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Vintage Tractors


At South Yeo Farm East we depend on our various tractors to get our work done around the farm. Some are real workhorses we use everyday while others are projects awaiting restoration (there are quite a few of those…). None are particularly modern, in fact our most up-to-date tractor is from 1988, so we really have to look after them and try to keep them under cover when not in use. The oldest is from 1949 before I was born…

I have been driving tractors here since I was 10 when my father trusted me to steer one while we were feeding sheep - in a large open field and at no more than 2 mph. Since then, I have progressed to a lofty 16.8 mph maximum speed and spend most of my free time restoring or fixing tractors. Needless to say, I have had the same David Brown 990 tractor in the workshop in pieces since 2007 and need to address the work-life-balance! I am determined it will be driven out in shining splendour by the end of the year.

One of the most well used tractors is our Ford 4600, which my father bought new in 1977, the only new tractor he ever bought, and as a boy I remember it arriving. It is still in really good condition apart from the engine, which for about the last 20 years has smoked like a train. Various engine refurbishments have taken place to no avail. To be fair it doesn’t work very hard now and probably needs a good day on the road with a heavy trailer to blow it through.
Like all Fords of that era, it does like its diesel and engine oil. Gillian likes driving it as it has a quiet bubble cab, power steering and space for at least 2 dogs which never seem to be far from wherever she happens to be working. If ever we are fencing, this tractor drives the post basher and I am comfortable in the cab operating controls while Gillian is outside (usually in the rain) steadying the posts.

I still have the 1958 Dexta which we have had on the farm since the mid sixties and this is next up for restoration. I still use it for a bit of harrowing or driving the saw bench but various parts are fading and it won’t charge, the hydraulics don’t lift properly and the engine squeaks and whistles when warm, clutch, gearbox, etc. …bit of work needed then. I do also have a 1962 Dexta which needs cylinder head work, I have the parts, just not the time right now but it is actually in the workshop so it could be next (ish).
I have been collecting a range of vintage and classic David Brown tractors for the last 10 years. I was drawn towards keeping David Browns (DB’s) because they are British and were real pioneers with Harry Ferguson making the first mass-produced tractor with a hydraulic lift. Seemingly every farm had a little grey Fergie, we are no exception, my father once had one, and we were given one as a wedding present! It has a Perkins P3 engine and more oil leaks than BP would be proud to admit to… But back to the David Browns.

We have a DB880 and matching trailer which was used as our wedding tractor; my father drove Gillian and I back up the road after our blessing service by the river. It is a basic tractor, which does everything you ask of it. No frills (and no lights, must connect them up one day!) everything works as it should and it is lovely to drive. It is really economical too, it can be months between fill-ups, although it doesn’t get used much in the winter as being white it shows the dirt really easily. I restored it specifically for the big day but was forbidden to do anything oily in the 2 weeks preceding so my usual oil stained hands were clean…

The oldest tractor we have is a classic 1949 red David Brown Cropmaster Petrol/Paraffin in near concourse condition. It is a delightful machine with a double seat so we can both go out on it. A small job of replacing a bearing in the gearbox will be accomplished as soon as I can get the 990 out of the workshop. It was a real find and we brought it back from Milton Keynes on a trailer - to the amusement of staff at a drive through restaurant (we daren’t leave it outside unattended!)

The 1967 DB 990 is our current project. We bought two 990s in poor condition, one was a shell and the other didn’t work either; the idea was to make one working tractor from the two. It has 3 gear levers which leads to lots of fiddling about between the legs to find a speed one likes, the normal 1,2,3 & reverse; a hi-lo range change and a low-normal splitter, thus giving the 12 forward speeds. This photo shows it before I started the project in 2007.

So far I’ve got most of it back together and have had it running, well sort of running. I’m lead to believe that these came out of Yorkshire with 4 cylinders, but mine seems to only have 3. Any advice anyone?! To be fair I didn’t run it for long as there wasn’t any coolant in it and it was a cold evening. I don’t think that these cancel each other out somehow. Anyway will try again when the coolant is in and I’ve checked the timing & compression.
One Gillian dislikes driving is the DB 885. This is another of our well used machines, which when I bought it had been stood outside for sometime and had water in the oils. It has a sturdy loader and this makes the steering heavy and this was not helped by a broken bearing in the steering column. Changing this has helped the situation but it is still not a lightweight. It is one of those tractors which when I first had it, would not fit anything; every implement had to be adjusted to make it fit. The problem seems to be that is has relatively short link arms and a super short top link. It also doesn’t lift very high. Now that we have established these shortcomings, it is absolutely brilliant at everything we give it to do.

The 12 speed gearbox seems to have a perfect speed for every task, although it can take a bit of stirring to find the correct ratio. Its party piece is baling; it seems to be perfectly matched to our Welgar AP45 conventional small baler and with its creeper range in the gearbox we can take on huge windrows of hay without braking shear-bolts.

Following the advice and subsequent help of a local farmer who was really keen to show off his new 2 rotor rake which will put 24’ of grass into 1 row, we really needed the slow ground speed to bale the crop! The bales came out the other end like a single square row of hay behind the baler.

Last of the David Browns (that run) and the latest one we have is a 1494 4WD with a 1500kg loader. This one is a 1988 and is one of the last ones they ever made. It has a Hydra-shift gearbox which is brilliant at fieldwork, but a bit hopeless in yard operations. Ask my brother who jumped in and took off in ‘road’ mode. I had left the hydra-shift in 3 and as he moved off it quickly changed by itself from 1 to 3 in about 2 seconds.

We bought this as with all the wet weather of the last few years we realized we needed a 4 wheel drive for those occasions we just have to get on the land. Its loader is capable of lifting large bales of haylage which we now need for the cattle.
We also have several other DB’s which we will bring out and restore when we have the time: A 1954 30D which is seized but complete (we used to have a 30C on the farm when I was very young, so it is good to have one of these back again), also a red 950, as we had one of these too. I learned to drive on the 950 so it has a special place in my heart although the one I have is not the same. Two 770’s, a 780 and finally a 1200. Initially I started collecting the white DB Selectamatic range but Gillian (ever the practical one) suggested red might not show the dirt so much so I now have permission to collect those too - there has to be some compensation for the ever growing chicken collection of hers!

She jokes that I have taken to taking tractors apart and hiding them in bits around the farm, so that she can no longer count how many I have!! That would be telling and I can easily see where her chickens are…

We always keep the machinery under cover as it is all old but it works and try to avoid taking it out unnecessarily in the rain if a job can wait. I’m always amazed at farmers who spend £50,000+ on a tractor and leave it out in the rain, when a simple pole barn with a tin roof would cost less than £1,000 to put over it. It’s not the first years where the trouble occurs though; it’s later in the machines’ life when the ravages of weather in the early years take their toll.

Learn how to maintain your tractor & machinery:
For a number of years now we have run beginners ‘Tractor & Machinery Maintenance’ courses at the farm to enable those just starting out or thinking of buying their first tractor to have hands-on experience of essential maintenance tasks. For further details of dates, agenda, prices etc, please see our training pages.

We will try to post regular updates and photographs on the progress of restorations; if you don’t see any for a while, you will know we’ve been busy!

PS. If you know of a DB850 for sale, I’m sure I could find it a good home…