The Great Planting

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The latest wrinkle in vintage tractor demonstrations seems to be the quest for a Guinness world record of some kind. The quest for a world record number of vintage tractors and machines working in one field got started in 1999 in the Eastern Free State, a part of South Africa. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Anglo-Boer War, as well as the end of the millennium, a celebration called 'The Great 100 Working' was organized by The Veteran Farmer/Die Veteraan Boer magazine.

Dedicated 'to keeping alive memories of bygone farming days,' the magazine features stories about animals, buildings, vehicles, trains, tractors and farm machinery from the South African past. Stories are mostly in English, but some are written in Afrikaans; 'The Great 100 Working' in Afrikaans reads 'Die Groot 100 Werkende.'

Sandstone Estates, a working farm of more than 3,500 hectares (almost 9,000 acres) between Eastern Free State and Lesotha, agreed to host the event, billed as 'South Africa's premier working vintage tractor, steam, stationary engine, and old earth-moving equipment event.' The centerpiece of the show was to be an attempt to set world records for the largest number of vintage tractors and implements working in one field at the same time and for the largest age difference in the working tractors. The facts were to be verified and reported to the Guinness Book of Records for possible publication.

The 'Great 100 Working' was held April 9-11, 1999, and the attempt at the world record number of vintage tractors was scheduled for the 10th. One observed wrote, 'Much work was put in during the morning to coax into life some of the more reticent old-timers (and their tractors?!), and to find (enough) drivers to take part in the record attempt. Right up to the last minute, some of the more temperamental entrants kept the organizers in suspense. Would they start, and continue to run?'

Rain temporarily delayed the 2 p.m. start of the record attempt, but finally the rain stopped and every tractor moved off across the field. Another observer wrote, 'One of the two (antique) planes at the event had just finished a final (loop the loop) when a flare screamed up into the air from the bottom field. This was the Big One: the attempt on the Guiness Book of Records. At the sight of the flare, the huge mass of machines surged forward - the plumes from their exhausts soon being covered by the clouds of dust their wheels and ploughs created. What a sight!'

The entrants were a total of 106 tractors, and a plow behind a team of 12 Nguni oxen. The tractors ranged in age from a 1909 Rumely Oil Pull to a brand-new 1999 Bell, a tractor made in South Africa. Many marques were rep resented, including Waterloo Boy, Lanz, Hart-Parr, Case, Farmall, Marshall and Field Marshall, Massey-Harris, Ferguson and Massey-Ferguson, Fordson, Allis Chalmers, Hanomag, John Deere, Ransomes, Minneapolis-Moline, Steyr, Fowler and Nuffield. There also was an Empire and a couple of Gibsons. About half the tractors had been imported into South Africa from the United States.

One photograph taken from a helicopter shows the yellow-and-black Bell 2808C, a big, 4-wheel-drive articulated machine, pulling an 8-bottom ripper plow. Beside the Bell is a Minni-Mo U and a 3-bottom plow, and beyond that is a Farmall regular on steel wheels pulling a double disk harrow.

On April 15th of this year, a new world record was set at Willow Vale, Yass, New South Wales, Australia. No less than 299 tractors of many makes and models dropped their plows, harrows and other assorted scufflers into the ground and made a sweep around a large field. The oldest tractor in action was a 1903 Ivel, the newest was a late-model Caterpillar Challenger but the bulk of the entrants dated to the 1940s through the 1980s.

The British magazine 'Tractor & Machinery,' reporting on the Australian event, wrote, 'Congratulations to you all in Australia. Come on lads, it's our turn now. Let's have a go at the record. It needs to be in the United Kingdom.' With South Africa already vowing to beat the Australian record, it looks as though the competition is nowhere near an end.

Here in the 'Colonies,' the quest for a Guinness record took a slightly different tack on Sept. 22 of this year at Three Sisters Park, just south of Chillicothe, Ill. Rather than having just a huge number of tractors and implements all circling a field at the same time, with no rhyme nor reason to the work being done, the Massey-Harris Collectors Assn. determined to accomplish a common farming job while setting a record. The job was to plow, disc, harrow and plant a 130-acre wheat field in a single day with at least 100 Massey-Harris tractors, using all Massey-Harris implements. Not all the tractors would be in the field at the same time, but most would be used before the day was done.

By 7:30 a.m., the plowing had begun. Lying along the Illinois River, the soil was sandy loam, and even though it had rained 1-1/2 inches the previous evening, plowing conditions were good. Just about every model of Massey-Harris tractor ever made was in the field, from a Pony with a 1 bottom to a 555 pulling 5 bottoms. Other models included a Massey-Harris 50 with a mounted 3-disc plow, a 1930 General Purpose 4-wheel-drive pulling 2 bottoms and a 444 with a 4-bottom, mounted plow. There were Pacemakers, Challengers, a nice 201 pulling 4 bottoms, 101 Seniors and Juniors, a Pacer and at least one Mustang. There were 30s, 33s, lots of 44s and several 55s. At one point, the announcer reported almost 40 tractors and plows in the field at the same time, but the field was large, L-shaped and rolling, and it was impossible to see them all at once.

By 10 a.m., about 45 acres had been plowed, and 10 disc harrows hit the field. The soil was damp and the discs were painted or rusty and didn't scour, causing much clogging and some delay at first. The drag discs seemed to work better under the damp soil conditions than did the wheeled or mounted discs.

About 11 a.m., five or six spike-tooth harrows began smoothing the soil behind the discs, and by noon, the ground had dried. At 12:30 p.m., 10 grain drills moved off down the field in echelon, each one behind and to the right of its predecessor. That was quite a sight although for various reasons, the formation soon broke up. As each drill returned at the end of a round, it pulled up to one of several wagons loaded with bags of seed wheat to have its grain hoppers quickly refilled and then went on its way again.

By 2 p.m., the plowing was finished, more than half of the ground was disced and harrowed, and probably 40 acres was planted. Later reports were that the 130-acre planting was finished by 6:15.

The Massey-Harris Collectors Assn., under the chairmanship of Dale Lawrence, organized the event, meeting the challenge of assembling the more than 100 tractors involved. Part of the requirement for a Guiness record was that every piece of equipment used in the attempt had to have been built by Massey-Harris.

Among association members who went out of their way to help was Chuck Oberlander of Caledonia, Ohio, which is northeast of Marion in the central part of the state. Chuck had a beautifully restored Massey-Harris 30 tractor and an equally nice low-wheel grain drill, but he didn't have any way to haul the machines to Illinois. He did have a wagon, though, so he loaded the drill on the wagon, which was hitched behind the 30, and off he went to Illinois. To avoid heavily traveled roads, he drove 5 days and 500 miles to get to the designated planting field.

A Guiness judge on site indicated that all the requirements for a world record were met but it would take a while for a certificate to be awarded to the M-H Collectors Assn. Of course, a potential challenger has already emerged - one of the Case clubs is talking about an assault on the M-H record.

Sam Moore is a fan of vintage tractors and a frequent contributor to Farm Collector, best known for his monthly column, 'Let's Talk Rusty Iron.'