by Brian Dye
Introduction: The author worked for one of the largest Ford tractor dealerships in England as a trouble-shooter on tractor engines, hydraulics and combine harvesters from 1963 to 1972. In 1972 he became a dealer manager and finally left the dealer net in 1975 to run his own electronic design and manufacturing company. [Editor]
I started my career in agricultural engineering in 1959 at a local garage. I had wanted to go onto the farm but my father, a farm worker said " No son of mine is going to work like I have had to. Youve had a good education, use it". So I got an apprenticeship at the garage to work on tractors.
We serviced BMC and Rootes Group vehicles along with a wide range of tractors. Some of the tractors you may never have heard of but appear at rallies and museums (usually marked "only one left in existence"). The owners of the garage seemed to have got agencies for some of the most obscure tractors made.
The next make tried was Newman, again a small tractor with three wheels. The engine was a single cylinder Dorman Diesel. It was one of the worst starting engines made. We never managed to sell one of these at all. In fact, the one that was bought as a stock tractor underwent an interesting conversion to a mobile saw bench, cutting up scrap timber from the carpenters shop for the modified steam engine that served to heat the water for the central heating of the working areas.
The garage building had four massive bays that would readily accept four lorries side by side and two deep. These were arranged on either side of the office and stores facilities and the petrol pumps. The stores were on the second floor, the offices being down stairs. In the same building but behind the stores area was the machine shop where lathes and grinders were driven from an overhead shaft by flat belts. The machine shop had two stories with the engine bearing re-mettling area and crank shaft and valve grinding area on a mezzanin.
The paint shop for refinishing vehicles and the repair of accident damage was beside the machine shop.
At the rear of the building was the welding and blacksmiths shop and, at the bottom of a small sharp incline, was the carpenters shop with all the woodworking equipment.
The electrical power was supplied by a massive single cylinder Ruston Hornsby diesel with air start, driving a DC dynamo. The standby power was a slightly smaller single cylinder Lister Diesel again driving a DC dynamo.
The garage employed around 15 staff. The foreman had to arrive early in the morning as it was his job to start the Ruston. No one else was allowed to touch it. If he was ill, Pete was the stand by operator but it was very rarely that he got his hands on the starting valves.
The problem seemed to be that you had one chance to get it running. If you did not catch the beast first time you had no air in the reservoir with which to try a second time. Then it was "all hands to the pumps". Two huge cranking handles were produced and fitted on to either side of the crankshaft beside the huge fly wheels some 6_ across. Then two strong men on either side had to swing. They would start slowly with the decompressor on, then when a bit of speed was built up, Johnny, the foreman, would release the lever. The engine would either then fire or it would stop dead. There was no way that four men on the cranks could pull it over full compression. This process would have to be repeated until the engine fired up. A lovely job at seven in the morning.
The Lister was a far better bet as far as starting was concerned. There was a bulb on the top of the cylinder head, and, if she was needed, Horace the blacksmith was coached out of his workshop with the acetylene bottles and heat was applied to the bulb. It did not take too much coaching to get Horace to heat the engine as, until we got some power, his forge could not be lit as the blower was an electric one.
Once the bulb was red hot, the flywheel was gently pulled to compression. The engine would fire and the flywheel would turn in the opposite direction until it reached compression again. It would then fire and reverse direction.
This rocking motion would continue until the engine gained enough momentum to carry it over compression.
You had a 50/50 chance which way she would run. It would run happily in either direction but the dynamo it was attached to would only run one way so if she fired in the wrong direction it was a case of slowing it down to the rocking sequence and trying again.
But back to the Newman. Because of the poor starting it was decided to remove the Dorman and replace it with the side valve, petrol engine from a Ford Popular of about 1951 vintage. The engine was a bit small in size so it was decided to leave the three forward and one reverse gearbox on the Ford engine and couple the output shaft onto the input shaft of the Newman gearbox.
This gave a wide range of PTO and pulley speeds ranging from dead slow to very very fast indeed. It also gave a wide range of road speeds from double reverse, a forward speed that gave you time to go and have a cup of tea, leave the tractor running in gear and come back to find the tractor had moved ten to fifteen FEET, through to double top which could only be engaged when you were on the move as the 10hp engine could not pull away in it, and this would get you up to 30mph, a frightening speed on a tiny tractor on three wheels. We apprentices were banned from attempting to get the tractor into this gear around the works but this did not stop the occasional burst of speed along the back stretch when we thought no one was looking.
Another strange tractor we sold was known as the Lloyd Dragon. This was a crawler much the size of a D2 and again powered by a Dorman Diesel. But what a different engine. This one started easily and was of the long stroke variety. It would pull low down the rev range and when ticking over it was possible to distinguish each cylinder as it fired and to count the fan blades of the massive cooling fan. Again I only remember one being sold but that customer ran the Dragon for nearly 30 years. I have tried to find out what happened to it when the farm was sold but although many remember it, no one can recall who bought it.
The farm sale was at a time when the garage was also sold up. The huge Ruston had her shed built around her so there was no way to get her out. She was cut up for scrap at the site. I think that this also was the fate of the Lloyd Dragon.
The only challenger to the Major was the final tractor we sold. The Nuffield. This was a good solid workhorse that would out perform the Major in a number of ways. It was a fantastic puller. When working with a mounted implement the engine did not give up and the wheels would not slip. If you see any photographs of Nuffields at work and pulling hard you will always see daylight under the front wheels. When the going got tough the Nuffield would dig her heels in and lift the front high in the air. When the use of front weighting became common with the introduction of reversible ploughs the grip was fantastic. At the local tractor testing station trials, from the time they started around 1948, the Nuffield and finally the Leyland which was developed from the earlier Nuffield always came top or nearly top for grip in the two wheel drive section. How the Ford sales team cheered when Nuffields lost their way in the late 1960_s. I am afraid, by then, I was working for a Ford dealer and cheered with the rest but in later life, having bought a Nuffield 4/65 and used a Nuffield 4/60, I have seen the reason why the Ford boys were so happy. With a little more development and a more stable company (BMC and Leyland were subject to the "British disease" and always on strike), the Nuffield would have been a force to be reckoned with.
I have in my possession, confidential sales reports issued to the dealers from Fords detailing the advantages of Ford tractors over the various opposition machines of the period, and my own experience when going for my "blue injections" at Boreham House in Essex. Although they would not admit it, Nuffields were a worry to them.
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