ would motor on just like a modern big Mastenbroek.

Barth k150 trencher, tracked drainage machine

Bonnet decals, Alderson Drainage.

If you’re interested in County tractors converted into draining machines then check out Alf Werner’s County 1124 that he converted to 6 wheel drive and uses for operating his trencher.  Quite impressive!

County tractor reduction gearbox

County reduction box.

Well we can’t wait to take it to the field and have a go.  I’m sure it’s going to be a bit of a learning curve to start with but it will be really useful to have our own machine.   We will be able to do a field each summer after the corn has been cut, in good dry conditions and with full control of the operation.  Next thing we need is a laser.  We’ve been quoted £1150 for an ‘indicate’ system, but to go for full ‘machine control’ the price has come in at over £3,000.  This technology would have been £10,000 so I suppose it’s not so bad for +/- 2mm accuracy.

Digging chain and chute of a draining machine

Digging chain and pipe chute.

One thing we can’t get to the bottom of is what to do in running sand?  The vale of York has large areas of sandy soil and in winter time if you dig a hole the sand is so saturated that it just runs like quick sand and the problem is that it can very easily and quickly get into the drains and block them.  It is possible to buy pipe wrapped with a filter material to prevent this from happening, but neighbouring farmers have found this to block with ochre within 3-4 years.  Some people say unwrapped pipe is OK if the ‘black’ topsoil is put back on top of the pipe (instead of the orange subsoil).  Others say use unwrapped pipe and then 10″ of stone on top works the best.

If you have any experience of draining in running sand and know what works best then please let us know.  We would be interested to hear your views.