Girl Meets Tractor: Jo's Massey-Ferguson 35

Tales from Wales: Josephine Roberts and her love of old tractors, especially her little Massey-Ferguson 35.


| September 2007



Massey Ferguson 35

Jo Roberts on her 1960 Massey Ferguson 35, which she uses on her smallholding in Snowdonia in North Wales. “The MF 35 is the best little vintage all-‘rounder that money can buy,” she says. “It manages to be both practical and collectible, and the 4-cylinder engine makes it smooth and quiet to drive. Some 4-cylinder models have the reputation of being hard to start, but for some reason mine has always been a good starter.”

Courtesy Josephine Roberts

Growing up with parents fond of quirky machines, such as noisy outdated trucks and big old American cars (yes, even here in Wales!), I was never going to be a "normal" child. Although the lorries were slow and deafening to travel in, and the big old chrome-clad cars gulped fuel and had to be shunted back and forth to get around the tight bends here in this hilly corner of North Wales, I always felt there was something exciting and special about these vehicles. The neighbors might have thought we were nuts, but we didn't care: We were having fun.

The first time I remember thinking old tractors were cool was when I heard the sound my dad's Nuffield Universal Three made as it opened out on the long hill where I grew up. I knew then I wasn't normal, because sensible vehicles (like everyone else had), or even flashy vehicles (like everyone else seemed to want), didn't do anything for me. My first love was probably the lorry in the 1960s Spielberg film Duel: It was rough, smoky, loud and mean, and since then I've always liked my tractors the same way, too.

My dad used to be a hill farmer, and I grew up having driven a few old workhorses, but it wasn't until I was about 28 that I got a tractor of my very own. To be honest it wasn't quite the tractor I initially wanted, but when I saw how much the ones I really lusted after were going to cost, I had to come down to earth with a bump. I suppose I had fancied myself the driver of a Field Marshall, and if I'm honest it was really just the deep bass single-cylinder "thump, thump" noise that made me want one so much.

I finally came around to the idea that I'd be much better off with a Massey Ferguson 35: a user-friendly, reliable little tractor, capable of performing any of the tasks required on a 7-acre holding like mine. Plus, back in 1998 the prices hadn't gone too mad, and you could still pick up a good one for under 500 pounds (about $1,000).

Choosing a tractor, I think, can be a bit like choosing a partner in that, tempting as it is, it is best not to go on looks alone. Whilst a Field Marshall or a Lanz Bulldog might look gorgeous, it could well be a pig of a thing to get going of a morning, and it might well prove completely useless come hay-making time. So, in a rare act of compromise, I bought the 1960 Massey Ferguson 35 that I still own and use today.

I soon realized that a tractor without any implements is about as useful as a kitchen without any utensils, and that buying the tractor was just the beginning. For the rest of my life, it seems, I am doomed to be on a one-woman mission to collect all the falling-apart and outdated implements that the "proper farmers" are throwing away.