Moving farm today would require a fleet of lorries doing many journeys, but 50 years ago you could do it all in one go … by train. John Hancock uncovers the tale of the farm move from Leicestershire to Cornwall.
If moving house is generally classed as one of the most stressful things in life, then moving farm must be several notches up the scale.
In 1960, when John and Pam Dibb Smith moved from their old farm, it stood out as a challenging project. The Dibb Smiths packed up an entire farm and transported it overnight by train from Leicestershire to Cornwall – all after evening milking and in time for morning milking.
Last on, first off …
The last on and first off the train were 35 dairy cattle. The operation took place from March 31 to April 1, departing from Tonge and Breedon Station, just two miles from the Dibb Smith’s Breedon Brand Farm at Osgathorpe, Leicestershire. The station had to be re-opened for the occasion, having been closed the previous September under Beeching’s axe. But why move a farm 300 miles?
When John Dibb Smith’s father, Dick, retired, the family planned to move to a larger farm, but could not find anything within a 50 mile radius. Pam’s father, solicitor John Barr, on a working visit to Cornwall, discovered details of Trink Farm, near St Ives.
It fitted the bill and, at £16,000, included 81ha (200 acres), four houses and farm buildings. But the result of signing the deal was that between January and March the farm had to be packed up and some means of transport found.
John mentioned this challenge to the British Railways lorry driver who often delivered materials to the farm. He suggested his boss could assist. And he did.
Transport by Railway
A survey was completed, concluding that 17 railway wagons of various sorts (including a single passenger coach) were required, on to which, over three days, could be loaded all of the family’s furniture and belongings, plus farm implements and equipment (including a Cambridge roller, a fertiliser distributor and a mowing machine), two tractors (including a Massey Ferguson 65 bought with the new, larger farm in mind), a van, a Land Rover and a trailer, as well as all the farm’s chickens, the 35 Ayrshire milking cows (fortunately all dehorned), seven calves, the cat, the welsh collie dog Lassie, the family’s pet dog Jenny and 11 people.
John’s parents Dick and Edith went ahead with the advance party. Since Pam’s parents had decided to move at the same time, room had to be found for their Hillman Minx convertible as well.
All of this, plus the journey itself and use of the facilities for unloading at St Erth Station, cost £363.19s .7d – around £6230 in today’s money.
Between milkings – But, most importantly, as John recounts “using the train got the whole farm to Cornwall between evening and morning milking”.
“The dairy cows were milked at 4pm on the afternoon of Thursday March 31 before loading on to Childs Bros cattle lorries for transportation to the station and a 6.10pm departure.”
Passengers included John and Pam Dibb Smith, with their sixweek old daughter Betsy (older daughter, Sally, travelled ahead with John’s parents and the advance party), helpers and friends, including Eric Foster who was a farmer from the Melbourne area who went along to look after the cattle so John could concentrate on the move. Eric checked the animals in their trucks at each stop along the way, openly declaring on arrival at St Erth that he had ‘walked all the bloody way!’
The journey had to be fitted into regular railway traffic and took 14 hours. At St Erth, the Station Master greeted them all with a tray of mugs, a jug of milk and a steaming teapot. Also greeting them were three lorries, chartered to get the milking cows off the train and up to Trink Farm for morning milking.
When one lorry broke down, John and his team drove the cattle the last half mile to the farm, incurring the only injury of the move when one animal tried to jump a barbed wire fence along the lane, suffering a cut teat. With the benefit of hindsight, John reflects that “I had overfed the cattle before their embarkation, which had caused them to overheat on the train. While immediate milk production was unaffected, some animals caught a chill after a couple of days and we lost production then.”
“Also, because we had no feed at the new farm, we had to put the herd straight out to pasture, which also affected production in the days after the move.” The only other health issue was an early attack of Red Water Fever as the cattle had not been bred in Cornwall and were, at first, susceptible to the condition caused by a parasitic tick that lives in bracken areas.
The Dibb Smiths were warned Cornish diehards might take a few years to accept them, but that was proved wrong when neighbouring farmers Sam Eddy from Brunnion Farm and Henry Sandow were among the first visitors to offer assistance, including drilling a field of corn.
Other members of the family soon arrived, including Pam’s parents, John’s uncle Frank Knowles, his wife Betty and their children Julie and Robert.
Life change when John Dibb Smith made a complete life change to be ordained an Anglican Priest in 1980, Robert Knowles took over Trink Farm, which his family still run.
John Dibb Smith went on to be priest in charge at St John in the Fields Church, St Ives, from 1990 to 1997. Trink Farm today is a thriving dairy business with 270 milking cows, and Robert Knowles was a steward at the Royal Cornwall Show and Council Member for West Cornwall on Milk Link.
Having bought two neighbouring farms (including Sam Eddy’s Brunnion Farm), today’s 162ha (400 acre) business is run by Robert’s son Chris and his wife Rachel.