Sunday, 31 July 2016

The Ferguson System

July 30th 2016 will go down as one of my most amazing memories. A cornucopia of Massey Fergusons beneath the Coventry ring-road is most definitely a first and possibly a sight that will never happen again.  I volunteered myself to head off at 5am on a Saturday morning to record a short report for Radio 4's Farming Today (of which I'm still trying to find a farmer who listens at 05.45 each weekday morning). Even though it was a Saturday, as a Massey fan myself it was a simple calculation, to go or not to go. I arrived at 8am.
The drive up the A46 was the beginning of my own journey, coming up behind a low-loader carrying three vintage Massey's near Evesham, that vision to be replaced by a convoy of 8 Massey's on the three lane highway just south of Coventry, amber flashing warning lights ablaze. Terrific. As was the sight as I peered down from the elevated section of the ring-road. Even as early as 8am, more than 20 Massey's and Fergies were assembling off the back of low loaders, in preparation for today's main event. And that main event was wonderfully named 70 at 70, a celebration the 70th anniversary of the Ferguson TE20 tractor being produced at Coventry's Banner Lane works, once Europe's largest tractor factory. Sadly this closed in 2002, Massey's are now manufactured in Beauvais in France thanks to huge resistance to keep Massey production in the UK by the French government. The site is now a  housing estate.

More than half a million Ferguson TE20's were produced over the decade they were in production before their replacement with the Massey Ferguson 35 following the merger of Massey-Harris and Ferguson. Better known as 'The Little Grey Fergie' these machines did arguably more than any other aspect of agriculture to modernise farming and make it more efficient, a dream of their founder Harry Ferguson. Harry Ferguson's dream was to feed the world with efficiently produced food. Beginning in 1919 he worked for over a decade to perfect his 'Ferguson System' which remained in production for decades before being replaced with modern electronics in the 1990's. However even today his 3 point linkage system is used on most tractors to attach mounted implements. It is a remarkable achievement that 70 years later, many of these simple 20hp tractors are still working.

This event organised by the Coventry Transport Museum was to celebrate the seventy years since the TE20 was produced but tractors from all ages were part of the day, including this flagship of the current range the mighty 400hp MF8737. Yes it is black, and that was a sprayed this colour in celebration of Coventy's bid as a City of Culture, and will remain that colour as it travels about on the exhibition circuit.
A huge difference from the oldest machine in the parade this 1947 TE20 driven by the wonderfully jolly Mr Dodds who was second in the convoy after the 8737.

So to the parade. At 09.45 we were off (Mr Campbell Scott head of Massey PR on a blue number) I'd been promised a seat on one of the MF's in the parade but as it happened seats were in very short supply, so I bagged a lift in the Coventry Transport Museum's land rover making up the rear. Not as atmospheric, but a lot more comfortable.

We chugged through the streets of Coventry, quite slowly, as can be seen from inside the land rover.

Before amassing at the Millennium Square for the official presentation and cake cutting. 

It was amazing to see so many members of the public taking photographs along the route. As Will my driver from the Museum said, the tractor exhibits at the Museum are a huge hit especially with children, more so than cars apparently.

Obviously there for work I did a number of quick interviews with some people there but the most interesting was with a David Walker, the chap in the above image with the baseball cap on. He worked for Massey's for 21 years as a technical writer and was involved with the 100 series right through to the 3900 series.in the late 1980's. Now retired he has written a very readable autobiography of his life. Sometimes these niche autobiographies can be a dry read. Not so Mr Walkers who has the wonderful ability to lift a technical career into a readable gambol through the world of agricultural engineering. He was as entertaining on air too.
Like all good things the day came to an end, for me at least. Switching off the microphone I metamorphosed into a member of the public for half an hour, strolling around the now static displays.

This beautifully preserved and still working MF135 had to be photographed by me as this was the model of tractor I first drove, in fact the first vehicle I ever drove at the age of 14 or so. This model even has the ploughing light on the back which I remember so well. I caught up with its owner later, from Newbury in Berkshire and he explained that it has been restored but like all tractors needs to be worked regularly so continues to do light work around his mostly sheep farm.

I took this image inside a cabbed 135, just for nostalgia reasons....its all so familiar even 30 years after I last drove one.