Vintage tractors assembled for a fair at the foot of Turn Hill yesterday. Passing through before most had arrived was good fortune; later, and there would have been slow moving vehicles to follow for miles. The tractors were familiar: the Massey Fergusons and the Fordsons; the David Browns and the Nuffields; the John Deeres and the Internationals. While the skies were grey, it was a mild day, and the drivers of the tractors journeying to the fair preferred short coats or jackets to anything that might have been waterproof.
It was always a mystery that up until the 1960s, tractors generally had no cab. Motor cars were enclosed from the 1920s onward, but it was not considered necessary to protect tractor drivers against the elements. Sitting behind the steering wheel of a Ferguson 35, or similar, a shower of rain lasting a few minutes would be sufficient to leave you cold, and very wet.
Being wet seemed a frequent experience in farming life. My grandfather’s farmyard didn’t offer much shelter on rainy days; while going through the daily work, if you wanted to stay dry, it was a case of dodging from the cowstalls to the barns to the pigstys. My grandfather was not a man for rushing around and would have gone around the farm with a steady tread. Work was done in a methodical way, no matter how inclement the day, there was work to be finished.
If farming is a vocation, then a preparedness to work in all conditions seems a part of that vocation. At times when many others wil have sought refuge from the rain, or suspended work for the day, there are farmers who work on, regardless of how cold or wet, or even miserable, they may feel.
In memories, much of the farmyard degenerated into mud for much of the winter. It was not a pleasant working environment, but my grandfather seemed unaffected by it. Dressed in combinations, thick woollen socks, corduroy trousers, flannel shirt and v-necked pullover, he would pull an old coat around him, pull his flat cap firmly onto his head, step into his Wellingtons, and head out to face the waiting tasks.
The bright and shiny tractors that appear at vintage fairs often contrast with the appearance of those who drive them – people with weathered faces, large-handed people with sandpaper skin that bears the scars of many days’ work. The fairs tell only a mechanical side of the story.
For my grandfather the tractor was for specific tasks, saving hay, bringing fodder up the mountain. But bringing the churns the three miles to the creamery the horse was tackled and the car attached and off he’d go. Himself and a neighbour went together for a silage setup. A single chop Taarup harvester and two trailers. His friend bought a David Brown and did the pulling of the harvest and the trailer. While the Massey brought the grass to the pit.
But they never fully had trust in silage. And so for years they made hay too.