Continuing my appreciation of Jim a Berry’s achievements, and having dealt with some of his inventions based on a nautical theme, I now wish to showcase some of his agricultural achievements and stories that he shared with me.
In my previous blog I mention the fish gutting machine and the initial secrecy around it, with him saying “The workshop is out of bounds.” Jim told me the reason for this involved one of the most time saving agricultural appliances, this was the “neap” (turnip) lifter. In a previous blog I told of my having to harvest the leftover turnips by hand from one of the huge East Voe fields. This being back-breaking and very physical work, Jim decided to overcome this by inventing a mechanical harvester. He succeeded with this venture and carried out trials in the East Voe fields; he kept the finished version in the workshop and was in the process of applying for his patent. “A government authority or licence conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention”. Due to pressing work on the farm Jim had not finished the patent paperwork. On a day Jim, Eva and Magnie were all absent from Berry Farm leaving only the elderly Mrs Smith alone in the house. A stranger called asking for Jim by name and he was from the press and would like to interview Jim regarding his inventions. Mrs Smith said he was away at present and innocently offered to show the individual around the farm and, of course the workshop. She remembered she had something on the stove and excused herself and asked the man to see himself out. Some time later a company from down south patented the very machine that Jim had invented. Jim told me the manufacturers name and it was one at that time I was familiar with. A severe lesson learned and with his future inventions Jim made certain few people knew about them until they were his patent.
When the wool season finished in 1967, instead of paying me off, Sheepie suggested I could work on Berry farm as I had some experience from Douneside and Craibstone. Berry at that time had a fair herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle and in the winter months were naturally kept in the byre. When I first went into the Berry byre and started work with the cattle I was very impressed when it came to cleaning the muck from the “ runnick” (drain) which held the cow dung. This was unlike Douneside, and Craibstone byres, where we wheeled the muck out by hand and barrow. Berry had a Jim invention; a mechanical shovel which took the dung from the drain and straight to the muck spreader.
There were other subtle mechanical aids which took a lot of the work out of the heavy workload on Berry Farm, Jim told me he constructed a wind turbine on the “knowe” (hillock) at the back of the house and he succeeded in producing electricity, unfortunately it blew down in a gale!
His last invention was on or around his eightieth birthday and was an apparatus to assist sheep feeding in the winter months by putting the feed into the feed troughs straight from a hopper attached to the tractor, thus saving a lot of manual work.
Jim was also a great story teller and could capture your attention and imagination on the telling of the story. You gathered from his stories that Berry appeared to play an important part in local history and folklore, perhaps it was to do with its proximity on the outskirts of the village, and it was always a very prosperous farm. I remember fencing with Jim on the hill above Berry and in fact the village of Scalloway. When digging to insert fence posts Jim showed me what he called “ess” (ashes) which he said was the remnants of the site where in years gone by witches were burned.
Berry Farm House, Jim said, originated from the time of Earl Patrick Stewart who resided in Scalloway castle. “The house was built for the castle hangman, or so they say,” was how he would finish off telling a story.
There were many stories but the one that stood out was one I heard Jim tell many times and captivated his audience. In 1588 a former resident of Berry Farm, Andrew Umphray, a farmer and merchant of some standing in the community, was requested by the authorities to rescue the survivors of the wrecked Spanish Armada flagship the El Gran Grifon which had run aground on the remote island of Fair Isle, between Orkney and Shetland. Umphray dispatched a small vessel he owned to Fair Isle, the survivors were then transported to the south mainland of Shetland where they stayed until Umphray could arrange a ship to take them to Dunkirk where they eventually arrived safely back home. Umphray had reputedly been rewarded by the Spanish, some say in land but Jim said Umphray was given a small cask of gold for his efforts. Jim would then pause and continue, the gold was supposed to have been hidden on Berry Farm, another longer pause then “Perhaps I found it or it is still there!”
I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs the skill of the late Tom Simpson of Brora and his ability to tell stories. Catherine and I were fortunate enough to have been in the company of both Tom and Jim at dinner one night, and I may have been biased, but Jim came out on top in the story telling!.
I will continue with further exploits of this remarkable man in my next blog.