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British Royalty and Super BMD Farmall Tractors

A gold 1953 Farmall BMD tractor

A gold 1953 Farmall BMD at the 2012 Welland Steam and Country Rally in southwestern England. File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Queen Elizabeth II’s newest great-granddaughter, Princess Charlotte, is to be christened on July 5, 2015 (wouldn’t it have been fun if they’d chosen the 4th?). The queen has been, well, queen, almost as long (just three months shy) as her legendary great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.

While it’s a stretch to link this to Rusty Iron, trust me, there’s a connection, tenuous though it may be.

It seems that there’s a Farmall collecting category in the United Kingdom that’s more exclusive even than the white demonstrator Farmall tractors that are sought after by IH collectors here in the U.S.A.

Cyrus McCormick’s salesmen used to tell prospective customers, “This reaper is so strong that you can hitch your team to it, go anywhere the Lord permits, and the machine will do its work.” McCormick took this slogan to heart and decided to crack the English market. He built a special reaper for the Crystal Palace Exhibition of the Industries of All Nations that was held at Hyde Park in London in the summer of 1851. McCormick himself traveled to London for the event and the Great Exhibition Council awarded his reaper the Council Gold Medal, the highest prize of the Exhibition. In his 1931 book, Century of the Reaper, Cyrus McCormick Jr. wrote that the reaper, when first shown at the event, “(D)rew upon itself the special ire of the London Times. ‘It is a cross between an Astley Chariot, a wheelbarrow, and a flying machine,’ said The Thunderer; and it went on to sneer that America was 'proud of her agricultural implements which (English manufacturers) would reject as worthless.’ But by the time the Exhibition was over the American exhibits had won more prizes in proportion than the British themselves.”

A British company was licensed to build the McCormick reaper after the Exhibition and many machines were sold. This was the beginning of a long period of British interest in the machines of McCormick and, after 1902, International Harvester. Through the latter half of the 19th century, McCormick machines were built in England under license and were imported from the United States and Canada. In 1906, the International Harvester Co. of Great Britain was formed but there were no IHC factories in England and British farmers had to rely on imports from IHC factories in France and Germany, as well as North America. The guns of August 1914 severely restricted IHC's European business, but Great Britain needed farm machinery and many hundreds of Titan 10-20 tractors, along with other implements, were sent from America to help the war effort.

About 1923, International Harvester Co. established an assembly plant at Liverpool and, just before World War II started, construction was begun on a new manufacturing facility at Doncaster. Before the new plant could be put into production, it was taken over by the British government to build munitions and wasn't returned to IH control until 1946.

A Farmall M was the first tractor built at Doncaster in September of 1949, the beginning of a long line of British Farmall and crawler tractors that were produced at the facility.

Which brings us back to the beginning of this long-winded tale.

On Feb. 6, 1952, England’s King George VI died and his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, became queen, although her formal coronation ceremony wasn’t until June 2, 1953. In honor of the new queen's coronation, International Harvester of Great Britain had their Doncaster factory paint 50 Super BMD Farmall tractors gold. The gold Farmalls were distributed among IH dealers in the United Kingdom where some were sold as is and some repainted the familiar IH red.

At least a few have survived as long as the Queen herself, and are sought after by UK collectors. One of these gold Farmall Super BMDs was featured on the cover of a long-ago issue of England’s Tractor & Machinery magazine that I used to take. The pictured machine was at the time a freshly restored 1953 wide-front Super BMD, serial #5049, that was owned by Allan Davies and was painted entirely gold, including wheels, rims, head lights and even the muffler. Mr. Davies was awarded the Duckhams Oil Trophy for the Best Tractor on Display at the 1998 Carrington Rally at the end of May of that year.

At that time Mr. Davies was offering the tractor for sale although no price was listed. He only specified, “No time wasters please.”

There were two other “Goldies” advertised in that same magazine. One, serial #5033, looked pretty nice, although it had been painted red, and was priced at 1,700 pounds (about $2,645). The other had no tires, the wrong engine and was dismantled, although one could see traces of gold paint. It was, however priced at only 750 pounds ($1,167).

I can find no gold BMDs for sale today, although a British firm called Peter Jones is offering a nice model of the gold Farmall pulling a flat wagon onto which two men are loading hay bales, while a youngster drives the tractor and a faithful Shepherd dog oversees the operation. The price for the 37 centimeter (14.5 inches) long model is merely 595 pounds, 827.05 euros, or $922.25.

– Sam Moore