One comes across many different kinds of strange phenomena reported in the old newspapers, but I have to admit that Mad Milking Machines is a new one for me. In 1949-50, the odd goings-on at the Tarcutta, Australia farm of Lawrence "Laurie" Wilkinson had everyone puzzled for months.
From the "Cootamundra Herald," January 29, 1949:
Residents of Tarcutta are still mystified by the behavior of pulsator plates from a milking machine on a dairy near Tarcutta. The plates have been hurled up to 250 yards from the machine by some "unknown power."
The occurrences have been reported to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, but the council has not yet moved to investigate the happenings.
Mr. A. Portors, Tarcutta engineer, has asked the C.S.I.R to send a scientist immediately to investigate the matter.
Mr. Portors said last night that he wanted to find out what power was hurling the plates such distances at a speed so fast that the eye could not detect them.
The plates, he said, weighed 13 ounces, were approximately three inches long, and approximately one and a half inches wide.
Mr. Portors, who has been an engineer since 1917, said he had rectified engine trouble in the machine some weeks ago.
Since then the plates had continued to fly from the machine. "It is no good sending an ordinary engineering man down here, because he will not find any mechanical defect," said Mr. Portors. "If a scientist comes I will assist him, and put the machine through its past routine. I think I can make it hurl the plates again," said Mr. Portors.
He said no plates had been thrown from the machine since Monday.
Mr. Portors denied the suggestion that a power line near the farm might have something to do with the occurrences.
Mr. R. Donohoe, of "Innisfall," Tarcutta, who has a similar machine, said: "It is impossible, but I saw it happen."
Mr. O. Gorman, of Elwood, Sydney, who is holidaying with Mr. Donohoe, said, "I wish I had not seen it. It was uncanny."
Three Tarcutta residents say they saw a young boy moving a pulsator plate with a short iron rod. The plate flew from the machine, hurling the rod from the boy's hand, and imbedded itself In a mud heap 200 yards away. When they picked it up it had an odor similar to that made by a high voltage electrical discharge.
The machine was operated on the farm for several years without trouble. It is a five-ball machine. Any one of the plates was likely to go, it was stated.
An expert from Albury examined the machine, but it worked perfectly. He said he was unable to explain the cause of the trouble.
Mr. Wilkinson bolted down the steel bar which keeps the plates in position, but they still flew off. He is so alarmed at the behavior of the machine that he has abandoned the use of it, and has reverted to milking his 100 cows by hand.
The plot thickened in the "Braidwood Review," February 8, 1949:
While a report states that an engineer has described the Tarcutta milking machine mystery as "fantastic and utter rot," the owner of the farm, Mr. Laurie Wilkinson, threatens to sell out if the mystery is not solved.
He announced his intention of doing this to Councillor A. O'Brien, president of Kyeamba Shire Council recently. Mr. O'Brien said on Tuesday night that the people who should be concerned at the mystery, such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, were not taking enough interest in the matter.
"It seems to me that they won't send a scientist down here until someone is killed or seriously injured. We don't want that to happen," said Mr. O'Brien.
The machines "played up" badly on Tuesday morning. "Mr. Wilkinson was very distraught when I saw him on Tuesday," said Mr. O'Brien. He pointed out that Mr. Wilkinson has a maimed hand and because of the peculiar behaviour of the machine he and his young son had to milk 50 cows by hand.
Cr. O'Brien said Mr. Wilkinson believed that if he installed a new machine on his property there was a strong possibility that it would also "play up," and he was not prepared to take the risk.
Mr. O'Brien said that plates had been thrown from the machine when the power was off and the works stationary. Mr. O'Brien telegraphed Mr. Graham on Tuesday and contacted Mr. Fuller, M.H.R., by telephone. He asked them both to make further representations for a scientific investigation of the mystery.
The Sydney "Telegraph" reports that Mr. Dowsett, assistant engineer of the Southern Riverina Council, investigated the milking machines. He found no evidence to support earlier reports, and in a caustic report referred to a boy and girl on the farm between the ages of 9 and 12 years, and commented: "To those who have seen these plates vanish before their eyes, I can say: 'Look again, but don't look too hard.'
"The plates, if found some distance from the dairy, have been thrown or placed in position. Marks on the ground and on posts have been made by man or beast, and the whole situation is fantastic and utter rot.
"I would suggest that no further trouble will be experienced, at least with the afternoon milkings, after the termination of the present school holidays."
Mr. A. Portors, Tarcutta engineer, completely discounted the suggestion by Wagga engineer, Mr. J. H. Dowsett that a young boy was responsible for the plates leaving the machine. He said one of the original plates had been found and placed on the machine at the weekend. A man had kept a careful watch on the machine, but the plate disappeared before his eyes on Sunday morning. "The man was the only person present at the time," said Mr. Portors. He pointed out that Mr. Wilkinson had only had two trouble-free milkings in more than three weeks.
So. The "Central Queensland Herald," November 3, 1949:
Farmers and others In the Tarcutta district of the Riverina think their famous mad-milking machine has Canberra scientists bluffed.
Five months ago they invited the CSIRO to send a scientist to Tarcutta to discover why the milking machine kept hurling off its pulsator plates and other parts, but the CSIRO did not accept the invitation. It told the machine's owner, dairy farmer L. Wilkinson, to send for an expert from the makers.
The milking machine expert, as well as local engineers and neighbouring dairymen, have all tried their hand at making the machine behave. All have failed.
Mr. Wilkinson, a hard-headed farmer, does not believe in poltergeists (obstreperous ghosts), but he has had enough of the machine. When he wants to milk his cows he takes them to a neighbouring farm, where the milking machine does not throw things at him.
Farmers say the machine shows a sort of intelligence in its tantrums. When wire-netting was placed on one side to catch the parts the machine changed the direction of the throw.
Tarcutta engineer A. Portors yesterday summed up the local view when he said : "Canberra scientists may laugh at a distance, but let them try to explain these happenings. At first, all the parts flew off in a northerly direction, but when we put wire-netting on the northern side of the machine it threw the parts to the south.
Mr. Portors said that the latest happenings had caused many people In the district to think that some supernatural force was at work.
On December 4, 1949, the Sydney "Sunday Herald" devoted an entire page to the mystery. They published testimony from 15 people who had personally witnessed hundreds of metal parts from the machine flying as far as 250 yards. They told of seeing a cast-iron axle weighing 65 pounds lifted two feet off the ground with "a terrific bang." It described how "in an effort to stop the machine from flying to bits," Wilkinson tied every moving part of the machine to walls and rafters. "Yet parts of the machine, both moving and stationary, continue to fly about, twisting the heavy iron dog chains that secure them as if they were soft copper wire. Since January 10, when the disturbance started, every moving part of the machine had been thrown off mysteriously. Twelve of those parts were still missing."
The milking machine was not the only thing flying. Eleven-pound grease tins. Empty cigarette tins. Cream cans. All were seen to fly through the air on their own uncanny power. Several diesel engines were found mysteriously dismantled.
Over the next few days, the "Herald" went through the various theories being proposed for these bizarre happenings. A member of the London Magic Circle (a society of amateur and professional magicians) was convinced it was due to a poltergeist, with the unwitting human agent being Wilkinson's 15-year-old son Robin.
Mechanical defect? No. Wilkinson's machine had been repeatedly examined by a series of experts, who agreed that it was in perfect working order.
Magnetic disturbance? No. Most of the machine's parts were brass, which is not magnetic. Tests for ground magnetism were also negative.
Radio beams used to guide aircraft that flew over the "haunted dairy." Uh-uh. These beams were believed to be far too weak to cause such spectacular results.
Hypnotism? Hardly. The phenomena had been seen too many times, by too many different people, to make some sort of mass hallucination credible.
Trickery, probably by young Robin Wilkinson? No. The milking machine continued to run amok when the boy was far away from the farm.
A Sydney physicist, Leonard Gulson, delivered a truly impressive display of scientific special pleading. "Thousands of miles below the surface of the earth," he said, "far below the earth’s hard crust, vast masses of molten matter rotate at great speeds, setting up gravitational turning torques about a line drawn at right angles through the centre of each rotating mass.
“Now if the centre lines from two or more of these great rotating masses of molten metal cross at a point near the earth’s surface an increased force or torque will be created at that point.
“And if this point where the forces cross is above the earth’s surface, a distinct lifting and turning motion will be created at that spot, causing stationary objects to be whirled or whisked first upward and then outward toward the direction of whatever force is the stronger.
“Naturally, it is only at very rare occasions when such converging forces would cross in the ether at a point low enough to the earth’s surface to be observed by man in the manner experienced on this farm, and in any case, the phenomena would disappear in time as the moving masses of molten matter harden and the angle of their forces change direction.
“This theory is a more scientific and reasonable way of accounting for the mysterious behaviour of metal objects on Mr. Wilkinson’s farm."
Alas, another physicist snorted that Gulson's "nebulous theory" " "cannot be regarded as a serious solution of the problem.”
Underground mineral force? Underground whirlpool? Black magic?? A "new theory of gravitation???"
The milker was obviously not the only thing going a bit nuts.
The last report that I have found on the mystery dates from February 1950. It indicated that peculiar behavior was still going on at the Wilkinson farm, but less frequently. The cause of the Mad Milker was still being debated.