A major relocation – now nearly four years ago ! – has left me in a mental and physical no-man’s land with sheds and barns stuffed to the brim with all my artefacts, carts, tractors, three-wheelers and implements of a bygone era. I moved lock stock and barrel (actually about half a dozen barrels !) to a new site, a very old farm where a kind friend / customer of mine allowed me to invade and occupy the barns and sheds of a ‘spare’ holding he owns. My gratitude to him is measureless and it allows me to (possibly) develop my idea of setting up a private museum of Welsh farming life. We’ll see – if my efforts to get this blog up and running is anything to go by that may be a forlorn hope.
I’m going to attempt to record all of my collection so that this blog can serve as a source of historical information about the tools and equipment, the methods and processes of farming from the late nineteenth to the mid twentieth century.
Where to start ? My curatorial skills and knowledge are woefully insufficient for such a task so accept my excuses right from the outset. I’ve been trying to decide what order to present articles so as to make searching for particular items easier. Should I divide the farming year into seasons perhaps ? Should I look at particular activities or task such as butter-making or sheep shearing ? Maybe I should divide by the management of stock or the growing and harvesting of crops. How best to present and describe the over two hundred items is a constant conundrum – I need help !!
However, as yet another year draws to a close without much progress on this front (but much on the restoration of large and small artefacts as well as repairs and improvements to the buildings) I’ve decided to make a start, again.
So here goes; I have decided to begin at the end in one sense, at the most recent items of farming that I have and that basically means machines. Let us take a look at my small group of tractors which in essence mark the change from a horse powered agriculture to a horsepower agriculture.
My oldest tractor was manufactured in 1943 at Dagenham. It is a product of war-time manufacturing, an attempt to assist in the feeding of a nation under blockade. Whilst it is by no means the earliest tractor to appear on British farms it was certainly one which found its way onto many Welsh upland farms in the war years, often assisted by the War Agriculture Committees. It is the Fordson Standard model N, known as the Utility, it wears the narrow wings of the wartime production (a means to save much needed steel ) and is fitted with post war pneumatic tyres as opposed to the metal wheels and lugged rears of the war years.
I should say right from the outset that I have an absolute Love-Hate relationship with this old girl. The term for a female dog is what she mostly gets called and most usually with an apt prefix. But then she warms the cockles of my heart when she kicks into life and all is forgiven – it is a relationship which many an old farmer who suffered with these tractors has narrated to me; they of course needed the thing to do some work whereas I just love to look, listen and, if I’m lucky, drive it.
Back in the late 1990s I decided to try to find a wartime example of the Standard Fordson N to compliment an exhibition of farming during the war years. I had put together a small collection for the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War 2, a time which was also a major watershed in farming practices, but I lacked a major component, a horse or a period tractor !
At the time I was working on a wall which had been the Deer Park Wall of the old Edwinsford estate in the Cothi valley between Talley and Llansawel (have a look at www.welshwaller.wordpress.com ) and the farmer there was also a bit of a vintage tractor buff. I mentioned to him that I was a after a Fordson and it turned out he knew of one. He had come down to that part of Wales from the Clun area of east Radnorshire and west Shropshire and he had a friend who had recently inherited an old farm in the village of Beguildy in the Teme valley. Luckily for me the farmer needed some walls repaired around the old farmstead of Church Farm and was happy to pay for it with the Fordson.
The tractor had been brought to the farm by the farmer. Richard Tudge, in the year of its birth under the War Agricultural Executive Committee scheme to assist farmers increase productivity to help feed the nation during the war years. Originally it ran on iron wheels and had a strange vaporiser carburettor (the cause of much of the poor running and refusal to start issues). A few years after war’s end a new carb became available and this lady was retro fitted and, probably also received her rubber tyres and new wheels. Amazingly those are the same tyres on which she sits today.
In about 1953 the old girl was parked away in a lean-to shed, jacked up onto her front axle, and left alone. Richard eventually ran the new Ford Dexta and then the Super Dexta, both of which were also still on the farm. It was therefore fifty years before the Fordson saw the light of day again when, on a dark and dismal Saturday morning I winched her onto my trailer, having blown up the tyres and found, to my delighted astonishment, they held pressure and ferried her back to my place. Then the fun began…
The tyres may have been sound, the tin-work was in super condition with only light surface rust, the engine on the other hand was … Well it was seized solid. The first thing to do was to jack it up by the front axle, put a block under the starting handle and lower the weight of the tractor onto the starting handle. Squirt some coca-cola into the cylinders having taken out the spark plugs which were also sound, and leave her be. Come back in a couple of days, jack her up again, re-locate the starting handle back to a high point, lower and leave her be. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the engine starts to move so just keep on jacking her up, re-positioning the starting handle and disappear. Eventually, in this case only about four days, the engine is free enough to crank her fully around the cycle. Once that was achieved it was time for dismantling to begin. Tin work off, fuel tank disassembled and removed – it still had half a tank of TVO (tractor vaporising oil) in it – the early tractors were fully petrol driven but by the time of the 2nd World War TVO had become a favourite fuel, by starting the engine on petrol and allowing it to sufficiently warm-up, a tap was turned to allow the vaporising oil to trickle in and the engine ran more smoothly and much more economically AND there was a tax incentive as TVO being only used by agriculture, was made available free of the tax which petrol accrued. Today it his difficult to obtain although there are a couple of companies re-making it especially for the vintage tractor brigade. It can be made unofficially – ahem – by mixing 4 parts kerosene to one part petrol (i.e. 4 galls kero to one of petrol) and adding a cup full of engine oil BUT you are prohibited from driving on the road with a home made mix. Of course, by the end of the 1940s diesel engines became the norm.
The head was removed and the valves reground but the rest showed very little evidence of having had a hard life. The one expense was that the magneto, without which no spark can be got, had to go away for a total rebuild/rewind. An excellent fellow over in Wroughton near Swindon, Mr Day, did the job for me and even though it cost several hundreds of pounds it has never faltered, indeed he has just rebuilt another magneto for me and cleaned and re-set another which he did a few years prior to the Fordson but which I had foolishly neglected for some years, both the others were off stationary engines which I will feature in a later post.
The Fordson was taken off to my guru on all things vintage, especially the infernal combustion engine. There it was shot blasted, got running and sprayed in the appropriate green. Later fitted wheels tended to be coloured in the period Fordson orange with which the E27n, the model which superceded the N, was painted. War time fitted pneumatic tyres and wheels tended to be finished in the same Army green of the main tractor body – this apparently was partly because there was quite a lot available (!) and partly to camouflage the rows of tractors parked outside the Ford factory in Dagenham so as to avoid Luftwaffe bombing raids.
I have gotten better at starting the old girl, in fact just this last week I finally worked out why she would run for a short while then stop and refuse to start. It seems that when respraying the tank, the filler for the petrol – it is a tank of two compartments with just a small 1 gallon petrol tank and a much larger TVO compartment – got some paint on to the internal thread for the brass fuel cap and over time bits of it have come away and fallen into the tank there to block the outlet or wind its way into the fuel tap and prevent ease of flow. An old vacuum cleaner sucked it all out and fingers crossed, that’s another issue sorted.
The good thing about the magneto on this tractor is that it just needs to be eased over, which is to say there is no swinging the handle around and around through the compression cycles. Just one upward click and (all being well!) she’ll fire up. It amuses me that on youtube are several clips of folk trying to start their Fordson model N, boy it brings a smile to my face and an understanding of their frustration. In the words of my old restoration guru ” ‘er wouldn’a did”
This relic of wartime agriculture is now 76 years old, she is testament to the engineering expertise of the Ford company and is a great favourite of mine. I don’t ask much of her, I reckon she deserves some TLC after the hard and then neglected years. I’d like to think that she’ll make it well past her centenary although my spell as her curator will have long ceased by then. Surely someone will take her on ?
The next oldest tractor in the shed is a 1950 ‘Fergie Fach, the little grey Ferguson which really was the Model T of farming – sold cheaply in hundreds of thousands and in any colour as long as it was grey – apparently Harry Ferguson bought up a mass of old battleship grey paint from the Royal Navy which was surplus at the end of the war, it was made by several different companies hence the ever-so slight variation in the Ferguson grey tractors. My particular tractor is the TED which is the successor to the TEA and the predecessor to the TEF …. Basically the first Fergie was an all petrol four cylinder job, TEA, that was followed by the tractor vaporising model, TED, I think in 1950, eventually a diesel engine became available, the TEF.
My Fergie Fach was first registered (the Herefordshire number remains with her GVJ 599) on the 13th January 1950, she began life as a ‘demonstrator’ for the Hereford dealership, hence she has the fancy lights! Her first working owner was James Watkins of Stormer Hall, Leintwardine in the west of the county near the Radnorshire border. He became the owner on May 2nd 1950 and in January 1951 Thomas Watkin – whom I assume was a son of James – took over as the registered keeper. I imagine this was related to either a hereditary change on the farm or some other business decision.
In June 1953 the little tractor became the working vehicle for one William Percival Jones who farmed near Sennybridge to the west of Brecon. In October 1958 after five years of excellent service, the unmarked, well cared for little tractor was traded in at the Brecon Motors showroom for a new Massey Ferguson 35, the four cylinder version. The FergieFach was then moved over the Eppynt mountain to a small hill farm on the road from Beulah to Abergwesyn in north Breconshire.
William Powell (William was a popular name back then !) would have much preferred to avoid the new fangled tractors and stick to what he knew, the reliable horse. He usually kept two working horses on the farm at Lloft-y-Bardd, one slightly ‘tidier’ than the other in case it needed to be ridden to town or some-such. The working horse he had passed away suddenly and he had tried desperately to find another. With winter coming in and ploughing to get done as well as stock to feed through the wild weather of that mountainous area, he was in trouble. On a journey to try to find a replacement, accompanied by his son Bryn, who really, really just wanted to get a tractor like all his school friends had, they failed again. Stopping in Brecon on the return homeward they happened past the Brecon Motors showroom and there, in the window, was the resplendent little grey Ferguson tractor looking gleaming and ‘tidy’. For £450 the deal was done and the machine was duly delivered to its new and no doubt, loving home. When William died Bryn took over the farm and was registered as the tractor’s keeper on the 22nd August 1967.
It’s always interesting to know where an old piece of machinery spent its working days. Even with my small hand tools and other bits n bobs I like, if I can, to record from whence they came. Sometimes I can name the farm, sometimes I know only the area, often, especially if I acquire an item from a friend or antique centre, I have to judge its likely origin by its style or particular feature.
Some of you may have read or already know that my collection is called ‘The Percy Jones Collection’. Recognise the name ? He was the owner of my little tractor from 1953 to 1958. My connection to him and his vast array of traditional farming tools and equipment – the very basis of my scarily extensive collection – is via a relationship I had with one of his daughters back in the late 1960s and into the early 70s. I spent several harvests helping him on the small farm although never being allowed to drive the immaculate red 35 tractor and spent many vacations wandering the fields hunting rabbits and squirrels.
Leap forward some twenty five years and a chance encounter in Brecon town with that old flame resulted in me acquiring, just prior to being scrapped and/or burned, his farming heritage. You will see many of them in the later posts. But as for the Fergie Fach, which had already been traded long before I set foot on the farm, how did that come into my possession ? I’ll tell you …
In the early years of the new Millenium I relocated to the small village of Beulah on the route from Builth Wells to Llanwyrtd Wells, there to dwell in an old cottage for some fifteen years. I had begun to display some of my collection at local vintage shows and it was at these that I met a fairly close neighbour of mine, the venerable Bryn Lloft y Bardd. We became chums and I would often walk up to his little homestead on the side of the hill just off the Abergwesyn road. He still kept sheep even though his three score years and ten had long since past. He lived alone in that almost primitive cottage with no running water or indoor facilities. He was known and loved, respected and indeed venerated throughout the area. He was a champion ‘stick’ maker (such that at the sale of his possessions after his death, individual sticks which he had made fetched prices in excess of two hundred pounds) and his knowledge and memory was unbounded. I benefited greatly from his knowledge of the history of the area and particularly his memories of the old ways of farming in those remote hills. Why, he even managed to name individuals in some old photographs I had acquired of the area, mainly of folk carrying out farming activities such as harvesting or peat digging.
As the years went by he became aware of his mortality and began to give me rare and cherished items of his farming tools – “you must have them” he would say, “who else is going to look after them and tell their story?”. – and eventually he asked me to buy his beloved little grey Fergie. At first I resisted, I already had two and even though his was in very good order I couldn’t really justify what he thought he would like for it. A year or so later we agreed a price acceptable to both of us. He wanted me to have it as it “should stay in the valley” and I really, by then, felt I should buy it as a memento of his life.
We sat in his dimly lit kitchen (a kitchen in the sense that it was where he sometimes cooked on an open fire and generally sat but there were no modern ‘white goods’ certainly no sink, no taps, no cooker and little comfort) and I gave him a cheque whereupon he went up the old creaky bare wood stairs and after a while, returned with the old buff registration book, or ‘log’ book as it was known as it ‘logged’ the owners and the vehicles particulars. I looked at the old buff. folded document and was dumfounded. There, in his own hand writing, was Percy Jones. “In all the bars, in all the world…” Small world syndrome rears up in my life quite often, indeed we’ll come across it in a later tale of another tractor, but this ‘coincidence’ was too great; surely it was ‘meant to be’ ?
What’s more, when I explained to Bryn the story and related the fact that Percy had grown up just over the hill from Bryn’s home, in the village of Llanwrthwyl at the Talwrn farm, it turned out that Bryn had known him well when they were boys as they would meet on the hill whilst out shepherding.
There’s a few more tractors to report on as well as some period equipment that match their era. I’ll get that up as soon as I possibly can, not least so that I can start telling you about those items that really interest me !