Flindt on Friday: Please save my spine from 20-litre drums

One day, when the team that do the excellent “What’s in your shed?” feature have run out of proper farmers, I’ll invite them down to Flindt Towers.

And when they ask for anything odd or unusual, I’ll take them down to the old barn where the grain dryer sits, unused for 20 years.

We’ll wind our way through the relics of 1980s on-farm drying, cleaning and storage: sieves for a Turner clearer, spare conveyor and elevator belts marked with now-faded labels, and knackered single-phase motors.

See also: Read more of Charlie Flindt’s columns

And there, parked in the corner next to the twisted mesh laterals and the old fire extinguishers, is what I want to show them: it’s a cross between a sack truck and a forklift.

It has a cable and a plug sticking out of it, and it’s extremely heavy. I’m not sure exactly how it works, because I’ve never seen it in action.

One of Dad’s tractor drivers once told me the story of this odd little machine. It dates back to the days of handling sacks – two hundredweight of barley and 2¼ hundredweight of wheat at a time, I think they were, but the weights vary with the story teller.

Hauling these enormous sacks from here to there was once a fundamental part of a farmworker’s job, and Dad, being a thrusting go-ahead young-ish farmer in the mid-1960s, bought this machine as the very latest in labour saving ideas.

What you did was put the sack on the platform while it was on the floor. It automatically raised it to shoulder height.

Given the sack

You turned round and effortlessly eased the load onto your shoulders, and the clever machine – detecting that the weight had gone – lowered the platform to the floor again. Brilliant. What could go wrong?

As it happened, quite a lot. The story goes that within half an hour of the new-fangled device being delivered and plugged it in (which in itself would have been a novelty), everyone had had their Achilles tendons bloodily and agonisingly skinned by the rapidly descending platform.

The machine was unplugged and wheeled into a corner, where it still sits, 50 years on.

This is significant for two reasons: first, because it proves that even proper farmers like my father can occasionally buy a complete dog of a machine, and then park it out the way and pretend it never existed.

(Mind you, I bet no one read the instruction book, to see if an adjustment was possible, but that’s another story).

And second (and this is the reason that I was scrabbling around it with a torch and a notebook the other day, trying to find the maker’s name), the time has come for a modern-day version.

Save our spines

Not to lift vast weights to shoulder height, but to lift to waist height the epidemic of 20-litre drums that curses modern farming.

Glyphosate? 20-litre drum. Wetter? 20-litre drum. Adblue? 20-litre drum. Diesel running short mid-field? 20-litre jerry can.

Thirty years ago, one would have hauled these around with as much ease as our forefathers hurled sacks of wheat, but those days are gone.

Grab a drum in each hand, and I can feel a facet joint going all The Clash: “Should I stay or should I go?”

So, come on, whoever you are – I know that your name ends in “matic” and you’re in Lancashire; that much was just visible through the flaking paint and rust.

If you still exist, build us a 20-litre drum transporter/lifter/tipper. Ten thousand agricultural spines will love you for it.

Who knows; you might even feature as “best recent purchase” when Farmers Weekly comes a-rummaging through my barns.