Outnumbered in the Matter of a Leyland 154

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Image courtesy Josephine Roberts
Owned by Terry and Dewi Jones of North Wales, this Leyland 154 is in tidy condition. The 154 was built throughout the 1970s in Bathgate, Scotland.

So this is the situation. My partner has brainwashed our 10-year-old son Tegid into liking a certain make of tractor. I expect this is quite a regular occurrence amongst parents who are tractor enthusiasts, because our opinions will always influence those of our children, but my partner has gone one step further and has actually bought the tractor that he has brainwashed our son into liking.

So our son thinks that the tractor is for him, when really my partner wants it just as much as our son does. Never one to miss a cunning opportunity to purchase another unnecessary machine, my partner is nevertheless fully briefed about the fact that we have no space for any more old tractors, but he’s seen a little chink in my armour, a way of possibly slipping another one in, just a small tractor, like a Leyland 154 for instance, if it was for our son.

Once the idea is in my son’s head, of course, I’m the bad guy if I say no, and there’s the two of them telling me just how small a Leyland 154 actually is. “I know!” I say. “I’ve seen them, I’ve even driven one, and they are barely any smaller than a Ferguson.” Oh no, I’m told, they are really, really small, way smaller than a Fergie.

My argument — our son is only 10 and has no need of a tractor — falls on deaf ears, because they have an answer for everything lined up in advance. They “mansplain” that this tractor is a cheap wreck, so cheap it’s barely costing anything, and it won’t work for years, and during that time, slowly, together they will do it up, and one day, when he’s older, our son can drive the tractor he’s restored with his dad.

It all sounds quite plausible, and looking at a photograph of the tractor in question I can safely say that it looks like a long-term project. And in any case, there’s not a lot I can say on the matter, because I have three horses residing here, none of which are essential by any means.

But before I have a chance to agree or disagree, they decide they had better hot foot it over to England to see the tractor, “before someone else buys it.” I suspect there was no “someone else,” as most people would have decided that the tractor was far too dilapidated to bother with, but there we are. The Terrible Two go off with the trailer behind them to the far reaches of England, armed with a lot of biscuits and a small wad of cash to buy the little wreck of a tractor.

It doesn’t go — but where can it go?

So the deal is that my son pays half and my partner pays half. Depending on which way you look at it, our son has either managed to get his dad to pay for half of his exciting “new” tractor, or my partner has managed to get the tractor he wanted, whilst raiding our son’s money box for half the cost.

Both parties are happy with the deal, though, each no doubt thinking they have somehow managed to hoodwink the other. It really is the strangest situation, and all I can do is stand in the yard watching the newly arrived 154 being reversed up the yard on a trailer. It’s a proper rust-bucket, and apart from two newish front tyres, it doesn’t have a lot going for it. My son jumps out of the Land Rover and says, “It doesn’t go, Mum,” by way of reassurance.

Not wanting to rain on my son’s parade, I try to find positive things to say about this rusty and comically small ’70s machine. The bonnet looks like it might be salvageable, with a lot of sandpaper and some careful taps with a hammer. The cab looks like the worst of a derelict telephone box, and has to go, surely? But no, they are both convinced that a safety cab is the way forward, especially for a prospective teenage driver in a wet climate.

The main problem I can see is where to put this tractor, the tractor that was described as so small I would barely notice it. Where can it go? For the first two weeks, the tractor stayed on the trailer, with my son climbing up to sit longingly in the seat and to wipe it over with a rag from time to time.

Reading the letter of the law

Then one evening I’d just turned the last two ewes out of the shed adjoining the house, where they’d been kept in for lambing, when my partner came over and offered to muck the shed out. Never one to stand in the way of a chap who wants to wield tools, I said, “feel free.” Later that evening, just as it was getting dark, there was a bit of revving outside and there was my partner, reversing the little Leyland on a pole, into the shed. That shed had been empty all of two hours before being commandeered.

It just goes to show, it’s a mistake to leave a bit of space anywhere, because before you’ve turned your back, someone will have claimed it as their own. It’s like that ’round here, no objects go missing — but space, that’s always going missing. Create a bit of a place to park my horse trailer, and some opportunist goes and parks something else there. Space is at a premium, and it can be pinched at the drop of a hat.

So now the little wreck, which is going to take years to do up, bit by bit, on the cheap, has gained residency in the nearest shed to the house. Of course my son is thrilled to have his precious new toy right nearby. He’s quite happy with the fact that he won’t be able to drive it for quite a long time, but it remains to be seen how his patience holds. He has three years to go before he can legally drive this tractor on our own land. Here in the U.K., the Health and Safety Executive clearly states the following: “The law says that no child under 13 may drive or ride on tractors and other self-propelled machines used in agriculture.”

Grim statistics…

Agriculture is the only industry in the U.K. in which children still get maimed and killed. We no longer send children up chimneys or have them working in factories, but we do still involve children in agriculture because, traditionally, farming always was a family industry, with all ages pitching in.

There were probably a significant number of accidents involving children back in the days of horse-drawn farm power, but with the advent of machinery, and the abundance of varied machinery now seen on modern farms, farmers have often been tempted to let “young Billy” behind the wheel of a machine that he has neither the wisdom nor experience to handle.

These days we also involve children in our tractor hobbies, because tractors aren’t just farm tools, they are also a leisure activity. So whilst we aren’t forcing labour out of our children, we are often exposing them to dangerous and unforgiving machinery, all under the guise of fun.

Letting young children drive farm machinery is a hard habit to break; farmers have always given their kids a go at all manner of farm work, because starting early is how they learn, but the fact remains that when it comes to driving tractors at a young age, tragic accidents have happened, and that’s the reason that the law, like it or not, exists as it is.

… which inevitably lead to charming meal-time conversations

Tegid is 10 now, and by age 13 he can legally drive a tractor on our land. Although children change a lot in three years, I’m not sure I will be ready to trust my son’s judgment at age 13. He might be great at driving across a field, but how good will he be at remembering to apply the footbrake properly before he gets down to open a gate, and how careful will he be when crossing steep slopes or towing a load down a hill?

Tegid can’t legally drive a tractor on the public roads until he is 17 (or 16 if he passes a tractor driving test), but all the same, as a mother, I decide I ought to give my son a bit of a safety talk, to prepare him for the future, so over our evening meal I relate a few stories of tractor accidents and fatalities, as a way of explaining why it is important that he waits until he is older to drive this tractor.

By the end of it my son is well and truly fed up, because, as he points out, he isn’t going to drive the thing for years anyway and now I’m ruining his fun, and his meal, by going on and on about tractor accidents. Sometimes with child rearing, one just has to hope that the good advice one is giving is sinking in, even if it doesn’t appear that way at the time.

So the Leyland is here to stay. The seized engine has been taken to bits, it needs new shells and piston rings, the bores need honing, the crankshaft needs cleaning up, the head needs skimming, and it quite possibly needs a new oil pump, so it isn’t going to be running anytime soon, but one day, a day safely tucked away in the future, I might just trust my son to drive it, hopefully without worrying too much. FC

Leylands: Love ’em or loathe ’em…

Leyland Motors was a British automotive company famous for building trucks and busses. In 1968, Leyland Motors merged with the British Motor Corp. LTD (which manufactured, among other things, Austin and Morris cars and Nuffield tractors) to form British Leyland. In 1969, under the British Leyland name, the old Nuffield tractors (which were orange/red in color) were reborn into Leyland tractors and given a new, two-tone blue look.

Leyland was bought by Marshall Sons and Co. of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, in 1982, and tractors were made under the Marshall name for 10 years until the company ceased production in 1992. The Leyland 154 was introduced by Leyland Tractors in 1969 as the new version of the Nuffield 4/25 after the rebranding to Leyland.

The 154 is powered by a 25hp 1.5 litre 4-cylinder diesel BMC/Leyland engine. In the U.S., most examples are petrol (gas), and have a down-swept exhaust, giving them a slightly different appearance.

When it comes to work, the 154 has a gear for every eventuality — with nine forward gears (three in each range of low, medium and high) and three in reverse. It also has two PTO speeds: 540 and 1000rpm. Being small, parts are easy to lift and handle. The tractor features a draught control system and independent hydraulics, which are simple and efficient, running as they do via a pump from the engine.

Everything on the Leyland 154 is straightforward, comfortable to use and well set out. It seems it was made in a perfect era, at a time when tractors had improved just enough to be user-friendly, but before they had evolved so much that they had become over-complicated.

Josephine Roberts lives on an old-fashioned smallholding in Snowdonia, North Wales, and has a passion for all things vintage. Email her at pheenie@talktalk.net.

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