Harry Ferguson lives on in the Ferguson tractor and farm implements from one Irishman’s collection.
I’ve discussed in this column before the importance of the Ferguson tractor for us Brits. Not only was it a hugely successful machine and the first tractor for many farmers here, its revolutionary 3-point linkage system completely changed the way in which farm implements and tractors worked together.
Engineer and inventor Harry Ferguson was born at Growell, Northern Ireland, in 1884. How proud the Irish nation must be of him, for whilst he is best known to tractor enthusiasts as the man who brought us the world-famous little gray tractors and the hugely innovative Ferguson System, he was also famous for several other feats of engineering. Ferguson was the first Irishman to build and fly his own airplane and he also developed the first four-wheel drive Formula One car.
It is most fitting that only 10 minutes away from Harry Ferguson’s old home lives a truly dedicated Ferguson tractor fanatic called Colin Taylor. Colin is doing his personal best to preserve as many of Ferguson’s wares as possible.
The first tractor Colin drove was a little gray Fergie that belonged to a friend of his father’s. Colin recalls his father lifting him onto the seat, putting the tractor into gear and walking alongside as the 4-year-old boy steered the tractor around a field. Soon Colin looked forward to going to his dad’s friend’s place so that he could “have a spin on the tractor”; he reckons that was the point where his enthusiasm for tractors took root.
Most enthusiasts start their collections later in life, but Colin got a head start. He began his collection whilst still in his teens. Although he is now only in his 30s he has already built up an extensive and fascinating collection of Ferguson tractors and implements.
When young Colin and his family moved to a rural area, they bought their own tractor for cutting the grass, but the tractor was a Ford and it was the gray Fergies that Colin really idolized. He began to collect pictures and information on Ferguson tractors and constantly daydreamed about owning one. Colin fell in with a neighbour who owned a Ford Ferguson and started helping out with the tractor. Before long he was driving it around the show ring for his neighbour, an important milestone for a 12-year-old lad.
By then Colin was quite obsessed with the idea of owning his own Fergie. He dropped hints to his parents, but to no avail. Then, he says, “When I was around 12 or 13 I placed a very cheeky ‘Ferguson Tractor Wanted’ advert in the local farming paper.” He did this without consulting his parents. When the calls started coming in, his poor parents couldn’t understand why on earth people were ringing the house to tell them about tractors they had for sale!
In the end, his parents realized that Colin’s fascination wasn’t going to go away. Colin’s dad, Sam, took the young enthusiast to see some Fergies that were for sale. None of those first tractors were in very good condition, so Sam insisted that they leave them right where they were. This left Colin forlorn, as of course like any over-enthusiastic youngster he wanted to take home the first tractor he saw. Eventually they found the right one. “It was a day that I won’t ever forget,” he recalls. “It started snowing heavily on the way back and we had to take the Fergie off the trailer and use it to tow the car and the trailer home! So LZ6 184, a 1955 TED Ferguson, became mine, and like any young kid into Fergies, I was as proud as punch with our purchase!”
Father and son restored the tractor together, and all the time they discovered more and more uses for it. Since this was his first tractor, and because of the memories of a project shared with his father, this is without doubt Colin’s favourite tractor. Should he ever be forced to sell his collection, he says, this would be the last one to go.
The fascination with Ferguson implements came later. Colin recalls pouring over a book of Ferguson implements, saying things like, “Wouldn’t this be a handy implement to have around the place, Dad?” However, it was his uncle who started off Colin’s Ferguson implement collection by giving him a Ferguson tiller. Later Colin found a 2-furrow plough for sale. As his interest grew, he acquired more knowledge of the rarer Ferguson implements. He also joined the Friends of Ferguson Heritage, which gave him more information and put him in touch with like-minded enthusiasts. Colin saved up and bought a Ferguson 5-foot mower, then a transport box and then a fertilizer spreader.
Then it all went quiet. Like most adolescent lads, Colin discovered cars, and he started spending his money on socializing rather than Ferguson implements. After a few years of that, Colin “got the Ferguson bug back” and started his searches once again. With more cash behind him, he added a Ferguson 35, a Massey Ferguson 130 and a petrol Massey Ferguson 135 to his collection, but it wasn’t long before he decided to concentrate on the Fergies. With such a huge range of implements available, that was an area where his collection could expand but at the same time remain defined as a Ferguson collection.
Colin began to find more and more Ferguson implements. By then tractors and accessories were available for sale on Internet auction sites. Suddenly it became a lot easier to find rarities, and of course to get tempted!
Colin is hugely appreciative of the fact that, whenever possible, his parents supported him in his hobby. Many parents would no doubt have lost patience with what was at times a serious obsession. Colin recalls that when he was a youngster, it was often his mum who agreed to help him out with “emergency funding” when he was trying to buy something for one of his Fergie projects.
Today Colin is an electrician, with a fiancée, Sandra, and two sons, Callum and Aaron. He is the proud owner of several Ferguson tractors, including a Ford Ferguson that he and his father restored and a Ferguson-Brown, something he had dreamed of owning for many years. Although Colin says he learned a lot from restoration work, he has since decided that he prefers tractors and implements that are in tidy but original condition. “They are more my thing,” he says, “and I think there’s more fun to be had with them without having to worry about the shiny paintwork. I also love the character that original machinery has. Each one tells its own life story.”
One of his “fun” tractors is a TE-50. A 1951 TED with a 3-cylinder Perkins industrial engine (rated at 49 hp), it’s an ongoing project. “It has foot throttle, an overdrive gearbox (along with other modifications) and it will go to the wrong end of 34 mph at will,” he says. Colin has modified a diff lock for this tractor and bought a Ferguson reduction box for it, providing 16 forward and 4 reverse gears and live PTO.
Some of Colin’s rarer implements include a Ferguson earthmover (essentially a front-mounted dozing blade), a dump skip and an early steel manure spreader with matching front-axle manure loader, which Colin enjoys using on working days. He also has a lot of fun with his Ferguson half-track kit, which will turn the little gray Fergie into a “go anywhere” machine. But his favourite accessory of all has to be his high-lift “banana loader.” Not only is the banana loader a striking piece of kit, it is also a handy tool, especially when fitted with the pallet toes that Colin has made for it. “It’s a very useful machine,” he says. “It’s easy to control and I’d be lost without it for moving things around.” It’s undoubtedly the case that the more Ferguson implements one has, the greater the need is for a banana loader in order to move them from place to place!
When Colin acquired a second banana loader, friends began to ask why on earth anyone would ever want two identical implements. But Colin had plans for these two loaders. He and his father had often talked about recreating the “Ferguson Bridge” using two such loaders. An eye-catching promotional display originally used by the Ferguson team, the Ferguson Bridge showcased the hydraulic prowess of this amazing little tractor.
The “bridge” would have been seen at agricultural shows some 60 years back, and it was no doubt a sight that had little boys staring in wonder! With the tractor in the air for all to see, this was a very clever ploy by Ferguson that made their product literally stand out. Colin and friends recently built their own reconstruction of the Ferguson Bridge and displayed it on the Friends of Ferguson Heritage stand at the 2013 Balmoral Show in Northern Ireland.
Colin also owns a Ferguson hammer mill (which he uses in the summer), a few Ferguson trailers (a Mark 1 and Mark 2), a 30cwt trailer (maximum payload weight of 1-1/2 tons), a buckrake, a transporter, a winch, a post hole-borer and a set of tandem disc harrows, complete with its original road transport kit. Other Ferguson implements in his collection include a single-furrow reversible plough, a set of spike harrows, a potato planter and spinner, a sub-soiler, a compressor, a sprayer, a crane, a rear blade, a saw-bench, ploughs, and various cultivators, hoes and tillers. Despite what appears to be an extensive collection, Colin still has things on his wish list, but as he says, hunting down new finds is “where the fun is, after all!”
The lack of ready cash and storage space put restraints on the size of the collection. “I do struggle to house stuff,” Colin says. “We have a 50-foot shed that I thought I would never fill and now you can’t move in it. There is a car lift at one end and we have to lift a tractor in the air and put one in below it to get everything in.” The rest of the collection is stored in old lorry bodies. While they are handy storage spaces, they aren’t exactly easy places to get things in and out of. “I keep as much stuff as I can on pallets,” he says. “That way I can move things around with the banana loader and pallet forks.”
It’s great to see such an extensive Ferguson collection right in the heart of Ireland, where the story all began. We all know that Ferguson tractors have made it all over the world — even to Antarctica — but it’s good to know that there are still plenty of these little tractors at home on the Emerald Isle.
Colin describes the Ferguson tractor as a true icon of engineering. “It’s small but extremely capable and ultra reliable,” he says. “I have a lot of respect for both the man himself and for his Ferguson system, and the tractors will always have a special place in my heart.” FC
For more information:
— Visit Colin Taylor’s website.
Josephine Roberts lives on an old-fashioned smallholding in Snowdonia, North Wales, and has a passion for all things vintage. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.