Vintage tractors are Go!
In our solitary village shop, most of one wall is taken up by magazines, and most of the magazines seem to be about farming, field sports, fishing…and tractors. The ladies who work in the shop say that the demand for tractor magazines is phenomenal. Until we moved here, I had no idea that you could fill a shelf with different tractor magazines, let alone with different vintage tractor magazines. Anyway, it seems that you can. And one of the best customers for such publications must have been a friend of ours who, until his sudden death two years ago, was the mainstay of our estate, our Clerk of Works, the man in charge of all the practical maintenance of every property on the estate and a thousand other things besides.
John was one of nature’s gentlemen, a soft-spoken and delightful man. He had a way of responding to any awkward request with ‘surely’, which made one feel in the safest of hands. He worked so hard that he had to be almost ordered to take a holiday now and again. With his premature death we lost not only an invaluable employee, but someone whom we considered a friend and a bit of a father-figure. His knack of inspiring friendship with people from all walks of life meant that there was much talk in the months after his passing about how best to celebrate his life and memory. Almost from the off, we knew it had to involve vintage tractors, for these were John’s passion. He never looked happier than pottering in his work shed at weekends, oily boiler-suit on, an immaculate old tractor under his hands. He had quite a collection of different makes and was often asked to be a judge at vintage tractor shows. So everyone knew it was the perfect memorial when someone came up with the idea of holding a vintage tractor rally. After an unavoidable postponement from last year, John’s Memorial Tractor Rally finally went ahead at the weekend.
First thing on Sunday morning, lorries and tractors started to rumble down the drive to park in a field in front of the castle. To get the smaller tractors loaded onto trucks and to drive them from farms across the county, some of these people must have been up early even by the standards of farmers. Everyone had made a big effort: an entry fee was paid for charity, there were between twenty and thirty tractors and every vehicle was immaculate.
For our boys, of course, it was a dream come true. A whole field full of tractors, right in front of our house! They lost no time in approaching drivers to ask for permission to climb up and have a go.
Even I have a soft spot for tractors, ignorant though I am. My father worked for Massey Ferguson for many years, starting a few years after the merger of Ferguson tractors with their Canadian counterparts in 1953, and I can’t help but be biased towards those little grey Fergies and cheerful red Massey Fergusons.
At last everyone was assembled and it was time for a pep talk before they set off. The fifty-odd-mile route was to take them from the castle, up by rural back roads to the highland farm where John grew up, then back to us after a well-earned lunch at the farmhouse. Unfortunately, as the brief speech was in progress, the sky grew darker and darker…
…until the heavens opened in a ferocious cloudburst at the exact moment that the tractors began to pull away.
We were all soaked through in seconds but, as his widow acknowledged with a chuckle, you had to feel it was John having a wee joke at our expense! I must admit that fifty miles on a tin seat in an open cab doesn’t much appeal to me even in good weather, but the drivers were mostly well-prepared in oilskins. While we dripping spectators took refuge under the trees, the rally set off in fine spirits.
I am glad to say that the weather improved for them in the course of the day, and they returned safely in the late afternoon in balmy sunshine. It was a memorable day for us all, and a good way to remember a friend.