OPINION: Farm kit manuals are baffling

A fairly hideous wooden filing cabinet sits in the west wing of Flindt Towers, tucked away in a corner of a room, half hidden by long-unworn overalls and porous wax jackets. It truly is a little piece of history – full of snapshots from farming a generation ago.

Two drawers are full of old invoices, of no use to anyone but the relentlessly nostalgic. Did we really pay that little for red diesel? No wonder we splashed it about like water.

One drawer contains a curious mix of cattle memorabilia and employment guides. Burdizzos sit uneasily on top of sick pay tables – both of them from days when we had lots of cattle and lots of staff. I wince when I wonder if the two might be related.

The last drawer, despite still smelling faintly of Cymag (it was where Dad kept the stuff), is my favourite. It’s chock-full of old brochures and instruction manuals. The brochures often come with quotes attached. Never mind how cheap red diesel was, there’s a September 1979 quote for a Claas Dominator 85: £27,800.

But it’s the instruction books that I really like. Two things fascinate me about them: first, just how short they are, and second just how unread they seem to be.

The instruction book for the Massey Ferguson 728 seed drill is still in its waxed brown envelope, just begging for its own slot on eBay.

Something tells me that, in those days, you just got on and used the machines, relying on a mix of advice from the oldies and a healthy bunch of common sense. The book headed straight for the filing cabinet. I can still hear one of the old boys: “That’ll learn you nothin’…”

My new sprayer arrived the other day, and it came with 226 pages of instruction book.

“Two-thirds of every page is dedicated to warnings – some of them of note, some of them patronisingly teaching Granny to suck eggs. Have we as an industry become unbelievably stupid in a generation?”
Charlie Flindt

Now, of course it’s true that a modern trailed sprayer is light years away in terms of sophistication from a bit of kit from the early 1960s – but those 226 pages aren’t just about how to use the machine. Two-thirds of every page is dedicated to warnings – some of them of note, some of them patronisingly teaching Granny to suck eggs. Have we as an industry become unbelievably stupid in a generation?

There’s also a slight problem with the bits that actually are instruction. They seem to have been translated from the original language (I won’t say which one) into English by a Chinese-speaker via his basic knowledge of Norwegian and Urdu.

I’ve had numerous attempts to understand what the hell it’s all about, and am not much the wiser.

It doesn’t help when you reach p176, where it seems that the company printer also decided it had had enough of this nonsense, and gives up using letters. The remaining 50 pages – the crucial “maintenance” ones – are nothing but a series of vertical dashes.

I’m not going to get much help from the book. There are no oldies left for advice – it looks like trial and error and 30 years’ worth of spraying experience will have to get me through.

It’s curious that in an era dominated by safety warnings and HSE caveats, a crucial instruction book ends up unreadable, and therefore unread in the filing cabinet with its half-century-old brethren.

I might have to clear the vintage stuff out via eBay – assuming I can hide the sweet smell of sodium cyanide first. Where’s my Old Spice? I had it this morning.

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