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Vintage tractors are Go!

May 9, 2011

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.

Slowly does it: unloading a bug-eyed Massey Ferguson with passenger seat attachment

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.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Toffeeapple permalink
    May 9, 2011 3:18 pm

    What a marvellous way to be remembered! I did enjoy looking at the vintage machines, such happy memories.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 9, 2011 6:54 pm

      I’m glad – I think there are a lot of us who appreciate these old vehicles at one level or another.

  2. Margaret Lambert permalink
    May 9, 2011 4:27 pm

    An excellent memorial! Men and their machines…. My father’s family had a business in a rural town in Washington wheat country selling McCormick and later John Deere farm equipment. The new tractors are luxurious beyond the dreams of older farmers, with sound systems and comfortable heating and air conditioning in the cabs. I don’t know that they inspire the affection the early models did.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 9, 2011 6:58 pm

      John Deere – green! My boys knew each brand by colour from a very early age. The modern versions have kept the colour of the livery, but that’s the only thing they have in common with the earlier ones. I think you’re right about the new ones. Today’s monsters that monopolize the country roads are not on the friendly human scale of the old tractors.

  3. Jean S permalink
    May 9, 2011 6:27 pm

    what a fabulous memorial!

  4. dancingbeastie permalink*
    May 9, 2011 7:01 pm

    It was a good day, and it’s nice to know that others can appreciate the idea.

  5. May 9, 2011 8:00 pm

    Amazing! There is something so cheerful about a tractor I always think. And really, what a wonderful way to remember him by, I always think celebrating a person’s interests and passions even after they are gone is the best way to keep their memory alive.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 9, 2011 8:35 pm

      They are cheerful – I think it’s the primary colours and chunky shape. Very childlike in a way. And yes, it’s important to remember what made someone happy, isn’t it. I think our friend would have been very chuffed by this rally.

  6. May 10, 2011 2:35 pm

    What a great idea – wonderful tribute. Also says something about the man and all those who came with their tractors.
    There’s just something about tractors – the old ones anyway – I remember the thrill of riding one as a child-it’s red had faded to pink with some green touches among the scratches ( it wasn’t new when we got it)- the wonderful noise and feeling like king of the fields…The huge new ones with the enclosed cabs just don’t seem the same…..your kids probably are still dreaming tractors! Thanks for the pictures!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 10, 2011 6:59 pm

      I can just imagine your childhood tractor – a lovely description.

  7. May 11, 2011 8:31 pm

    What a perfect memorial to someone so important to you! My husband used to have a beloved old Fergie, one of the first to have a basic cab to shield him from the elements. He was so sad to have to let it go when we moved, along with his equally beloved old JCB….

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 12, 2011 5:26 pm

      I’d love to have seen his Fergie – you don’t have a photo you could post, do you? Don’t think I’ve ever seen one with a cab. (Listen to me, I’ll be buying a tractor mag myself soon… 🙂 )

  8. May 13, 2011 10:21 pm

    Oh dear, I’ve misled you, DB 😦 When I readyour reply, I started to have doubts and have just checked with my husband. His beloved tractor was a Zetor and the Fergie was the ancient, rusting wreck that was here when we bought the house nearly 40 years ago. Sorry for the confusion….

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 14, 2011 5:01 pm

      Aw, poor old Fergie! We have a Zetor here on the estate. It dates from the eighties and is utterly hideous, to my mind, all sharp edges and orange paint. I think the older ones were probably a great deal more aesthetically pleasing!

  9. May 14, 2011 9:08 pm

    I can confirm that tractor mag mania is thriving among the younger generation. One of my son’s friends lives on a farm, and the favourite reading of this 20 year old is a tractor magazine.
    Tractors I would make a detour to see, but a vintage car rally doesn’t have the same appeal. I think it’s because tractors are useful (like Simon Schama’s ‘useful’ minibuses at the Royal Wedding). Tho I was once taken against my will to a vintage steam engine rally (ie fairground engines and the like) in England and was bored rigid.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 15, 2011 6:13 pm

      Yes, I think you’re onto something there. Vintage tractors have function as well as form. Well, no, I suppose steam engines do too – but I prefer the straightforwardness of tractors. William Morris would approve, I think, if he approved of any mechanisation.

  10. May 17, 2011 2:55 pm

    Lovely photos. Please ask your father if he knows my uncle Gordon Macdonald. He too has worked for MF forever!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 18, 2011 11:10 pm

      Alas, my dad died 12 years ago. But he was a Macdonald too!

  11. May 18, 2011 6:50 pm

    A lovely memorial. We too have a Vintage Tractor Rally even in Orkney – it’s know locally as “The Rusty Club”! I didn’t know there was *magazines* about them though……!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 18, 2011 11:11 pm

      What a great name. I bet you’d find the mags if you looked in Stromness – unless we’ve cornered the market here, of course!

  12. March 13, 2014 7:52 am

    What a wonderful memorial for a special friend. I love all things vintage, including tractors, not that I would be buying a magazine anytime soon. 😉

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