Brian Dye's field memories Part 9
In 1975 I was managing a Ford Depot in Cambridgeshire. On a visit to one of my customers quite close to the works I happened to note two tractors in one of his sheds. On closer inspection I found that one was a Case LA and the other a Fordson E1ADKN, quite a rare tractor.
The E1ADKN was a petrol kerosene version of the Fordson Major Diesel, introduced by Ford in early 1952 and built at their factory in Dagenham, Essex, England. Ford had, for some time, been looking to update their tractor range. Their new model, the E27N Major, introduced in 1945, was a stopgap. It used a side valve engine that was nearly the same as the Model N, an engine virtually without major design change since 1914.
Ford decided that the New Fordson Major engine of the 1950's would be a completely new engine, overhead valve, wet liners and have applications both in tractors and trucks.
The petrol, petrol/kerosene and diesel versions would have a large number of parts common to all three to aid in the reduction of design costs.
The rest is history; the diesel engine that was produced soon became the basic powerhouse of not only tractors. Ford Thames and Thames Trader trucks were the (road) Majors of their time. Large numbers of these models were built and British roads were full of their variants. They ranged from large 1.5 ton vans to articulated units, from flat beds and tippers to fuel tankers.
The same engines were used in compressors, welders, pumps and generators. Versions were used in road making machines and combine harvesters.
When a six-cylinder version of the same engine was introduced, many more applications were found.
I remember that, during one of my course weeks down at Boreham House, Ford's Tractor Training Centre in England, the usual Thursday night dinner, discussion and drinking session went on into the early hours of the following morning. At about three a.m. course members prevailed upon Dave, our instructor, to open the training cinema and show us a few "Fordson Blue" films. Dave was a little reluctant but his objections were overruled. We all trouped into the cinema and settled down in the seats.
Dave got his own back!!! The cinema darkened, the screen flickered to life showing the opening titles of the film, a film about powerboat racing around the British Isles, boats powered by the Fordson Diesel engine. The film opening sequence was shot from a camera mounted on the bows of a powerboat, travelling at speed through extremely rough green water. For some strange reason all the heavy drinkers left the cinema very quickly but the few non-drinkers on the course enjoyed a very good film then went quietly to bed.
The diesel power unit in the Major heralded the end of petrol and petrol/kerosene tractor production. The diesel engine was slightly more expensive to buy but the running costs were far lower than the other versions.
The reliability and the cold start performance were fantastic, and you did not have to wait for the engine to warm up before hard work could be commenced. The fuel consumption was dramatically lower, and in a country where fuel costs were increasing this played a major part in killing off petrol and petrol/kerosene engines.
Ford stopped petrol/kerosene tractor production in 1955 after 3 short years. In that time they had made 29,062 petrol and petrol/kerosene units as against 154,580 diesel units. Production of petrol-powered units continued after 1955 but these were not offered for sale in the UK.
Of the petrol/kerosene units, most that my old company took in part exchange for diesel units were converted to diesel by fitting a Perkins L4 diesel engine and exported. (Now I think of it, has anyone ever come across one of these units? Or have they all gone to that "Great Home in the Wide (Fordson) Blue Yonder").
When I looked in that shed I saw something that was part of my "Fordson" life.
One evening, after school in October 1953, my father had taken me into the barn on the farm where he worked, to "meet" his new tractor. A brand new Fordson Major Diesel "PNG 606". She looked "Ferguson Grey" in the dim light of the barn.
I lost my heart there and then and this "meeting" was to affect my whole life in agricultural engineering right through to the present day.
Another local farmer, Mr Finch, had bought a petrol/kerosene Major some months before but Dad's was a DIESEL. When other Major's came into the area they too were diesels. Mr Finch bought the only petrol/kerosene version. From 1953 until 1974 I had never come across another and here was one, in this shed, in nearly mint condition with the original tyres. In the fen, soil does not wear tyres at all. There are few stones to cut them and the peat is soft and fluffy rather than abrasive.
I asked the farmer what he intended to do with the two tractors. "The next scrap man that comes along can have them, I need the shed room" was the reply.
I was newly married with two young sons, money was very tight. I asked what he would take for the Major and we agreed on the "book" trade in value: £75.00, (about $150.00).
I could not justify spending the £75.00. It came out of our meagre savings and we had just bought our first house, but Ann saw that she had a rival that I really wanted and we could use on "her" our small hobby farm. I now wish that we'd had a little more money and that I had bought the LA as well. But I saved the Major and, over the years she has paid me back.
We have driven hundreds of miles to Agricultural Shows and Ploughing matches. She has appeared for a National Training organisation as part of displays. She has driven the grinding mill at my demonstrations of bread making at local schools and has driven my 1890's saw bench, cutting wood to keep our wood burner fuelled. She has also drawn trailer loads of wood home from the local forest and rescued "damsels in distress" in heavy snow. She still starts with one pull over compression even though she lives outside with no shed in our English weather.
But it is the work with school children that I wish to highlight in this story. I do a small "act" making bread. I take "Henrietta" to a school and set up with the mill on the school playing field or yard. I then, through out the day, give demonstrations to classes on cutting wheat with a scythe and threshing with a flail. Then out into the yard with some wheat and I become the miller of the local mill and the children bring their corn to me for grinding. I introduce the children to Henrietta and explain that great care must be taken whilst she is working, highlighting the safety points about working or playing near farm machinery. We then grind the corn with Henrietta driving the mill and the children see the golden wheat turning to white flower. They feel the difference between the two, putting their hands in the warm flour as it comes from the mill into the sack and I dismantle the mill and show them the workings.
We then go into the domestic science area and show the mixing of flour, the addition of yeast and the baking of bread. Whilst we are waiting for the bread to "rise" and cook, I take some cream from a local farm and allow each child to shake it in a bottle to produce a little butter. At the end of the day they will have seen the production of one of the staples of life. Bread and butter.
In one of our local towns there is a "butter cross", a dome shaped structure where butter was traded many years ago. So local history is also covered in our day.
I carried out a training course on "Electrics in Agriculture" for a group of farmers and their staff, some 80 miles from my home, a few years ago. During the course, I mention the local butter cross in another context. It is built on a slight mound and a friend used to park on this mound, every time he and his wife shopped, to ensure that his car would start when they came to leave. The fault in his car was electrical and I use the story as a demonstration. As I finished telling the story, a burly farm manager in his early thirties, jumped up and pointing at me exclaiming, " You're the one. I thought I recognised you but I was not sure until now". My past life flashed before my eyes. Where had I met this young man?
"Your wife teaches in Swaffham" he stated " I was in her class when you brought your tractor and mill in. It was you that got me interested in agriculture. After seeing your demonstration, I wanted to work in food production and channelled my whole career to agriculture. I achieved a good education, went to a top agricultural college and now here I am, in charge of two thousand acres and its all the 'fault' of you and your blasted tractor". He smiled as he warmly shook my hand.
It is strange how things work in this life. At the age of ten, my father and his Major channelled my life into agricultural engineering and then, many years later, at a similar age, my Major had channelled that young man's life back into a farming career. Up until the school demonstration, he had no interest in agriculture, then it became his whole life. It's a funny old world.
My father, who is now 94 is reasonably active but over the last year has become slightly unstable when walking. This New Year, Ann and I have bought him a walking frame on wheels. We are fitting it with a Registration Plate "PNG 606" and a Fordson Major Diesel bonnet badge. He is overjoyed with his "New Fordson Major".
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