Gwen and the Art of Tractor Travel

An exclusive excerpt from Josephine Roberts' new book, Gwen and the Art of Tractor Travel


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Gwen and the Art of Tractor Travel, by Josephine Roberts

Gwen and the Art of Tractor Travel, by Josephine Roberts

Excerpt courtesy of Old Pond Publishing, England, 2011; www.oldpond.com. 

Some people probably think that vintage tractors are quite un-cool. Having a passion for “old iron,” as the Americans call it, may be seen as even more “anoraky” than stamp collecting or train-spotting. But to me old tractors are beautiful. They hark back to an era when engineering was simple, elegant, easy-on-the-eye and not all covered in plastic.  

Old tractors also have a distinct edge in that they keep working, pretty much forever, unlike many of today’s machines, whose complicated electronics start to pack up as soon as the warranty expires. Personally, I’d rather be seen driving an early Field Marshall tractor through a busy town, than behind the wheel of a shiny, red Lamborghini.

I didn’t own my first tractor until I was thirty. It just wasn’t something women my age did. In a way, it just didn’t sit well with other things that I thought defined me. I liked Nick Cave, for instance, and reading the Guardian. While the sort of people I’d seen who owned old tractors wore flat caps, boiler suits and nutter jumpers (Christmas jumpers in the style of Val Doonican). I didn’t have any of these items in my wardrobe. I might not have been able to distinguish diesel from tractor vaporising oil – but I thought what the hell.

In a happy coincidence, it just so happened that I’d recently bought a ramshackle old smallholding, in a romantic bid to get back to my family’s hill farming roots. Retrospectively, this probably contributed to my thinking, for the first time ever, “I am in need of a tractor,” or maybe just, “I want a tractor.” I’m not absolutely sure which.

I know that I wanted to use one and not just show it off the way some people do. So I also knew that I had to get one that would be capable of performing most of the tasks around a seven-acre holding. Then at least it would look like I had a proper reason to own a tractor. This factor, coupled with cash limitations, forced me to stay away from the really arcane models. You can get tractors from the 1920s and they look amazing – really more like little steam engines than tractors in fact – but you are likely to pay thousands for one and very unlikely to be able to use it to bale hay. When the inevitable occurs and it breaks down you might discover that there’s only one chap alive in Britain who knows how to fix it. The odds are high that he is hiding under a flat cap in a shed somewhere on the Isle of Skye.