There’s no denying that the vintage tractor scene is male-dominated. I don’t mean that as a criticism. It’s simply a fact that, when it comes to tractor enthusiasts, we have many more males than we do females. I don’t believe this is because women feel they are excluded; I think it’s just the case that females tend not to be as interested in old iron and vintage vehicles as men are.
Men have always been more fascinated by machines. Men were the driving force behind the industrial revolution and they remain the prime movers in today’s vintage vehicle scene. But I can’t help feeling that, gradually, this wonderful hobby of ours will see more and more females. Back in the early days of motoring, it was extremely unusual to see a female driving a car; now they are everywhere. Not so long ago many women thought that driving was too technical or even too difficult for them. Now we lady drivers are actually considered to be statistically safer on the roads than our male counterparts.
Many females may assume that tractors are complicated or scary to drive. I’ve met women who are surprised that I can drive a tractor, as though they think it must be considerably more difficult than driving a car. To them I say, “if you can manage a car in London’s nightmarish transport system, then I’m sure you are more than capable of chugging along a country lane on an old tractor!”
I think many of the differences between the male and the female attitudes to machines and vehicles stem from an individual’s upbringing. Boys are brought up to believe that they can and will drive big machines, and girls aren’t. There are of course a few differences in the way our brains work, but on the whole I believe it is more about nurture than nature.
Just part of the landscape
If, like me, you were a girl brought up in a family of men, then you are more likely to feel capable of doing “men’s stuff” as you get older. Sue Roberts of North Wales (no relation to me, though we bear the same surname) is another female who was brought up in a household full of blokes, all of whom were crazy about machines.
Sue grew up on a farm with a bunch of brothers, all of who tinkered with machines from an early age. They were into anything and everything mechanical, from tractors to motorbikes, and Sue just joined in with it all. On occasion their mum was known to run out of the house, at her wit’s end, yelling at one or another of them to, “stop tearing around the field on that thing!”
Sue’s dad, Glyn, a farmer, has never been the sort to rush out and buy the latest machines. He prefers to keep the old stuff going and would never throw out anything that might one day prove useful. So Sue grew up around old machines; for her, old tractors were just part of the landscape. Sue’s brother Neil is an avid collector in his own right. Just recently, Sue tells me, he acquired his 23rd tractor.
Old tractor spurs new life
Sue owns just one tractor, a grey Ferguson. I think it’s fair to say that she absolutely loves this little tractor, probably far more than her brother loves any of his 23. Neil gave her the tractor and helped her dip her toe into the vintage tractor scene. Neil owns seven grey Fergies; I suppose when you have that many, you aren’t really going to miss the odd one.
This kind gift was to be the start of a new chapter in Sue’s life. Having had little to do with tractors since leaving home, she began making up for lost time by taking part in all manner of road runs with Neil and his partner, Ann. A shift in life took place: Divorcee Sue’s children reached an age where they had their own hobbies, and Sue decided that instead of moping around, she would busy herself with a new hobby. So, she started spending weekends at tractor shows and taking part in charity road runs. I began to see her at tractor events throughout North Wales, always on her little grey Fergie, and always with a great big smile on her face.
The grey Fergie, which Sue calls “Tintin,” is a 1953 TEF. It looks in nice original condition but has actually had a fair bit of work done to it, as it had the misfortune of catching on fire a couple of years back. “It was me being clueless at the time,” Sue says. “I’d put the battery on the wrong way. Next thing I knew, a woman at the show we were attending asked, ‘is that tractor over there meant to be on fire?’ We caught it just in time but there was still a bit of wiring damage. You live and learn, don’t you?”
Sue is more interested in getting out and about and having fun on the tractor than she is in immaculate restorations, so she’s happy to leave the tractor as it is, in its working clothes. She uses the tractor to help out on her dad’s farm, and whilst she has cultivated land with the Fergie, she has no desire to plough competitively with it. “If I live to be a hundred I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand the nitty gritty of ploughing match rules,” she says with a laugh.
Finding love on the road
It was whilst on her tractor that Sue met her partner, Graham Jones. “We met on a road run,” she says. “But he was playing hard to get!” “You were driving a Fergie: What do you expect?” quips Graham, who is without doubt a Ford and Fordson man through and through.
It seems that Graham and Sue had moved in the same circles for many years before they actually met, often even attending the same shows. Some 25 years earlier, Graham had even been part of a tarmac-laying gang that had laid a new surface outside Sue’s house. In the end, it was tractors that brought them together. Tractor events are not the usual setting in which to find true love, that’s for sure, but as we all know meeting the right person tends to happen when you least expect it. The couple became engaged last year and plans to marry soon, and yes, they plan to have a tractor-themed wedding, or at least Sue does. “I’m not getting married without my tractor there, no way!” she says.
Graham rolls his eyes (he really would prefer it if Sue drove a Fordson Dexta, like he does) but at the end of the day, it’s just a bit of cheeky banter. He knows full well that he’s a lucky chap to have found a woman who not only tolerates his old iron hobby, but who actually enjoys the very same hobby herself.
Building a real community
Both Sue and Graham are members of the Ial Vintage Tractor Club based in North Wales. Sue is membership secretary for the club, which holds its annual show and threshing day in Ruthin. In addition to an annual threshing day, the club also organizes road runs, attends local shows and gets involved with a huge number of fundraising events. Most importantly, it brings together like-minded folk, not only so that they can “chew the fat,” but also so that they can make contact with other enthusiasts for advice, parts and general tractor gossip.
One lovely thing about the Ial club is that members tend to look after one another, and in that way it’s a bit like a family for many members. At a recent show I saw members take time out to ensure that an elderly and unwell member was able to attend, and that he was well looked after throughout the event.
People often forget that tractor clubs perform a great service when it comes to helping older folks feel like they are a valuable part of something. The Ial club seems to respect the knowledge and experience of its older members. Some members of this club remember using the tractors, binders and threshers from the 1930s and ’40s as everyday machines, and their help, when putting on a threshing demonstration, is invaluable.
The vintage tractor scene is almost unique in that huge respect is given to those older people who recall using these machines the first time around. There are many widowed and single people who, without tractor clubs like this, might lead lonely and unfulfilled lives. Any hobby that gets people together to have fun, share experiences, raise money for charity and enjoy fellowship is hugely important.
Working for the greater good
For Sue, tractors have opened up a whole new world. Apart from meeting Graham, of course, she has also become very involved in the running of the club. “But rather than being the ‘babe’ of the club, I’m like the mummy,” she says, laughing. “I find myself mothering people, reminding them to bring their coats and their sandwiches.”
Despite being a busy working mum, Sue makes time for fundraising. For her, this is one of the more important aspects of the club. Regular road runs are an enjoyable way to raise money. The club has managed to gather funds for various charities, including a breast cancer charity for which Sue and a gang of other lady tractor drivers dressed in pink, raising several thousand pounds in the process.
“Most of us are lucky enough to have our health and to have the freedom to enjoy this hobby,” Sue says, “so it’s nice to be able to put something back into the community, and to raise a bit of money for those less fortunate.”
I ask Sue what her wish is for the future. “My wish,” she says, leaning on her beloved Fergie, “is to continue to have fun with this little tractor and to raise as much money for charity as possible.” Sounds like a plan, Sue! FC
Josephine Roberts lives on an old-fashioned smallholding in Snowdonia, North Wales, and has a passion for all things vintage. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.