Brian Dye's field memories Part 13: a true Dexta story

This story is completely true, it was told to me firsthand by one of the people involved. Please excuse any errors as my memory may not be perfect but the story is well worth telling. It has passed into folklore within the Ford organisation.

Back in the days of the Fordson Super Major and Dexta, mechanics training courses for the whole world were run at the wonderful Boreham House near Chelmsford in Essex. This large country house is set in farmland on the outskirts of the town and was purchased by Henry Ford to improve farming and to promote farm mechanisation throughout the British Isles and in later years, throughout the world. Machines were brought to Boreham and used on the farms, with Fordson tractors providing the power. As new tractors were developed, these were tested at Boreham and modifications and improvements were suggested by the staff. In later days, tractors from other manufactures were brought here and tested against the Fordson product, their strengths and weaknesses located, and this information recorded for the use of the Ford demonstration teams.

Dealer demonstrators were also trained here and they could try the competition out and work out ways to overcome the other machine’s strengths when they came up against them in the field. I still have in my possession the handbooks on the different tractors that were handed out to the demonstrators. This meant that the fields and workshops around the house were always a hive of industry with tractors of all different makes and colours at work, or being stripped in the workshops, or being taken into the classrooms for dismantling for demonstration purposes.

Boreham House itself is a beautiful property. On your first visit you cannot help but be impressed as you drive down the long drive by the lake, park your car and walk up to the imposing front door set behind stone pillars and at the top of a flight of steps. The door opens into a huge hall with marble fireplaces to the right and left and a huge crystal chandelier over the centre of a large round, highly polished table. There are a few armchairs placed around the hall and doors lead off to the left, to office accommodation, the stairs to the bedrooms and the dining room, in the centre was the door opening into the board room with again a large highly polished table and executive chairs and to the right to more offices and a long corridor down the front of the building which led to training areas, a cinema and the famous Fordson Bar.

The Fordson Bar was down a short twisting stairway, through a small door and was set in the old wine cellars. The roof was low and vaulted and the rooms were divided into bar, poolroom, television room and table tennis room. This was the area where the work was done in my way of thinking. The bar remained open till the early hours of the morning and here, in a totally relaxed atmosphere, you met and discussed Fordson tractors with mechanics from all over the British Isles, Europe and the world. Not only did you discuss the tractors but also you discussed farming and all types of machines.

I remember late one night, talking to a dealer principle from a dealership in the Himalayan foot hills about the Claas Super combine and how, when an Indian farmer saved to purchase a tractor, that tractor became part of the family or the community because it worked and produced their food. I also learnt from another evening discussion with an African gentleman, why the Dexta and later Ford 3-cylinder tractors were not favoured in that continent. He argued that a camel had four legs so a tractor had to have four cylinders!! It was here I also learnt the best ways of tackling work on the tractors and how to diagnose faults quickly. Upstairs you learnt and practised the Ford way, but down in the bar, you learnt the shortcuts from mechanics that had been working with Ford tractors from the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s and who had designed different special tools or ways to get to faults quickly.

And you passed on knowledge to your instructors. I remember going to a course on the new Ford range and being told of the new clutch that was being fitted in the tractors. “It’s an all-metal clutch disc that has low wear characteristics and a new light operation pressure plate that has low pressure springs that make it easy on the drivers leg”, claimed the instructor. “We’ve had to replace our first five clutches already, one of which did not get off the lorry that delivered it”, I said, “They also cut out the flywheel”. This information was so new that the instructor had not been informed of the problems. We were one of the first companies to be issued with the tractors fitted with the new clutch and I had spent the week prior to the course going to farms and replacing the new units. Within a few weeks the clutch was dropped.

So this was the atmosphere of Boreham House. Train, talk, exchange ideas and learn. All part of the “Blue Injection” that all Fordson and Ford mechanics received through the years. Something that is missing from the new training schools set up by CNH (in my humble opinion). It was into this environment in the early 1960’s that a bomb was dropped!

Fordson training courses ran from Sunday until Friday morning. Normally, from Dereham, I would journey down in my works van or private car, on Sunday afternoon, arriving at Boreham House at around 4.30 pm. You booked in, found your bedroom, and had a cup of tea and a bite to eat, then down to the bar to meet the rest of your course. You also met old friends who were on yours or different courses and met the Ford instructors, demonstrators and mechanics who also became friends as you progressed through the Ford dealer organisation. An early night was usually on the cards, then after breakfast next day the work started. On Friday was the examination! This was a written exam on the week’s course and took most of the Friday morning. After this, you could either stay for lunch or leave straight away and drive back to base on the Friday afternoon, worrying about how the exam had gone.

In our dealership, the results were posted on the works notice board and your progress through the company and your ability to go on other courses was judged by management. If you did well, pay rose and so did status. To help things along, the Boreham staff laid on a special dinner on the Thursday night with wine. Then it was down to the bar and the beer really flowed. At between 2 am and 3 am, “The Muffin Man” would start, a game that involved pints of the local ale being balanced on the head whilst ribald songs were being loudly sung. One of the Scottish instructors would start at the top of the house and play his bagpipes through every room and dormitory down to the bar where the group were still trying to stand up balancing their ale. On another occasion a “thunder flash” was let off, but not a single drop of ale was spilt. You certainly got no time for exam revision on those nights. Tractor discussion was banned from the bar on Thursday nights. As you crawled into bed at between 3 and 4 am, examinations were the last thing on your mind.

Of course, if you were an overseas visitor your course went on longer than a week. At the time in question, a group of Canadians had spent some weeks at Boreham working on the Dexta and Super Major range. It was the usual Thursday night bash and it took on special significance as the group were flying home on the following lunchtime after the exam. The party went on till the early hours and eventually everyone went to bed and the house quietened down. It was with sore heads all round that the exam was faced that morning. A Ford bus arrived after Friday lunch to take the group to the airport. Goodbyes were said and the staff prepared to set up for the new arrivals on the Sunday afternoon. During the early afternoon, a worried instructor reported, “We have lost a Dexta”. A search of the grounds was made but no sign of the tractor could be found. Things were now getting beyond a joke. Someone had stolen a brand new tractor! This was serious. Towards the end of the afternoon the decision to call in the local police was made. Then the barman arrived to check stock and prepare for the next week. When he unlocked the bar area and made his way into the bar he stopped in stunned surprise. There in the bar was the Dexta, complete and not a scratch on her...

Between the time of the house quietening down and before the staff were about that Friday morning, the Canadians had dismantled the Dexta, carried it through the house, down the narrow stairway and into the bar. They had drained all the fluids and re filled them without any spillage. They had not damaged any part of the house or the tractor. How they did it after that drinking session and how they got the rear wheels into the bar is not known. All we do know is that Ford staff took a fortnight to finally get the tractor back out of the bar and into work once again.


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