Old tractors can be seen in many different kinds of events in the U.K.Vintage rallies, shows, “ploughing” matches, road runs and threshing days will fill the calendar of any avid tractor enthusiast. Josephine Roberts takes you on a whistle stop tour of what these events are really like.
In every region of Britain we have what we call vintage rallies. In these events, all manner of vintage vehicles will be on display: cars, motorbikes, steam traction engines, tractors, bicycles and trucks (“lorries” to us). There are generally a number of working stationary engines, a few collections of things like old farm tools, oil cans and the like, and an array of stalls selling everything from mugs to mop handles, plus some auto jumble and architectural salvage stalls.
In recent years these events have changed a little in so far as there are more tractors present than ever. Another change is that the “old junk” (as some would put it) that’s for sale has suddenly gone up in value. Now people want perhaps £5 ($7.75) for a rusty old tin bucket, because – well, I don’t know, it’s a rusty old tin bucket, and there aren’t that many about any more, and well, yes, a rusty old tin bucket does look quite quaint outside the back door of your cottage with a clump of parsley growing in it ...
We Brits have always been rather sentimental about our old junk and it seems that now more than ever, we are prepared to pay what are sometimes quite silly prices for it. It’s rather annoying for someone like me – who has always liked old junk – because the days when you could get it for virtually nothing seem to have gone. People are now thinking, “Hold on a minute – that old tin bucket is an antique, and I want at least £5 for it!”
Tractor road runs
So that’s the vintage rally summed up. Now I’m moving on to another sort of event all together, namely the tractor road run. This is a fairly recent phenomenon, probably resulting from the fact that it’s no longer just farmers and country folk who own vintage tractors. People from all walks of life seem to own old tractors these days, and many of these people don’t have their own land but still want an opportunity to use their tractors. Road runs are ideal for this. They give you a chance to give your tractor a good run out (without it getting too dirty!) and they provide an opportunity to see a different landscape. Road runs also have become a popular method of charity fundraising, and with each participant paying a few pounds to join in, a great deal of money can be raised for good causes.
The other popular event is the ploughing match. Ploughing matches are held in most regions throughout spring and autumn. The larger events, like the Festival of the Plough and British Nationals, have many teams of horses present as well as various tractor classes. In the smaller events just a couple of horse teams might compete. The classes on offer are divided according to the type of tractor and plough, and to a lesser extent, according to the experience of the person ploughing. Ploughing matches, it has to be said, are not for the faint-hearted spectator. They are often held on a damp and windswept field, and apart from a van selling hot take-away food, tea and coffee, there is little other than ploughing to sustain the casual spectator!
Each area of the UK also has its agricultural shows. These are less about showing tractors and more about showing livestock, but like the vintage rally, they make for a great family day out. There will often be stands selling, or at least advertising, the latest agricultural machinery, and some shows do have a vintage display of some kind. For instance, at the 2006 Meirionnydd show, Ferguson tractors were arranged in a big “60” shape to mark the line’s 60th anniversary.
This spring I attended Caerwys Agricultural Show here in North Wales. This was a relatively small show, but I like small shows as there’s just enough to see in one day, and the entry prices aren’t too ridiculous either. Members of the Flintshire Vintage and Classic Tractor Club organized the vintage tractor section and there were about 80 tractors in attendance, which was a pretty good turnout for a small event. The club was also celebrating the Women’s Land Army and the contribution that these women made to agriculture and the war effort.
The Women’s Land Army, incidentally, was a British civilian organization set up by the Board of Agriculture during both the first and second World Wars. Like similar efforts in the U.S., it created an avenue for women to work in agriculture, thus replacing the men who had been called into military service. (Editor’s note: For more on the Women’s Land Army in the U.S., see the October 2010 issue of Farm Collector, pages 12-14.) Commonly known as “land girls,” these women never received much formal recognition for their hard work, but two years ago, then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown rectified that by awarding the surviving women a medal in order to commemorate their work
Younger members of the public might not know anything about the “land girls,” so displays like this educate as well as provide a touch of nostalgia for older members of the community.
Health and safety
Unfortunately, a few factors pose a threat to the future of these colorful countryside events. One is “Health and Safety,” and the other is the spiraling cost of fuel. From what I hear from Farm Collector readers, similar problems are creeping up in the U.S.
As a nation, we have become rather obsessed with safety, so much so that it often stands in the way of fun. Concern for safety is a good thing; I certainly wouldn’t like to live in a world where scant regard was given to the sanctity of life. But if you mollycoddle people too much, you begin to deny them freedom, and you end up worshipping rules instead of nurturing common sense.
Citing “Health and Safety,” some shows have eliminated working areas where people can demonstrate their machinery in action. Some don’t even allow vehicles to be started up once the public is in attendance.
Fear of lawsuits in the wake of an accident is no doubt at the heart of all this hysteria. One can blame the “Health and Safety” movement, but in reality it is probably a failure on the part of the public to use common sense that has caused a lot of problems. For instance, it should be common sense to a machine operator to start a potentially dangerous implement – like a baler – in a public area only when it is enclosed with some kind of fence. Likewise, common sense should tell parents to keep tight hold of their child when there’s a working machine in the vicinity. Sadly, we seem to be in the process of creating a race of people who are distinctly lacking in common sense (perhaps because, ironically, we are over-protected by safety regulations).
In this country fuel has become gradually more and more expensive. Even though we don’t have the distances to travel that you in the U.S. do, fuel costs are often cited as the reason why a person might not want to transport a tractor to and from events. A ploughing match I recently attended in Anglesey got around this by providing “local tractors” for use by competitors who had come a long way. This sort of camaraderie is what will hopefully keep rural events thriving despite spiraling fuel costs. FC
Josephine Roberts lives on an old-fashioned smallholding in Snowdonia, North Wales, and has a passion for all things vintage. E-mail her at email@example.com.