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Vintage treasures of Lancashire's summer show season

A Fergie tractor in action at a ploughing match in St Michaels
A Fergie tractor in action at a ploughing match in St Michaels

Summer is here at last and with it the chance for Lancashire’s farmers to show off their pride and joy at the county’s agricultural shows, as John Grimbaldeston reports

The agricultural show season is nearly upon us and an increasingly important part of the local shows is the vintage vehicle section, where enthusiastic owners parade their polished pride and joys, machines which look far smarter now than they ever did in their working clothes.

The non-farmer may wonder why some tractors are high in the farmers’ affections: there are two firms in particular to look for, Ferguson and David Brown.

Last year, an iconic tractor made a rare appearance at two local shows, the 1917 Fordson, and this tractor is credited with changing the attitude of local farmers towards technology, encouraging them to give up their beloved horses, especially shires, for which the region was justly famous.

The early tractors simply replicated the action of the horses, the machinery was trailed behind, the only advantage was that tractors did not get tired and did not need valuable land set aside for their food to be grown, as was the case with horses and their oats.

What was needed was something to make the tractor more flexible in the number of tasks it could perform, and that came in 1928 with Irish engineering genius Harry Ferguson’s hydraulic lift, and his three point linkage system, which allowed tractor and implement to work together as an integrated unit.

A 1917 Fordson tractor at the Garstang Show

A 1917 Fordson tractor at the Garstang Show

Before the three-point linkage, if a plough hit an obstruction a tractor would rear up on its back wheels and could actually tip over and injure the driver. There were three links between tractor and machine, two at the bottom, one at the top, and this meant the driver could control the depth of the plough but, most importantly, the forces generated by the plough in the ground put the weight on to the back wheels which then kept the front wheels always on the ground.

The bottom links drag and can lift the implement, the top link is a compression link which automatically controls the implement’s height. Each arm has holes for attaching implements.

Harry Ferguson added a hydraulic system, which allowed an implement to be raised and lowered, and made control easier and more precise and, as a result, a whole range of tools were developed to work with the little tractor: grass cutters, hedge cutters, hay rakes, rear loaders, earth scoops and so on. Because they were part of the tractor, ploughs did not now need their own wheels – horse drawn ploughs have wheels.

This system is especially associated with two iconic tractor companies which are frequently seen at agricultural shows: the Ferguson TE20, the “Little Grey Fergie,” and David Brown “Cropmaster” and “25.” At one time, Harry Ferguson and David Brown worked together: David Hodgson’s 1938 Ferguson – Brown tractor is an example of that partnership, and a star of vintage shows.

David Hodgson of Great Eccleston at Garstang Show with his 1938 Ferguson-Brown

David Hodgson of Great Eccleston at Garstang Show with his 1938 Ferguson-Brown

Harry Ferguson, while undoubtedly a genius, was notoriously difficult to work with: tractors must not exceed the weight of a plough horse (he was worried about compressing the soil and the effect on drains), he insisted on high tensile bolts. The Ferguson- Brown tractor revolutionised the agricultural manufacturing industry, but David Brown realised from the feedback he was getting from farmers that a number of modifications needed to be made, such as a more robust gear box of steel or cast-iron rather than aluminium, the issue which caused the final rift with Ferguson.

Harry Ferguson and David Brown went their separate ways and dissolved their partnership in February 1939 and developed their own tractors independently. Ferguson was so difficult that, over the years, he continued to change companies frequently: after David Brown, he worked with Ford, then Standard, and finally Massey Harris. The Little Grey Fergie is properly the Ferguson TE20. “TE” stands for “Tractor England” and “20” for “20 Horsepower.” They were made between 1946 and 1956, and were in many cases the tractor that persuaded even the most diehard, traditional farmer that the horse had had its day. It was mass-produced, it was reasonably priced, it had a character of its own, but above all it had the Ferguson Three-point Linkage System which made it more adaptable than any tractor that had gone before. They are probably the most frequently seen tractor at vintage shows, and the grey livery is very distinctive.

For the TE20 Ferguson worked with the Standard Motor Company, and over half a million were built, but it isn’t the sheer number which makes them a staple of vintage shows today, it is the affection in which they are held. The factory was established at Fletchamstead Highway, Coventry. Harry Ferguson returned to Britain from the USA to oversee production personally, and he famously insisted on trying every new implement himself. He was given the first tractor produced; for the general public the cost in July 1946 was £343.

David Brown went into independent production in 1936. He created a tractor to a totally new design using overhead valves. It was the VAK1, or “Vehicle Agricultural Kerosene One,” to give it its Sunday name. It was designed entirely in secrecy and also used elements adapted from Ford, John Deere, Allis Chalmers and Massey tractors. After rigorous testing it was unveiled to the world at the 1939 Royal Agricultural Show.

A 'Little Grey Fergie' tractor at the Salwick Show

A 'Little Grey Fergie' tractor at the Salwick Show

As the engineers were debating what colour the tractor should be, David Brown went for his hunting jacket, threw it on the bonnet and said “paint it that colour,” and so the

famous “hunting pink” livery was born.

The War helped the VAK1 to prosper, and also led to the VTK1, a tracked vehicle for military use – towing aeroplanes, for example, and the VIG1, a wheeled tractor used for the same purpose after it was discovered the tracked vehicles damaged the runways.

A third VAK variant was one of the most famous, VAK1C, the Cropmaster, introduced in April 1947. Once the “master” name appeared it was used for other models, the Taskmaster and Trackmaster. The Cropmaster Diesel was a landmark engine, the first British diesel tractor.

Implements were also developed but, unlike Harry Ferguson, David Brown

allowed his tractors to use the implements the farmer already had, with occasional minor adaptations, an important expense consideration for parsimonious farmers. The Cropmaster was discontinued in 1952 as other manufacturers were producing similar machines at a cheaper price, so a rethink was necessary.

Post-war demand had been for tractors of 30 hp. or more, now there was a trend towards lighter tractors of 20-25 hp. as smaller farms began to mechanise, too.

The decision was to produce a stripped down version of the Cropmaster with a smaller engine, and pass on those economies to the customer. Fitted with fan-type fenders and single seats, the 25 and 30 series of tractors were born.

The “master” name was abandoned, and the name of the manufacturer, “David Brown,” was put to the fore. The 25 was a small tractor, cheaper than the Ford and arguably superior to the Fergie, and ideally suited to the small farms of the Fylde.

It is powered by a 3.5in bore petrol or petrol / paraffin engine, has a six-speed gearbox and what was a very modern two-position hydraulic lift.

The David Brown 25 on display at the Museum of the Fylde at Farmer Parr’s, Fleetwood, belongs to Bill Burrows, of Pilling.

It was manufactured in 1954 and then spent all its working life at a farm in Catforth.

However, these lovely vintage vehicles are seen at their best when they are actually in motion, and agricultural shows and local rallies provide ideal opportunities.

Diary dates below:

Salwick Show: Saturday, June 30 and Sunday, July 1

Gt Eccleston Show: Saturday, July 14 and Sunday, July 15

Royal Lancashire Show: Friday, July 20, Saturday, July 21 and Sunday, July 22

Garstang Show: Saturday,

August 4

Ploughing Match: Sunday, 16 September Turnover Hall Farm

Vintage and Military Crank-up: Sunday, November 11 Kirkland Village Hall