By ROBYN BRISTOW
The poleman is on a mission. Don Scott, of North Canterbury, is keen to find out the age of his huge British-made Newbold Machine Tool Company lathe.
Don has owned the lathe for 20 years. He has used it to turn horse jump rails.
When he was made redundant from his job a few years back, he modified it to enable him to manufacture larger poles for building construction.
Now it is a one-pass lathe that can remove 100mm of wood off a log up to 5.2m long.
Don has always believed his lathe was 120 years old.
But in recent weeks a woman who visited to pick up some jump rails said it was much older than that. Don immediately asked how on Earth she knew.
“It’s written on that leg,” she replied.
To Don’s astonishment, painted on one of the legs was 1856, and the word “Lyttleton”.
This means it is at least 164 years old, and counting.
“I’ve owned it for 20 years and never noticed that at all. Nor has anyone else (in my defence). So, yes, I was gobsmacked.”
He has visited the Christchurch library on a quest to discover what ship it might have arrived on, who imported it, and anything else about it.
He has so far come up empty-handed.
“I really would love to know what it was brought here to do. I was told it was to build log cabins, but I’ve never seen old log cabins with turned poles or photos which would suggest that use.
“I can’t imagine how it could have been steam-powered, but I also can’t think of any other way it was powered.”
Don uses Douglas fir for his jump rails to ensure they are of good quality and strength.
“I experimented with pine, but the fir makes a far superior rail.”
His rails have since been sold all over New Zealand. He has had inquiries from as far away as Britain.
Don knows exactly what kind of tree transforms into a quality rail.
His pine construction poles, which are treated after turning, are also sought after, especially among builders or homeowners seeking a neat, uniform product.
His own immaculately tended block in North Loburn is home to more than 5000 manicured trees.
Friends joke that he knows them all by name.
It is a postcard-perfect agri-forestry block. Don’s trees are all carefully maintained.
When his pines needed thinning many years ago, the removed trees were processed into fence posts.
A few years later the the slower-growing macrocarpa were coming up for thinning. They were too small for sawmilling and Don was looking for some way to add value to trees
that would normally be removed for firewood.Jump rails were suggested.
This set Don off on a journey that ended in him buying the old lathe from a Mid-Canterbury sawmill that had no further use for it.
The lathe was unbolted and lifted by two diggers on to a transporter for its trip
across the Canterbury plains.
Don modified his covered sheep yards to house it.
He also had to convert the lathe from running off three-phase power to a six-cylinder Fordson-Major diesel engine. It took 18 months before all the modifications were
complete and he was able to turn his first rail.
It has since been upgraded to run on a 45-horsepower Chinese diesel motor, with 100%
The Newbold lathe may have been modernised to keep it in fighting trim, but
its ancient bones endure.