More on the Mystery Machine

Mystery Machinew 02

Peter Mackness sent in this picture a few years ago and a good deal of correspondence followed, which can be seen here.

Ken Robson, who was involved in the design of these machines, has recently emailed with the following additional information:

 Your last correspondent has confirmed the machine and its maker. Manufactured soon after the end of the 2nd World War, this machine shows the ingenuity of its inventor, Arthur Clifford Howard, CBE, and exemplifies the shortage of raw materials available at that time to UK manufacturers. A “bog standard” Fordson agricultural tractor (Cost price in 1943 £180 plus £10 delivery) was stripped of its “spadelug” rear wheels and replaced by a “rotaped” track system in order to give the machine a lower ground bearing pressure and improved traction. The trencher wheel would have been driven direct from the traction unit via a propshaft and the whole machine would have been used to lay “tile drains” at a much faster rate than that achieved by manual means. The Howard Trencher was significantly improved during the 50s through to the 70s and the later units carried laser direction control systems. Many of the machines were based on a Ford skid unit, made by County Tractors, Kent, on the same popular Rotaped system on your photograph. Arthur Clifford Howard was of Australian descent. He settled in England around the mid 1930s and from his first factory at West Horndon, manufactured a range of rotary cultivators, bearing the brilliant trade name “Rotavator”, which you will observe, has the same spelling, whether forwards or back. The company used to trade heavily on this brand name, many advertisements bearing the slogan, “If it isn’t a Howard, it isn’t a Rotavator”. The “Chief” as he was affectionately known, died in 1971. His funeral at Upminster was attended by hundreds from all over the world. As one of his ex-apprenticed draughtsman, I am happy to be able to fill in some of the history relating to your picture.

Ken Robson




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