American Tractors Abroad: Lend-Lease Act Tractors in Wales
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Collection rooted in war time
One collector I know has a bit of a passion for old American tractors. Hefin Jones of North Wales has several Lend-Lease tractors. The most visually striking of them all is the canary yellow Minneapolis-Moline GTS.
This 1941 50 hp machine is a beast of a tractor even by today’s standards, but it must have seemed even larger back in 1941 alongside the small Fordsons and early David Browns, its British contemporaries. Shipped from the U.S. to Lincolnshire, England, the tractor eventually found its way to North Wales, where it spent the reminder of its working life powering a threshing machine. Hefin bought this tractor in 1987. When I asked him what it is like to drive, he replied proudly, “A monster!”
Whilst the large tractors of the day might have been useful to the owners of the larger farms in Britain, they would have been totally unsuitable on small hilly farms. No doubt efforts were made to match tractors to the farm, but it doesn’t appear that farmers had any choice about exactly what tractor they would receive through the Lend-Lease program. Hefin told me about a farmer who was hoping to receive a Minneapolis-Moline. Instead, he got a Massey-Harris 102 Senior (which Hefin now owns).
A man who enjoys investigating the history of his tractors, Hefin tracked down the first British owner of the Massey-Harris. That gentleman, from Kettering, England, must have done his research and decided that a Minneapolis-Moline was the machine for him, and was somewhat disappointed when he was given the Massey. He disliked the cumbersome nature of the tractor, its steel wheels and extremely slow top speed. Probably due to the fact that it was on steel wheels, the top gear appeared to have been blocked off (though years later Hefin discovered that, rather than being blocked off, the top gear just wasn’t there at all!).
This story, it must be admitted, appears to be a classic case of “looking a gift horse in the mouth.” But, times were changing beneath people’s feet, and I don’t suppose this farmer particularly liked the changes that were happening in his world because of the war.
Now back to that Massey-Harris. If it was considered cumbersome in the relatively flat country of Kettering, then it was going to be even less suited to the steep hillsides and small fields of North Wales, which is where it ended up going to work after the war. Hefin bought the tractor in 1971 and restored it, and at last it is with someone who actually appreciates it, though he does admit that it isn’t a tractor he would particularly like to have to drive across a steep Welsh hillside.