ISAAC BALL 1856 -1942
Isaac Ball was born in 1856, at Banks near Southport, the elder son of John Ball, a farmer and threshing contractor.
Isaac worked for his father for a while, but became disillusioned, leaving the family home, along with his wife. They took the ferry from Banks to Freckleton then walked to nearby Ballam, where Isaac was to find work and lodgings.
By 1880 Isaac had set up his own threshing business at Wharles, where he obtained land to build a workshop and yard for his equipment.
Isaac’s threshing business was to start with the purchase of a second hand Marshall traction engine in 1881 and by 1890 he had been joined by his younger brother John Ball. The business now traded as “I & J Ball”, and continued to prosper.
Isaac continued to expand and purchased more engines. In 1890 a new Marshall 8hp traction engine was ordered, to be followed the next year by another Marshall 8hp single crank and a 7hp Burrell, with a further Marshall being ordered in 1893.
By 1893 the partnership of Isaac and John had come to an end with John leaving to start up his own business in Forton, taking with him the Marshall engine No.21049.
To replace this engine Isaac ordered a new Marshall, a single crank, No.23885, being built to his own specifications, having the gear on the outside of the hornplates, which was at that time more typical of a Burrell. It also had a shortwheel base and delivery was taken in 1894. This engine survives today and has been restored. This was the last engine to leave Isaac’s yard at Wharles in 1976.
In the early 1900s Isaac was prospering as a threshing contractor, but also ran engine repairs and was to become involved with the road rolling side of the business. Isaac was now a Burrell agent and after discussion with Charles Burrell the idea of a convertible traction engine to a road roller was to become a reality. This solved Isaac’s road rolling problems that he had discovered whilst trying to roll farm roads using the rear straked wheels of his traction engines to crush and roll the stones. The results of this method were unsatisfactory compared to roads rolled by steam rollers.
Whilst he was an agent for Burrells he was to supply parts and engines to the local area’s contractors, authorities and fairground showmen. He was to attend the Royal Lancashire show of 1902 where four new Burrell engines were shown on his stand, No.2511, No.2512 named “ De Wet”, No.2513 named “General Buller” and No 2514. After the show Isaac retained for his own business two of the engines No.2512 and No.2513, both being scc 6hp engines.
Isaac was to receive his first convertible traction engine/road roller in 1903, No.2626, named “Delarey”which was later to be converted for threshing (see photos).
By the start of World War 1, Isaac was to own at least ten engines, threshing sets and seven rollers. The rollers were now mainly used on contract to Lancashire County Council.
The war saw a huge rise in the demand of food, grains and animal fodder and Isaac was to acquire more threshing and baling sets for the traction engines to power. Most of these engines and equipment were second hand as due to the war effort new was unavailable.
The war years also saw Isaac set up an agency of binder twine, selling directly to local farmers. “Owd Isaac” became a familiar term for binder twine and the term is still used on the Fylde today.
Isaac’s business was to cover the Fylde, from the River Ribble to the River Wyre, whilst his brother John continued to be based at Forton, working the area north of the Wyre, thus not invading each others business areas. Although Isaac was to monopolise the rolling side of the business working as far afield as Barrow and Bacup.
All businesses have problems but Isaac didn’t let the problem of communication hamper him. In his early threshing days the telephone was not available so communication was done by means of telegram. His wife would use Kirkham Post Office to telegram information to the nearest Post Office to Isaac’s working men. He also used postcards, which he gave to clients, who when needed to, filled them in and sent them to Isaac. One of Isaac’s daughters also used a horse and trap to supply information, bailing wire to sets, to collect money from customers and for other general purposes of the business. Isaac was then to acquire a telephone and was to be seen riding round on a motor cycle to conduct his business before the acquisition of a Model “T” Ford after the war which Isaac named “Bobby”.
Whilst concentrating on the threshing and rolling business the repair work continued to increase. By 1925 Isaac carried out work not only on his own engines but on those of local authorities and other owners. This business of repairs was to carry on into the 1950s.
The yard at Wharles carried a large range of machinery and therefore it was a natural progression to do such jobs as full rebuilds, reboilering, reboxing and retyring along with reboring cylinders. Other repair jobs were also undertaken and it became common practice for the firm to retube, rebush axles and bearings and to replace smoke boxes. Living vans were to be built at the yard and agricultural machinery was also repaired.
By now Isaac’s son Thomas was responsible for the day to day running of the business but no major decisions were to be taken by anyone but Isaac. Isaac was to receive work from the War Department involving road rolling work at the new Army camps and at the airfields at Salmesbury and Inskip. On Isaac’s death in 1942 the business would then be run by Thomas.
Business thrived and some 15 threshing sets using 80 men and 20 rollers were known to be working. On a lighter note, time was found for the busy men to run cricket and football teams.
During the years that Isaac’s business was to run two fires were to hit the firm. The first in 1938 was to destroy many of Isaac’s threshing sets along with damage to the building within the yard, damage to the engines and destruction of his overhead crane.
The second fire in 1958 was to cause severe damage including the loss of Marshall engine No. 23885 (which ironically was Isaac’s original engine), specialist tools being destroyed and the loss of other equipment and threshing sets. The damage accumulated to £18,000.
Some equipment was luckily saved and gradually the firm was to recover and continue to trade. However, the work of eight threshing sets could now be achieved by two combined harvesters. Lancashire County Council acquired their own road rollers so valuable contracts were lost. The firm undertook private work for road rolling but the volume of road work diminished greatly.
Thomas’s son John was now in charge of the business and they continued to trade as Isaac Ball & Sons in Wharles until John’s retirement in 1988 when the firm finely closed after more than a 100 years of trading in and around Lancashire.
Isaac whilst prospering with his business was to have a large family. His three sons all took an active part in the business. William the eldest, after initially working in his father’s business was to work for his uncle, John Ball at Forton. John Ball was later to leave the running of the business to his nephew William, who in succession was to be followed by his own son William.
Peter, Isaac’s middle son, was apprenticed to Charles Burrell, Engineer of Thetford, Norfolk who was by this time a family friend. As part of Peter’s apprenticeship with Burrell he constructed engine No. 3297 named “Mauretania” a three speed spring mounted 6hp dcc engine. On completion in 1911 Isaac purchased the engine to add to his fleet. Peter then went on to work at Lancashire County Council as an engineer. He was still involved in the family business and the old steam engines right up until his death. One of Peter’s last tasks before he died was to complete the restoration of one of Isaac Ball’s old traction engines, No.2513 named “General.Buller”.
Thomas, Isaac’s youngest son was apprenticed to Vulcan Motors near Southport. He was return to his father’s firm and helped in the running of the business. After Isaac’s death in 1942 Thomas took over the running of the business. Upon Thomas’s death his two sons, John and Victor, carried on the business.
Isaac’s four daughters were involved in the business in various ways at various times. One was the company secretary and remained with the business until the 1950s.
One of Isaac’s great grandsons, Bryan Rawstrone, has completely restored one of Isaac’s old steam rollers No. 2649 and exhibits it locally at country fairs etc. Bryan has aptly named this steam roller “Owd Isaac” in memory of his Great Grandfather.