The move away from TVO was completed, by all manufacturers, by the middle of the 1950s, many tractors were running on diesel fuel before that. The evolution of the Ferguson range came with the amalgamation of Massey Harris and Ferguson and the Massey Ferguson range began with the four cylinder 35. There are some folk who have negative views on that engine, supposedly it was a notably bad starter. I will just say that in my (very) limited experience, as long as the ‘pop’ of the pre-heat was heard the engine fired up. The only one I had driven was the tractor that replaced my Fergie Fach in Percy Jones’ stable. It had not been started for best part of ten years when I first tried it and with little effort away she went. However, I well remember the care which Percy lavished on her from my days helping out with the harvest at the end of the 1960s; always prepared before use and always cleaned and checked a the end of the day. Could it be that the bad reputation of the 35 four cylinder was as much to do with poor attention to the owner’s manual as any defect in design or manufacture …
My particular 35 is the model which was MF’s answer to the problem, it emerged from the factory in around 1960, a year into the run of the 3 cylinder engine. The engine was a Perkins design and became a mainstay of the manufacturer for many years afterwards. I had no particular desire to add a 35 to my collection although, had it been offered, I may well have been tempted to acquire Percy’s which to this day lies abandoned in the barn. But a particular annual visitor from the Carolinas was besotted with them and was so desperate to have one to drive on the annual tractor run that when I had the chance to buy one at a reasonable price, I felt duty bound.
A chance conversation with the fellow from whom I had bought another of my stable, a MF165, more of which later, saw me bumping along a track in a remote valley near Pontardawe. The farmer was facing up to retirement and was beginning to clear his large amount of old equipment. Most of it was going to scrap (despite much of it being quite saleable to sad souls like me!) and in fact the 35 was on its way the very next day – he had already taken off and scrapped the front loader, what a shame! I’m not sure if he had bought the tractor new, possibly, not least because the tractor which replaced it, a 135, did arrive new. In fact it was the arrival of the 135 in 1967 that saw the 35 parked away in a shed there to be left for over forty years. Fortunately the shed was dry and had a good draught of air, vital for the preservation of mechanical machines. As far as I was able to ascertain the old 35 had not done much work, mainly hay-making and indeed that was the view of my knowledgeable neighbour who still runs two 35s as working machines on his farm.
A deal was struck and I trailered the old girl back to my home. A few days later my mechanical guru arrived and we put a tow rope on her and squirted some magical quick-start into the engine and pulled her around the field. After a few tries at bump starting she fired up.
Having established it would in fact run, drive, stop and all the gears were fine, the clutch and power take-off worked as did the hydraulics, it was time to begin the strip-down. Taking a tractor to pieces, for the first time since it was put together in 1960, is variously an easy task then a real nightmare. The ‘body work’, on a tractor referred to as the ‘tin work’, is easily dismantled especially if an angle grinder can be employed – rusted nuts and bolts are a real issue. Then fluids need to be drained followed by electrical items. Wiring and pipes need to be carefully set aside for later assessment as to whether they need refurbishment of replacement. What is salvageable is put to one side, wheels and tyres rolled to the side, the whole is safely supported and then …
Well then it’s up to the man who knows how to deal which such matters. I don’t really know what he does when, nor how he does what he does, but does it he do ! Several weeks later I called by, at his request, to receive my orders as to what to purchase or be asked an opinion as to whether I wanted to spend money on a new part or ‘make-do’. Generally I followed the proffered advice. Some more weeks passed and then one day there she was, resplendent in red-oxide.
The Spring of 2015 saw the skid frame (chassis to you and me), engine and rear end sprayed in the regulation Stoneleigh Grey paint and then the work to put all the ancillaries relating to the engine, steering, cooling and electrics began. That took some time and it was well into July before the tractor made her re-launch as a driving machine. I’d bought all new ‘tin-work’ which is to say the wings, the bonnet and front grill as well as a myriad other bits-n-bobs like rubber boots and chrome collar and new steering wheel and and and. All in all the new parts required totalled around a thousand pounds. The paint alone was quite expensive as were all the oils required and the filters and the battery and the dash-board gauges, and on and on. All together I reckon the tractor had cost me around two thousand pounds including the original purchase.
I had agreed with my guru, or rather, he had laid out the deal; I had a topper that he wanted which we agreed was worth five hundred pounds (cheap indeed!), he said that if I got him sufficient work (mechanical digger and roadway building in the various woods and hills of the estate I then lived upon) and bought the parts that he would be more than happy, in addition he had a soft spot for the lady from Carolina. I think he found it amusing and flattering that she was in awe of both his mechanical skills and his rather quaint phraseology! Also, he has a daughter who is glamour personified and thus to see a lady in cahart dungarees, boots and seemingly always muddy, endeared her to him.
The target for completion was to be early September when she had hoped to drive the tractor on the local tractor run which was held as part of the village show. It was a close finish; the night before her and I were putting the finishing touches such as the bonnet transfers, the seat cushion, the new exhaust pipe and a general polish up.
With a period Massey Ferguson model 712 ground-drive much spreader attached, a very wide grin and a gleaming red steed on which to arrive she (Miss Carolina not the 35, alas!) stole the show.
In order of age my next tractor is from a different stable altogether. A McCormick International 434 of 1969 vintage. This is my unadorned everyday machine, my ‘do-it-all’ workhorse. It came to me from an old but much respected customer (whose grandson is still my regular accomplice when it comes to heavy moving) who resided not far from me in the Towy valley. He had bought it in the early 1970s and used it solely for topping a small paddock and some rough verges around his rambling estate. I well remember asking him when he had last changed the anti-freeze or oil; his look of blank incomprehension said it all. Indeed, changing the anti-freeze required several flushes in order to get all the ‘gravy’ out of the block and radiator. I think it had survived a frozen block by the mere fact it had NO water in it. As for the oil, well, let’s just say it was quite thick and very black. as was the filter. Changing the fuel filter resulted in ten extra horse-power and an impressive turn of speed, hell, it was even possible to use third gear.
He had parked it up several years prior to my arrival on the scene (to carry-out a major restoration of the walled garden, yes, he had a walled garden) because the old girl seemed unable to lift the topper anymore; had he topped up the hydraulic oil I enquired … Another drain, flush and re-fill cured that issue but not before the tractor had arrived at my own un-walled garden.
The 434 is a good workhorse but generally I have not paid her much attention apart from renewing filters and oils. The brakes need urgent attention as only one is at all effective, the other just locks up but as long as there is no speed involved she stops. I have finally faced up to replacing the old seat pan and treated myself to new seat cushions which has definitely revolutionised the cross country ride. With the Ferguson three ton tipping trailer attached she is an excellent timber gatherer or stone mover.
Around the ‘museum’ I generally have either the link box or the pallet forks attached to the linkage which gives me excellent moving ability for the heavy items. Last summer I saw an immaculately restored 434 at a local show, it is an attractive tractor when resplendent in new paintwork and all mechanics sorted. It would be nice to get mine done but the costs are quite high. To start with I would need to either find a new/used bonnet or get mine repaired as I stupidly let her run into a tree and re-modelled the front.
I have had some experience now of the costs involved in restoring old tractors. As I outlined above in relation to the 35 just buying new parts can get you into four figures. Realistic labour charges for doing the work can double that and that’s often without the cost of the respray job. I was very fortunate to have the expertise and willing assistance of my old guru who was willing to ‘trade’ for tractors or machinery or work. However, some years ago I did go the whole mile and send a machine away for professional restoration.
I acquired – again in payment for some wall repairs – a rather forlorn and abandoned Massey Ferguson 165 manufactured in 1974. I had been hankering after something a little larger than my old grey Fergie and preferably something with a cab. The 165 was parked up in the yard of some customer friends of mine over in the Pontardawe area. It belonged to their tenant who had used it solely for taking bales of hay up to his horses on the adjoining hill. However, the steepness of the track and its very slippery nature, as well as a few near misses, eventually overcame his bravado and he purchased a larger four wheel drive Ford. The 165 was in a poor state and hadn’t been run for quite a while. He assured me it was mechanically sound but clearly the ‘tin work’ and general condition of the cab interior was poor. I think the price we agreed was £1500 (which was subtracted from his arrears!) and he agreed to drive it the twenty miles over the mountain to me. I figured that if there was a known issue with the mechanics he would be reluctant to have done it.
On the appointed day I actually drove up onto the mountain and parked out of sight awaiting his drive-by. When he passed I slipped in behind him to observe whether there was any untoward wheel wobble or visible black smoke. All was well and the old tractor was popping along at a very respectable rate of knots. When he got to my yard he told me that the tractor had in fact originated from a farm quite nearby. Can you believe it turned out to be the very farm I was then working on rebuilding the walls. The two brothers who had farmed it were long gone and my walling customer was renting the fields from the man who had bought the farm. Subsequently locals told me how they remembered the tractor and how little work the old boys had done with it. At the sale upon the death of the last brother the tractor had gone to a dealer up in the Brechfa Forest area and it was from him that the current owner had purchased it some ten years previously.
I had initially thought I would do my best with my limited skills to get the old girl back into some sort of dignified state. However, upon close inspection I realised that much of what was needed required new parts. About that time I received a small legacy from my late mother’s estate and I decided that I would use it to have the tractor professionally restored. It was collected in early December 2000 and transported to the restorer near Newtown in Powys. I didn’t see or hear from him for about five months then, one day, I got a call to ask me to come up to the yard and have a look and discuss some issues. I had begun to wonder whether I was doing the right thing, it was a lot of money, around £4000 as I recall, which at that time was about a quarter of a year’s income for me. As soon as I walked into the shed I knew it had been a good decision. Resplendent in her new red and grey paint she looked amazing. There was still quite a bit to do, doors needed repair and one pane of glass had to be sourced. The dash and steering had to be finalised and then the wiring completed, but the mechanics were all done – she was in very good order as far as the engine was concerned and the gears and hydraulics needed nothing doing to them. The tyres were all sound which was a great saving. I agreed to have a new seat and rear roller blind and to have modern indicators fitted together with a plug for trailer lights.
In a couple of months the gleaming red tractor was delivered back to me and I proudly drove her the couple of miles from the main road back to my little hovel in the hills.
So, that completes my little collection of diesel horse-power, next time I’ll get into the horse-powered vehicles that dwell in my various sheds and barns.
Thanks for reading, do leave a comment if you feel inclined.