Brian Dye's field memories Part 14

The telephone rang in the workshop. I picked it up.
“Hello” said a familiar voice.
“Oh No, not you, I’m not here”.

This is the familiar banter between Philip, the service manager at Standen Engineering and myself.

“We have a harvester out at Scole near Diss in South Norfolk giving us some weird problems. Would you go and have a look please”. So all the electrical parts are loaded into my Mondeo and off we go to find a harvester and its problem in a field in the beautiful Norfolk countryside. Norfolk is classed as flat. But this is far from true. We do have high spots reaching up to over 100m above sea level. We also have areas of perfectly flat black soil in the fens that are mainly below sea level. But the area of South Norfolk where I was heading is undulating fields that lead down to a beautiful river valley with water meadows and cattle on the flood plane.

It was a beautiful day as I drove the 40 miles to the machine and finally located it in a field well away from the road. They were lifting a good crop of Estima potatoes, rather nice clean potatoes and a really good size for baking, my favourite way of eating spuds, with lashings of cottage cheese and salad, a meal fit for a king. I checked the electrical systems and found no major problems so I settled back in the field and waited for the problem to show itself. That is one of the problems with an intermittent fault. It usually disappears the moment you get in the field to fix it.

As I settled down to wait in that field on that sunny warm September afternoon, my mind started to drift back over the years to 1966. I was no stranger to the farm on which I now sat. In 1966 I had ploughed a lot of it with a Select-o-speed Ford 5000 trying to find another intermittent fault, but this time it was in the hydraulic system. It was one of the only times in my career that I was totally stumped as to the cause of the problem and I am not ashamed to admit it. Billy, one of the top fitters at the dealership had given up on this tractor so I was in good company.

Ford decided in 1962/63 that the Dagenham Tractor Factory had reached the end of its life and that a new plant was to be built at Basildon. The new plant would also be the home of a new tractor built and designed as a world tractor. No more variations from country to country in shape and colour, wherever you bought a Ford tractor in the world it would have a standard format. Most of the design would be centralised and be based on American technology. For those of us in the dealerships this was an exciting time. We looked forward to the new tractor with great enthusiasm. We worked for a Ford agent and Ford were the greatest tractor designer and manufacturer in the world!!! They had given us such wonderful machines as the Major, the Dexta range and finally the Grey Wheeled Super!! They could do no wrong!! We were supremely confident in our product!!

Some of us should have been a little concerned however. Especially in our dealership!! We sold Claas combines, Ransomes combines and New Holland combines!! We openly laughed at the American designed Massey machines and derided their inability to cope with the damp green straw that our European designed machines gobbled up so easily. We forgot the American designed baler that New Holland had introduced a season earlier. The first baler that enabled you to build a round stack!! It was supposed to be a replacement for the extremely popular 68 and 78 Hayliner range. These were excellent machines, giving you a perfect small square bale every time, day after day from hay to straw without any problems. New Holland replaced the mechanism that fed the straw from the pick up into the bale chamber with something called a “sweep arm feeder” a most successful design in the field of the USA but an absolute disaster here in Europe. The mechanism could not cope with the damp straw that we come up against. The old chain and sprocket feeder had coped marvellously.

The sweep arm feeder gave up as it tried to feed the crop into the bale chamber so instead of spreading the crop evenly to the ram, it left part of the charge on one side of the chamber. This resulted in a bale that had one tight side and one loose side. When it left the chamber and fell to the ground the bale curved and the loose sting came off. What a mess!! I spent a whole season with New Holland service reps and one customer trying like mad to get the baler right all to no avail. New Holland eventually bought the machine back and sent the customer a prototype new baler with the old feeder mechanism. The “sweep arm feeder” disappeared into the mists of history. I still have some feeder tines in my toolbox. They make a marvellous soft metal drift!!

The flow of Super Major and Dexta started to dry up in mid 1964. This did not worry us at our dealership. We had a huge stock of all tractors from the basic Dexta to a fully equipped Super with all the differences in between. We normally held 50 or 60 of each marque. But as the stock dwindled through 1964 we became more and more anxious to see the new tractors in our yard. We had seen pictures of a strange looking machine and those fitters who had been down onto the Elveden Estate where Ford had a test farm came back with stories of a strange angular monster tractor being sighted. More pictures came back from the Smithfield Show at the end of 1964 but still no tractors to replace our now nearly exhausted stock of the old models. In some ways this was good because it meant more work for us service people. Instead of going out to (say) a Super with a worn engine, taking the engine out and estimating the cost of repair, then sending a salesman back with the report and a deal for a new tractor, we were having to recondition the worn out machines, and do a good job to stop the farmer buying one of the opposition machines as he could not get a replacement new Ford.

As well as having no new machines, second hand ones dried up too. We had a good business in exporting Majors. This was where I, (as a “NEW” Ford mechanic, having been “transplanted” from the Nuffield dealership), learnt my trade. As mentioned above, when the salesman went back with the deal to the farmer with the worn tractor, a sale resulted. This meant that when the lorry delivered the new tractor, it had to pick up the “remains” of the old tractor and bring back to the works. Here, in the evenings when normal work was finished, vast amounts of overtime were worked by the young fitters mating up parts of tractors to produce a boatload of “runners” for export. Parts that were left over from different tractors such as pump, dynamo, water pump, hydraulic pump, valve chest, cylinder head etc. were all dismantled, cleaned in our chemical cleaner then thoroughly checked, tested and inspected before being reconditioned and put back into service on customers machines or second hand units. This was an example of a minimum waste society. Everything that could be re-used from a “scrap” tractor was. The only thing thrown away was the “diesel knock”.

There was no wonder that in March 1965 we were getting rather jumpy. The new tractor was not in sight and our stocks were gone. Then, one bright spring afternoon the word went out. “Cranky”, our lorry driver, had been sent to the new factory at Basildon to bring home the first of the new tractors!! The long wheel based Ford Thames Trader drove sedately into the yard with a Ford 5000 Super Major sitting proudly in the space usually taken by three Supers. The whole staff turned into the yard to greet her. Office and sales staff, managers from the engineering side of the company, managers from stores and service, all the stores staff and all the fitters. Here was the future of the company; here was our new path forward stamping underfoot the upstart Massey, David Brown and Nuffield dealers. (Yes we were really that arrogant). After all, the Super had managed it on its own and now we had a SUPER Super Major. Vic, as senior workshop mechanic, was given the job of Pre Delivery Inspection and he stood tall as he climbed the ramp and settled himself into the seat.

He turned the key.

Most watching turned to each other in shock. Instead of the sharp crack of the Super engine firing up, this one cranked over and over and over blanketing the yard and those watching, in clouds of white smoke. Eventually it started and Vic drove it off the lorry and into the workshop. What a noise!! Instead of the smooth exhaust of the Super or Dexta, we were treated to a harsh knock that drowned out the exhaust note and sounded as if all inside components of the engine were loose. Was this what we were really basing our future on? What in heavens name was Ford up to?

You must remember that few people had heard the noise of a “square engine”. That is, an engine with the same diameter bore and stroke. We were all used to the smooth, long stroke engine like the Super and Perkins. We were soon to get used to the poor starting and noise of these motors. Eventually the flow of tractors speeded up through 1965 and we got our share of Ford Major 4000’s (my real favourite of the new range), Ford Super Dexta 3000’s and the greatly underrated Ford Dexta 2000. Ford really confused the issue by keeping the old names mixed with the new numbers.

Throughout its first few years, the 5000 was a useless tractor. It proved to be the flop we feared on that first day. First, it was not sold correctly. It was sold as a replacement for the Super and this it was not. The design was wrong. It had larger wheels and a “coarse sensing” lift. Its engine did not have the “lugability” of the Super and of course it was sold with an eight-speed gearbox when in fact it was only a seven speed. Ford, in their wisdom, had decided to fit two gears of the same ratio in the high range and the low range. “You have a HIGH gear in the LOW range and a LOW GEAR in the HIGH range” went the blurb when anyone questioned it. It was not until many years later that they finally admitted that someone in their design division had blundered.

But the big problem was wheel spin. Put a 5000 and a Super on the same implement and the Super would leave the 5000 standing. Whenever we did demonstrations or ploughing marathons with the new tractor range, we had to “handicap” the 4000 or this would show up the 5000 every time. It’s back to Harry Ferguson’s theory of hydraulics and weight transference. The Super pulled a two-furrow Ransomes TS82, a plough designed for that tractor. Weight transference and balance are perfect. Even with full weights in the rear wheels, the 5000 slipped when ploughing with the “82” and in the Norfolk soil, with flint to cut the tyres to shreds, wheel slip means high wear. The answer was simple, but have you ever tried to tell a farmer that a tractor that will not pull two-furrow without wheel spin, will handle three without problem, and that all the weight he has put in the rear wheels is not needed as the art is to put it in front and use it as a counter balance (Harry Ferguson’s Theory)....?

Slowly, we got people to understand and the job of demonstrator became another string to the bow of our field service mechanics. Rather than strip the hydraulics every time the customer complained, look hard at what he was trying to do and introduce him to new techniques of operation. Try the tractor yourself and see what you made of it (marvellous training and a grounding that has served me well all through my working life to the present day).

Mr Old’s tractor was the first Select-o-Speed 5000 that we had sold. He was a very good friend of the managing director and also the other directors of our company. The 5000 was supposed to be an advertisement for Ford in that area. The salesman, “Noddy”, had been selling tractors in this area for many years for our company and was approaching retirement. The 5000 was supposed to be the “jewel” in his crown before his retirement. He was so proud when it was delivered to his customer.

You may think I am going over the top with the comments on the pride we had in the company and Ford products. I am not. I have never worked anywhere where company and product loyalty played such a part in the feelings of all staff.

This 5000 was a pig!! The tractor was exactly matched to its plough, a three furrow TS84. All the weight was in the right place, on the front. When in work, the plough draft was controlled by the tensions and compressions of the top link and this all worked well. The Select-o Speed transmission was brilliant in these conditions and, as the draft conditions in the field varied, so the gears could be changed on the move to maintain a steady load on the engine and keep it working at its maximum torque.

Everything was perfect.

Except that at about 3.30 pm the hydraulic lift would suddenly refuse to lift the plough from the ground!!! The tractor had to be left in the field until next morning, when, with cold oil, the plough could be coaxed up and the whole unit taken to the workshop for investigation. The Ford 5000 lift was not a light piece of iron. It also has to be lifted about 100 mm straight up and held whilst the exhaust filter is removed. And this is in the days before portable cranes were fitted to all vans. Billy, the senior Field Service Mechanic, was about 63 at the time and after having the lift off 10 times he felt he could no longer carry on. After replacing all the components in the pump etc. the lift would work until 3.30 pm then fail again!

I got the job!!! I would go down the 40 miles in the morning with my boy Richard. We would change the pump, dismantle the lift and check all the “O” rings. Rebuild the lift. Hook up the tractor and plough and go ploughing. All day. Some days she would give you some hope and get through the 3.30 pm dead line... Some days you actually handed the tractor back to her driver who was going to work overtime, got into the van and drove back to base only to be met by Derek as you drove into the yard with the words “Mr Old’s been on the phone.”

I had that lift to pieces 32 times in a two-month period!!! We sent pumps and ram cylinders back to Ford. We sent numerous oil samples back too. Then one day the order came to “Cranky”. “Go to Mr Old at Scole, pick up that tractor and take it to Boreham, Fords Training School and Secret Trial Site”. She was there for two months. When she came back she went back to Mr Old for a number of years then was traded to a number of our customers over the years. She never gave another lift problem and Ford refused to give any clue as to what they did to her. The last I saw of her was a few years ago on a local farm, being used as a yard tractor and still the lift was performing perfectly.

One thing came from all the problems we had. In May 1966, I was sent to Ford's on my first Hydraulics course on the new range. I passed my written exam at the end of the course with a pass mark of 98%. The highest mark ever achieved at our dealership. I still have the certificate and mark amongst my memorabilia here at home. All thanks to Mr Old’s 5000!!

The sun is warm as I sat there waiting for the potato harvester to fail. Just as I am dozing off the shout goes up. “She’s stopped”. I wander across and do some tests then ride around with the operator. On cue, every time we reach a certain spot in the field certain circuits in the control box switch off!! We move to a different area of the field. No problems. We return to the previous area. Circuits switch off. Electronics are really interesting!! Then I look at the conditions. Small stones in the potato baulk. This is where the machine switches off. Where the machine keeps running: OK, no small stones!!

The cleaner which sorts the potatoes from the rubbish and stones is fitted with an automatic reverse to prevent damage to its rubber rollers should a stone get jammed. The pressure setting has been set too low at the factory and in the stony land the cleaner has been constantly reversing, setting up electrical “spikes” in the system which were triggering the electronic switching mechanism and stopping the machine. Adjust the timer unit and the pressure setting and all problems disappear.

“At least I cured that one,” I said to myself as I left the field.


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