October 19, 2008

Daft Laddies – Goodbye Blossom; Welcome Fergy

Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on.

By Clive Dalton and  Donald Clegg

An extract from the book - Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on (2003) By Clive Dalton & Donald Clegg. If you would like a copy, contact donaldclegg@btopenworld.com

A W.P. Collier photo of a hind ploughing on a North Tyne farm about 1920. 
This is the way things had been done for hundreds of years.
History was surely made about 1950 on North Tyne and Redesdale farms. It was the time that little grey tractors started appearing both inbye and ootbye. They even popped up on farms where the boss was not noted for lashin’ oot and spending money on daft new machinery, and who believed that the horse and its implements would last his time oot. "De ye see they've gitten a trractor at Anton Hill"? "Nivor in the world!" "Aye man, Aa saa it frae the bus on Tewsdey." What news, and what historic changes were about to erupt.

The word "revolution" is not strong enough for what an Irishman called Harry Ferguson started on farms in Britain and around the world. It even had impact on us North of Houxty bank top, because after Harry's little Ferguson 24 arrived on the scene, farming was never the same again.

The 1939-45 war saw the first use of tractors in UK, but few North Tyne farmers owned one as you could get any tractor power you wanted from the "War Ag". This was the “War Agricultural Executive Committee” which directed you to plough up pasture land to grow corn or root crops. Eddie Bell from Dunterley farm was the key tractor driver for the War Ag in the Bellingham area, and he must have faced some of the biggest challenges in cultivation of anyone in Britain! Eddie should have had a knighthood for what he did for farming. I remember his constant call – “Man Aa canna pleuw that” – and then he proceeded to complete the impossible. Eddie's pride and joy was his Fordson Major in it's dark blue company colours. Photo show a restored Fordson Major still gannin canny 50 years on.

The main tractors to be seen during and after the war were the 40hp 'Standard Fordson'. Dark green or grey were their standard colours. Once driven - that's assuming you could get them started, the experience was never to be forgotten. You had to remember not to put your thumb over the starting handle incase it back-fired while you were cranking it, resulting in broken thumbs. And you had to be built like Tarzan to swing that handle.

While driving, you stood astride the metal spring support for the iron seat. With your right foot, you leapt on a lever which acted as both the clutch and the brake. Then with this depressed, and teeth clenched, you leaned with all your strength on the gear lever on the left of the tractor until it graunched and ground itself into gear. See the picture - there was no power steering either.

The noise would frighten aall the cock pheasants in Hesleyside. Taking your foot off the clutch propelled the machine forward with such violence that you nearly fell back ower the seat to an early death below the drawbar!

Rarely was it worth sittin, doon, as you needed all that was left of your strength in both arms to steer the brute, and this was easier to do standing up. By standing you could also see where you were going - which had some advantages!

Some of these early Fordson tractors were fitted with spade lugs instead of tyres - a great wartime saving in rubber and great grip, but absolute agony on your backside and spine. And you had to use wooden boards to cross the road, or else you had the local roadman to cope with for digging up his prize tarmacadam.

With these early tractors, all you did was to take the horse shafts oot of all the owld horse-drawn machinery on the farm and stick in a wooden drawbar. The local blacksmith would make the necessary fittings, and with the auger and a few bolts from the boxes under the bench in the implement shed - you were in business. All you needed after that was a muckle greet pin, or maybe a couple of them incase one got lost. Nowt had really changed from the horse days except perhaps the commands.

Believe me, these early tractors got as much taakin te as any horse, and tales were told of farmers heading for the staene dyke at full revs shouting "Whoa, whoa, WHOA - ye daft bitch".

So for haytime the double-horse mower, the turner, the tedder (if you had one), and the raker which were all “dragged” implements, were easily converted for the tractor. The hay sweep was a problem as the trailed horse sweep was nee gud. A new sweep had to be made that bolted on to the front axle of the tractor. Most folk though kept using their horse raker and horse sweep. Apart from the engineering complexities, they'd spent enuff blowd muney on buyin this new-fangled tractor. And they didn't want the neighbours to think they were maede o’ money!

For the cultivated land, it was no good tryin to pull a horse plew with a tractor, although some tried. So a trailed plew could be hired from the War Ag which carried on with a pool of implements for hire into the 1950s. A set of discs could also be hired to chop up the furrows, and after that you could use horse-drawn equipment such as harrows and the drill plough for raising drills and howkin’ tetties.

The horse was still kept and used for sowing turnips and scuffling weeds between the drills. If you wanted to sow corn or grass seeds you could get the Daft Laddie to sow them with the seed fiddle. This was a small seed container with a metal spinner on the bottom driven by a stick and leather lace used like a fiddle bow. As you bowed back and forward, the spinner rotated to throw out the seed. Grass seed was fine and it was light to carry, but oats were heavy and you had to be forever filling the fiddle box. It was great to be on a farm where they had or borrowed a proper corn drill, which again was usually a conversion from horse drawn days.

How did Harry Ferguson revolutionise all this? Very simply with a little grey tractor, his TO 24, with a 24hp Standard Vanguard engine, and some mysterious built-in bits of magic called hydraulics and a power take-off. At first sight, after being used to the Fordsons and the USA Case tractor that Billy Irvine used to pull the local threshing mill, the first comments always were that the Fergy looked "far ower light and femor!"

Picture shows the Ferguson 'power lift arms, (without the top link), and PTO shaft.

We had entered the age of mounted implements, draft control and three point linkage. Lord o’ marcy – this was aall a terrible mystery to the local hinds for a while. Implements were not trailed any longer, but were an integral part of the tractor and instead of being driven off their wheels, they were driven by a power-take-off shaft cumin’ oot the hint end of the tractor. "Nee wheels man, nee blow’d wheels" was the surprised comment.

And muck spreaders were seen on North Tyne farms for the first time too, about this time. What would happen next? Ye beggor o’ Hexham, Bellingham might beat Wark! It made local farm laddies get more excited than hearing the North Tyne Melody Makers strikin up a quickstep on a Saturday night. There was a rush to work on farms with all this latest gear and escape the agony of the horse. But of course you could now do a lot more expensive damage with a tractor than with a horse. In the horse days the local blacksmith and the saddler could fix any of your miscalculations. Nuw ye needed Fewsters of Hexham te cum oot te fix things or Jock Hall at the Northern, and the boss wasn’t maede o’ muney remembor!

These new developments caused by Harry Ferguson's tractor gave the bus trip to Hexham on a Tuesday a new dimension. So when travelers gat haeme and went inte the Northern to warm their hint ends (if ye cud git Tommy Hedley te shift) at Tom Pile's roaring stove, they could report whee had gitten a new Forrgusson trractor! It allowed the old-time cynics another opportunity to warn of the dangers of change, and the extravagance of some folk whee should knaa bettor. "New fangled mashinorry disn't meak geud hay if the sun disn't shine” and “sittin on their arsees aall day ‘ill gi’ them piles and crine thor baalls” were their dire warnings.

As the Daft Laddie, it was not wise to wax too eloquent to the boss about these new tractors, as he would take it as a direct afront that you wanted him to buy one. That was risking your lugs - so you had to be prepared to tell him what he wanted to hear forst - bad news! You could start off by saying - "Oh Aye, them Forgesons is not bad trractors for easy gannin’, but they wadn't pull a clocker off hor nest if ye gat inte six inchees o' clarts".

You always mixed a good point with a couple of bad points every time the subject was raised, for about six months at least. But if you knew the boss was dein’ the lambin’ about March, you started plugging the great advantages of the link box that nearly all Fergusons were sold with. "Hamish at the Falls was saying thor carryaall link boxees are grand for bringin’ in yowes wi' twins, or any kebbed yowes to set lambs on. De it in halff the time, he says". You hoped the seed fell on futile grund.

But of all the mounted implements Harry Ferguson produced, the little carryall or link box did the trick to sway most bank balances and prejudices against progress. It fitted grand on the 3-point linkage so could be lifted up for carryin and doon for loadin. You could get 4 or 5 milk cans in the box to take to the gate for collection. You could get the groceries, a bag of hen pellets and a bag of flaked maize in it when you went to the Northern in Bellingham.

You could load up the wife and bairns when you went ower the hill to see the neybors, or even follow the hunt up ower the fell. No piece of farm equipment has served the North Tyne or Rede as well and it deserves a monument on the top o’ Hareshaw!

It's interesting that Harry Ferguson tried to work with both Ford and David Brown tractor manufacturers before going out on his own. They couldn't agree. So on the few Ford-Ferguson and the David Brown-Ferguson tractors that did appear, things called "hydraulics" were optional. This meant that most folk didn't bother with them as many thought power linkage was new-fangled and not needed, as they had all the implements they wanted from their horse days anyway.

But then folk started to see the advantage of implements that were fitted on the three-point linkage. The top link was a mystery to the old timers, as the pressure from the implement was transferred back into the tractor through a hydraulic pump to give better draft on the rear wheels. It also kept implements at a constant depth!

The Bellingham Young Farmer's Club ploughing matches of the day were a swarm of little grey Fergys. There was Billy Moralee from Conshiel, Robert Ellwood from the Riding, Alan Nichol from Tone Hall, John Bell from Wood Park, Potter Wood from the Demesne, Lawrence Dagg from the Hott, Tom Forster from Hesleyside mill, all producing perfect work and turning on a sixpence at the heedrrig.

Fergies still turn out to plough 50 years later
Fewsters in Hexham must have thought aall thor borthdays had come at once with the sales. Even the hardest opponents of change were buying spanking new Fergys, as there were no second hand ones. After the link box, the mounted plough was the next purchase and then a mounted mowing machine. Oh what magic that mower was, compared to a converted old horse Bamford or McCormick Deering!

Another bit of magic, because of the hydraulics, was the mounted pikelifter made by a Scottish firm (Taylors). This put the old hay bogey (both horse and motor versions) to rest forever. All you had to do was back the prongs of your pikelifter under the pike - and lift. Hopefully, if it wasn't one of the old time weel-possed smaa' stacks, you would be able to get it up and drive haeme at full bore. It paid to have some extra weight in the front of the tractor (sold by Fergusons) or you had to be very skilful at using the independent brakes to waltz your way haeme. The pikes just flew home and the men at the stack nivor gat time te fill thor pipes or taeke a pinch o' snuff! We were sartainly part of a farmin’ revolution.

David Brown was not to be outdone. Both he and Ford copied the hydraulics and competed in the marketplace. In 1951 I (CD) was a proud driver of Robert Allen's brand spanking new bright red David Brown Cropmaster. I even used to wesh it doon. Not for him the little grey upstart and we declared that the “Davey” in his bright red livery and exhaust with a real “bark” was a tractor with size and status – and had real guts.

Picture shows a nicely restored David Brown Cropmaster

Harry Ferguson also brought about the demise of the local blacksmith. Fewer horses were left to shoe and a few kept on farms were only shod once before haytime as they were turned out for the winter. There was an increased demand for gas and electric welding rather than forge work and some local smithies never adapted. Dealing with the hydraulics of a modern tractor was beyond them and they concentrated on growing leeks instead – cashing in or the years of hoof trimmings from the smithy in their leek trenches and polishing their trophies!

Development in tractors after the 1950s led to a race for more power and bigger machines. However, like all things, we've come full circle and the need for a small tractor for many parts of the world is again apparent. It shows the genius of Harry Ferguson. Anyone who could revolutionise the North Tyne and Rede the way he did deserves a tribute. I wouldn't bet on St Peter having a Fergy 24, but we’re sartin owld Nick ‘ill have yen with a link box to help him brring in his kinlin’ an' muck oot his ashees! We’re bettin on us baeth being there givin’ him a hand.

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