For the Love of Rusty Old Tractors

Variety is the spice of life, and this applies to old tractors as well.

  • Some paint changes quite radically as it ages. This Nuffield would have once been a garish orange, but now the paint has dulled and darkened to a lovely weathered red.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • This 1962 Bristol Bulldozer has faded from a bright yellow into a pale primrose. Many owners feel that machines like this should be left in their work clothes.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • Beautiful and unique patinas are not only found on old tractors. This Commer Q4 belongs to my nephew Matthew, who is undecided about what to do with the paintwork. On one hand he likes the distressed look, but on the other hand he wants to preserve the vehicle, so painting might be the best option.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • My David Brown 25 with Massey Ferguson baler. Both are almost entirely devoid of paint, yet still in reasonably good condition.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • A well-weathered British-built Dutch barn (or pole barn, in the U.S.) shelters a road roller. Some of our old corrugated iron barns are more than 100 years old and still have the maker's name on the side. Many of these historic examples of agricultural architecture are still in use today, as they remain ideal for storing hay and straw.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • The muted colours on this Fordson E27N allow it to gently blend into the landscape.
    Photo by Joesphine Roberts
  • An unrestored tractor doesn't have to look neglected. This handsome Field Marshall looks solid and well cared for, and has a lovely warm patina.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • A beautifully aged Fordson. At one time, unrestored tractors were seen as neglected, or in need of paint, but now many collectors prefer their old tractors to actually look like antiques. Many dealers say that a tractor in unrestored condition can sell for as much, if not more than, a restored example.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • An old Fordson Model N disappearing slowly into the nettles. Some rusty old relics are yard art only.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • This Massey Ferguson 135 has crossed the line from unrestored to neglected and is ripe for restoration.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • This Massey Ferguson 35 had faded over the years from bright red into a patchy pink.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • Although the front end looks sound enough on this Massey Ferguson 135, the rear mudguards have totally corroded and need replacing. Once a new piece of tin work has been added, in my opinion, the owner might as well repaint the whole tractor.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • Buildings, too, can age beautifully. Pictured here is an old workshop on the side of the main road in Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales. Some see this as an eyesore, others think of it as an eye-catching landmark. It's all a question of taste.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts

There are still plenty of unrestored tractors to see here in Wales. Are they neglected old workhorses, or beautiful works of art? It’s all a matter of taste.

I notice as I leaf through Farm Collector magazine that most of the tractors featured in these pages are beautifully restored to look just as they did on the day they came out of the factory. These gleaming pieces of engineering take us back to the day when these tractors were brand new and current, and the results of these painstaking restorations also showcase the amazing skills of enthusiastic restorers and owners. Restoring an old wreck and transforming it into a sparkling, smooth-running showpiece is like bringing something back from the dead. It must be an amazing feeling to bring about such a transformation. The results must be an enormous source of pride to the restorers, and to their families too.

Thorough restorers must give a sigh of blissful satisfaction when, having completed a restoration, they are confident of having preserved the tractor for another few decades and the next generation. We are only custodians of these beautiful machines, keeping them safe for our children and grandchildren, because “they ain’t making any more of them,” as they say. Without our conscientious restorers, we would have lost a huge number of our historic tractors to the scrap man. I have every admiration for anyone who has the skills and dedication to save our old relics and preserve them for the future.

Variety is the spice of life

However, a tireless restorer I am not. Quality restorations are beyond me and my humble abilities. I feel that unless one is going to do a really good job on a cosmetic restoration, then the best bet is to leave well enough alone and not attempt to restore but simply to aim to preserve.

I have a tractor (a 1953 David Brown) that is, to put it honestly, downright scruffy and almost devoid of the bright red paint that it would have worn when new. Initially I didn’t repaint this tractor because I knew I couldn’t do it justice. I’m what we call here “cack handed” with a paintbrush, and downright impatient with sandpaper, and I knew full well that I couldn’t afford to pay an expert to do the job for me, so it was left as it was.

But over the years I’ve begun to feel glad that I never repainted this tractor. I’ve come to really love its warm and weathered look. Also, it’s a look that has gained a bit of popularity in recent years. Not that I’m one to follow fashion of course, but it’s always nice to discover that by doing nothing at all, you have inadvertently attained the height of fashion.


Farm Collector April 16Farm Collector is a monthly magazine focusing on antique tractors and all kinds of antique farm equipment. If it's old and from the farm, we're interested in it!

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