The David Brown Tractor

Tales from Wales: In which Josephine Roberts tells the story of how she came to acquire her rusty, temperamental, yet devilishly handsome, David Brown tractor.

| June 2008

  • JosephineRoberts.jpg
    Josephine Roberts
  • TractorsSerialNumberPlate.jpg
    Close-up shot of the David Brown tractor’s serial number plate.
  • ASmallLightTractor.jpg
    There is some seriously boggy ground up here in Snowdonia and it’s very easy to get stuck. A small, light tractor like the David Brown is handy, as is a neighbor with a 4-wheel drive tractor for those moments when you get it wrong and have to be pulled out.
  • TractorrunningonPetrol.jpg
    The tractor starts on petrol, but when it has warmed up, a tap can be turned to allow it to run on another tank containing TVO. Tractor vaporizing oil can no longer be purchased here, so we use our own “recipe”: 1 gallon of petrol to 4 gallons of “28-second” kerosene, plus half a pint of diesel thrown in for lubrication and good measure.
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    At the wheel of my David Brown tractor.
  • BackBoxontheTractor.jpg
     Unfortunately our little paddock is home to rather a lot of moles this winter, and we have to flatten the molehills out as regularly as time allows. The chain harrow is ideal for this, and we leave the back box on the tractor while we harrow because it enables us to carry the harrow down the road afterward.
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    The base the seat sits on had almost completely rotted away and a copy had to be made. I always wanted a tractor with a “bottom-shaped” seat and now I have one!
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     Not a problem for the smaller person, dismounting requires some squeezing between levers.
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  • AboutPaintingthetractor.jpg
    Alistair and I differ as regards the question of painting the tractor. I prefer it as it is, but he thinks it looks uncared for and that we should spray it the bright red color it would have been when new.
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    Whilst the David Brown tractor certainly can’t be described as restored, we have given it quite a service. Apart from repairing the mudguards, manifold and radiator, we also fitted a new seat base, brake shoes, linings, rods, springs and kingpin bushes. All the oils were drained and the filters were replaced, for the first time in what looked like 50 years! We also bought new front tires and secondhand ones for the back.

  • JosephineRoberts.jpg
  • TractorsSerialNumberPlate.jpg
  • ASmallLightTractor.jpg
  • TractorrunningonPetrol.jpg
  • DavidBrowntractor.jpg
  • BackBoxontheTractor.jpg
  • AboutTractorSeat.jpg
  • AboutTractor.jpg
  • Map1.jpg
  • AboutPaintingthetractor.jpg
  • AboutTractor1.jpg

When my partner, Alistair, and I first got together, we used to wander around shows and rallies discussing which of the display tractors we liked best. At some stage I would find myself standing in front of a David Brown tractor saying, "Ahhh, look at that, isn't it lovely," and he would say something like, "You really like those, don't you?" I would invariably recite the story of how I was offered one, some seven years ago, for the humble sum of £50 ($100 U.S.), and how I turned it down, because at the time I felt a diesel tractor would be handier for me.

I ended up buying a Massey Ferguson 35 instead, and I was undoubtedly right: It was a more useful tractor than the earlier David Brown. But in hindsight I wish I'd bought both tractors! After all, the David Brown was only £50 and even if I hadn't used it, I could just have put it away for a rainy day. Still, we can all kick ourselves for the opportunities we've missed over the years. At the time, I was largely ignorant of the fact that old tractors were about to jump from being rusty outdated relics to being highly collectible antiques. So, prices rose, Alistair and I ended up starting a family and I never did get my 1950s David Brown.

A year and a half ago on the morning of my birthday, I joyfully tore open my present and was rather surprised, or dare I say it, slightly disappointed, to find that my present consisted of a pair of bonnet (hood) latches for a tractor, and not, I might add, for any tractor that we happened to own. By way of explanation Alistair told me that if I ever did get a David Brown tractor, then these would be the sort of latches that would fit. "Gee thanks," I remember thinking, "… only another 500 pieces to collect and I'll have the full tractor."

Then, after breakfast, as I was taking the ash pan out to the yard to empty it, I heard what can only be described as a loud, spluttering vehicle coming up the lane. I stopped to listen closer, as whatever it was sounded as though it was totally devoid of an exhaust and deeply unhealthy.



Alistair is one of those chaps who loves to work out what every vehicle is by the noise it makes before it comes into sight as it passes our house, and I couldn't understand why he was so uninterested in what was coming up the road that morning. Next thing there was a grinding gearbox noise, an almost stalling noise, then a very loud revving noise, and in a plume of black smoke the beast in question lurched around the corner into our driveway. It was a David Brown tractor, one that looked as though it had been through a war and then rested under the sea for several decades.

The tractor was driven by my brother Bob, and since I knew Bob would never buy a David Brown, I turned to Alistair to ask if this was anything to do with him. He just smiled and said, "Happy birthday, darling!" I think my words were "Oh no - you haven't?!?" I'm not sure whether those words were due to disbelief or to the fact that I was thinking, "Oh no, now we have to restore this thing, and we can't!"