Ploughing with the War Ag: Sam Pennal and His Caterpillar D2

North Wales man’s contribution to a struggling England during World War II was ploughing with a Caterpillar D2 with the War Ag.

| September 2012

  • Sam Driving Caterpillar
    Sam was one of the men who drove machines that the U.S. sent to Britain during World War II. Sam is shown here on his Caterpillar D2, identical to the crawler he used during the war when he was ploughing the steep hillsides of North Wales for the War Agricultural Executive Committee.
  • Sam And Yellow Caterpillar D2
    The Man Who Ploughed Where No Plough Had Gone Before
  • Sam Pennal honored
    In 2009, Sam was honored as a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to agriculture. The presentation was made by Sir Hugh Morgan Daniel, lord lieutenant of Gwynedd.
  • Sams International Harvester BTD-6
    Sam bought this International Harvester BTD-6 with Bullgrader 30 years ago to use in road construction. It is still in working order today.
  • Sam International Crawler
    Sam's International crawler. After Sam left the War Ag he started his own business and began building a large collection of crawlers. Being one of the few people in the area with all-terrain machinery, he was kept busy for many years ploughing and improving steep, rough ground.
  • Sam Allis
    Sam's Allis was sent over from the U.S. as part of the World War II-era Lend-Lease Act. This particular crawler has been to the summit of Cadair Idris (elevation 2,930 feet), the second highest mountain in Wales, carrying fencing equipment.
  • Hillside For Ploughing
    When food shortages during World War II led to a need for more crop production, hillsides, mountainsides and scrubland were plowed up to transform grazing country to cropland.
  • Sam 1941 Ransomes
    Sam's 1941 Ransomes threshing machine. Memories of working as a threshing attendant in his youth gave Sam the desire to own such a machine.
  • Jones Cub Stationary Baler
    This early Jones Cub stationary baler would have been current at the same time the Ransomes threshing machine was in common use.
  • Sam International Harvester Plough
    Sam's International Harvester plough dating to the 1940s. It too was part of the Lend-Lease Act.
  • Sam And Farm Machinery
    Sam is a member of the Meirionnydd Vintage Machinery Club. The club plants a field of wheat every year and Sam uses his vintage equipment to cut and thresh it. Sam is shown here with his Albion binder.
  • Sam Fordson Tractor
    Sam is so fond of the Fordson tractors that were popular in his youth that he has aquired three almost identical examples.
  • Sam War Ag Trailer
    A War Ag fuel trailer dating to the early 1940s. Whilst agricultural machinery was left overnight at the job site, this trailer was towed home and filled with fresh fuel, then towed back to the site each day.
  • Vintage WWII Poster For Growing Food
    Food was rationed in Britain during World War II and for some time afterward, and everyone was encouraged to grow as much of their own as possible, as shown in this vintage poster.

  • Sam Driving Caterpillar
  • Sam And Yellow Caterpillar D2
  • Sam Pennal honored
  • Sams International Harvester BTD-6
  • Sam International Crawler
  • Sam Allis
  • Hillside For Ploughing
  • Sam 1941 Ransomes
  • Jones Cub Stationary Baler
  • Sam International Harvester Plough
  • Sam And Farm Machinery
  • Sam Fordson Tractor
  • Sam War Ag Trailer
  • Vintage WWII Poster For Growing Food

Nicknames are very popular in Wales, no doubt because there are a lot of people around with the same name. In a small area there might be two men called Wil. One of them might become known as “Wil Ty Hen” (which means “Wil from the Old House”). It is a simple way of differentiating people. If you are lucky, your nickname comes from your house or your farm name, but sometimes your nickname stems from something rather more personal, such as the shape of your head (“Idris Square Head”), your beard (“Bearded John”) or your habits (“Glyn the Gin”) — which can of course lead to you being given a nickname that might be really rather unsavory!

Generally though, in a close-knit community, people are known by the names of their farms rather than their surnames. Jones, Thomas, Roberts, Williams, Evans and Owen are common surnames in Wales, and especially in the case of farmers it is more important to link people with their family farms than with their surnames.

The man who is the focus of this article is a gentleman of great character called Sam Evans, but everyone knows him as Sam Pennal because Pennal is the Welsh village that he comes from. Ask almost anyone in North Wales who is vaguely connected with tractors if he knows Sam Evans and he might shake his head, but Sam Pennal he will almost certainly know.

Sam Pennal on his own two feet

The son of a Welsh hill shepherd, Sam was born in 1924. For some time he followed in his father’s footsteps, keeping the sheep where they should be on unfenced mountainsides. As one of the oldest professions in the world, shepherding has a certain romance to it, but the truth is that it was a hard life. Sam left school at 14. Two days later he was sent away to work on a large farm in England. Young people weren’t mollycoddled in those days, and Sam reminds me that back then, at 14 years of age, a lad had to stand on his own feet, “no two ways about it.”



Later, Sam returned to his beloved Wales and continued to work on farms, which is where he learned to plough with horses. On a rare day off in 1941, he was walking over the mountains to visit his parents when he saw the most remarkable sight: a Caterpillar D4, ploughing. “It was the first time I had seen anything like it,” Sam recalls, and he was awestruck. “Forget the horses,” he said to himself. “This is what I want to do!”

So in 1943 Sam joined the Meirionnydd branch of the War Agricultural Executive Committee, known as the “War Ag.” Every county had such a committee to determine wartime land usage. The War Ag was responsible for deciding which crops should be grown to feed the struggling, blockaded British Isles, and it also deployed prisoners of war to work on the land. But the committee’s most immediate task was to oversee a plan to increase the arable acreage in Britain.