American tractor enthusiasts take a trip of a lifetime to the United Kingdom to scout old iron
A diet high in iron was the perfect tonic for a group of nearly 40 tractor enthusiasts who spent eight days touring Scotland and England this summer. Organized by John and Carol Harvey of Classic Tractor Fever fame, with arrangements by Agrotours Inc., the tour offered a unique opportunity to meet collectors, see classic tractors and soak up the culture of the United Kingdom.
The tour was promoted as "a trip of a lifetime," and by all accounts it lived up to that billing. It was an inspired mix of classic tractors, warm hospitality, unbelievably perfect weather, fine food, great lodging, beautiful scenery and historic sites. Wish you'd been there? Put up your feet and join us: Armchair tourists are welcome!
Saturday, July 15: Icelandair flight 642 lands in Reykjavik, Iceland, after an overnight flight from Baltimore. Tractor tour participants deplane, bleary-eyed; some of the wives perk up a bit at the prospect of shopping in the airport terminal before reboarding for the final leg of the flight to Glasgow, Scotland.
Later that day, after naps, the group assembles for the first official event: A welcome dinner at our beautiful coastal resort. Tour leaders John and Carol Harvey lead introductions. The creator of the Classic Farm Tractors Calendar, John's credentials on this trip are rock solid. He's published five unique editions of Classic Tractor Playing Cards, produced the "Classic Tractor Fever" TV program, written a book on collectors, and started the Classic Tractor Fever Club and Newsletter.
Members of the group introduce themselves and tell of their all time favorite tractor. Several have trouble naming just one. (Our good-natured bus driver introduces himself by saying "I'm Ian Murray, and I prefer women to tractors.")
Hearty welcomes from John Caldwell, a leading collector in Scotland, and John Cowan, president of the Ayrshire Vintage Tractor and Machinery Club. We'll attend that club's 19th annual "Vintage Rally" the next day. Many stay up later than they'd planned; that far north, the sun sets quite late. And it pops back up again around 4 a.m.!
Sunday, July 16: When the bus pulls in to the Ayrshire club's rally at Eglinton Country Park, the Americans feel at home immediately. Tractors and engines are already assembled in neat lines; the flea market is going strong, and the threshing display is chugging along. Notable differences from American shows: Performances by a pipe band (bagpipes and drums, with musicians in full regalia); sheep dog trials; and food stands peddling fish and chips. Also, a much bigger crowd of non-collectors than is typical at shows in the States, and all equipment is roped off as a safety precaution.
This is not a huge, walk 'til you drop kind of show, but it does offer amazing variety: In addition to antique tractors, engines and equipment (everything from American-made to British, German and French lines), there are displays of cast iron seats, antique fire engines, commercial and military vehicles, cars, Land Rovers and motorcycles; demonstrations of dog handling, straw mat making and stone wall construction. There's even a recreation of a 1940s era trade show display of implements and equipment.
It's a huge amount of work for a one-day show, but club members are clearly having as much fun, if not more, than the visitors. All marvel at the stunningly beautiful day: Clear skies and sunshine; temperatures in the seventies.
That evening we are guests of honor at the farm home of Mr. and Mrs. John Caldwell. Members of the Ayrshire club – some clad in kilts – join us for a wonderful dinner. The festive gathering includes live music and folk dancing (and a peek at John's tractor collection in buildings nearby). The evening ends with the group of more than 60 forming a circle, holding hands and singing "Auld Lang Syne."
Monday, July 17: Ho hum another beautiful, sunny day in Scotland. First stop: Collector Willie Warnock's Garden Centre in Lanarkshire. Willie has an extensive collection of Field Marshals, a tractor rarely seen in the States. He offers rides in a Fowler Mark VF, a unique tractor that ran on rails in a cement quarry in the 1940s. Just 30 were built; Willie's is the only known survivor. Those who take him up on his offer for a ride later make polite inquiries about local chiropractors.
Willie's collection is housed on the grounds of his huge and handsome garden center, clearly a magnet for gardeners throughout the region. And these folks take their gardening seriously: Lush flowers overflow from gardens and windowboxes at every turn.
We scoot on to the edge of Edinburgh, where we visit Alistair Robertson's West Edge Farm. This is a breathtaking collection of American made tractors, including rare Farmalls, Fordsons, an Oliver 70 Row Crop, John Deere GP, Waterloo Boy, Rock Island, Twin City, a Turner Simplicity (made in Port Washington, Wis., one of just two known), a Rumely Model 6A (manufactured in 1931 only; 800 were made before the Depression socked the company), and a wonderfully restored Gray. The collection also includes rare pieces from other countries: a Hower from Australia, and an M.A.N. from Germany.
After a late lunch, we visit Edinburgh's historic sites. Those more interested in shopping than in tractors begin to assert themselves, though delicately. We take a brief bus tour to get oriented, then explore Edinburgh Castle. Walking through the halls of a rock solid fortress dating to 1000 A.D., even a seasoned collector inevitably considers a new perspective on the word "antique."
Tuesday, July 18: The shoppers are rested, ready and have planned their attack on the city of Edinburgh, which is theirs for the morning. The tractor enthusiasts are resigned to their fate, which, after studying the itinerary, they know to be temporary. Countless diversions are within walking distance, including the National Portrait Gallery, where there is a larger than life statue of Scotsman James Watt, the inventor of the modern condensing steam engine.
After lunch, we leave Scotland, heading south to Northumberland in England, to visit the country home of Mr. and Mrs. John Moffit. John has constructed a lavish shrine to the Ferguson company, featuring nearly all of the more than 100 attachments made for the Ferguson tractor. Among the treasures he shows: a '36 Ferguson made by David Brown (just 1,270 were made in less than two years); a '39 Ford Ferguson 9N; a Reekie "Berry Tractor" (a Ferguson converted by a renegade dealer to work in raspberry canes); and a Ferguson tractor mounted combine (designed but never produced, John built it from original company drawings). The tractor collectors in the group are chattering like squirrels. "This is just better than Christmas morning!" one gushes happily.
Wednesday, July 19: We set out early for the Case IH tractor assembly plant at Doncaster to see how the vintage tractors of tomorrow are produced. We find one of the most modern assembly facilities anywhere in the world, with a workforce of 650. Current plant production is about 65 tractors a day (in the boom times of 1988, production was at 95 a day). Fully 85 percent of all tractors produced at Case Doncaster are exported. One that didn't get away: The first Farmall M produced on site, in 1949, was located, restored and returned to the plant last year for permanent display.
After lunch (at a highway service area featuring McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King), we head on to Staffordshire to the farm of Robert Leedham. Robert has an extensive collection of antique farm equipment and tractors on the land where his family has lived for 300 years. He's invited friends to join us; they bring their collectibles to show.
Robert's tractor collection includes a Turner "Yeoman of England" in original (if rough) condition. "When it was made, it was more expensive than a Fordson, less powerful and less reliable," he noted wryly. "One day when we get far enough ahead around here, I'll have to get the paint brush out."
He did get the brush out for a vintage Massey Harris manure spreader ("muck spreader," in local parlance). Although Robert is the proud owner of a 1909 International touring car, the immaculately restored manure spreader was his daughter's vehicle of choice on her wedding day.
We close out another sparkling day (not a drop of rain yet) as guests of Robert and his wife, Margaret, at a cook out. All on the tour group enjoy a golden summer evening, visiting with new friends.
Thursday, July 20: The day starts with a tour of the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral, a victim of Nazi bombs. Adjacent to the shattered, ancient church is the majestic new cathedral, which we visit before heading to AGCO's manufacturing facility in Coventry, the "home" of the Massey Ferguson tractor. Sprawling over 1.8 million square feet, this is the world's largest plant devoted solely to tractor production. More than three million tractors have been built at the plant since 1946. As at the Case plant, tractors are produced as orders are received, in Massey's case, about one every 2.5 minutes.
AGCO puts special emphasis into education programs for students. Extensive, fully supported curriculums are conducted in onsite classrooms. The company's roots are celebrated in a museum at the plant. That collection includes the first TE 20 ("the Little Grey Fergie") to be produced at Coventry, in 1946.
By now the shopping contingent is growing visibly restless. One more stop (to Hatton Bank Farm, to see a working farm operation with state of the art equipment) and we're off to Stratford upon Avon. Shakespeare's home beckons, but it's the shops that get a workout. From Stratford, we depart for London, where we have two days of free time. The tractor portion of the trip has concluded, and from here on it's shopping, theater, and sightseeing. The skies remain clear, and the locals are wilting in 80 degree heat. We're resigned to finishing out a perfect trip in perfect weather, rain gear still packed deep in the suitcases. After getting us to our hotel, our driver, Ian, leaves us to our own devices. It was an interesting trip, he notes in parting, but "I still like women better than tractors."
Well, there's no accounting for taste. FC
For more information: John and Carol Harvey, Classic Tractor Fever, PO Box 437, Rockland, DE 19732; (800) 888-8979.
Lennie Gamage, Agrotours, tour consultants for agricultural tours and travel seminars for farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses, land grant universities and rural folks since 1982; 3203 Cameron Drive, Henderson, NC 27536; (252) 492-0013. Online at www.agrotours.com email: firstname.lastname@example.org.