“The Wheel is come full circle” (WS)

60 years ago two events of huge significance took place.

A farmer on a small upland farm in the Usk valley just outside the military town of Sennybridge, put his hand deeply into his pocket and pulled out just over £400.  He gave the money to a smartly suited gentleman in the premises of Brecon Motors in that eponymous County town and became the proud owner of a little grey Fergie tractor, a Fergie Fach.  The machine was already three years old having been assembled in the Lode Lane factory of Harry Ferguson in the latter months of 1949.  It was chassis number TE/D/113384, one of the first of the new TVO driven models – Tractor Vaporising Oil – which superseded the earlier T20 four cylinder petrol only models.  In a country still suffering the stranglehold of rationing, struggling to recover from the devastation of the Second World War, fuel was in short supply and the economy of the TVO engine made it very desirable  (already being out-played by the quickly evolving diesel engines).  Mr Jones drove his new acquisition the nine miles home along the still windy and narrow A40 to the little farm which nestled between the road and the railway line that ran from Brecon to Neath.

Before I get too engrossed in the story I should mention the other event of note that summer.  Exactly one week earlier a new Queen was crowned, on June 2nd, and she, and the little tractor, are still going strong !

Old Buff lof book for Fergie Tractor.

The original ‘log’ book or Vehicle Registration Document for the little grey Fergie showing the number GVJ 599.

The tractor was something of a rarity even back then for it had been a ‘demonstrator’ for the Ferguson dealers in Hereford, on Holme Road.  It had been factory fitted with all the extras available, the deluxe version if you like.  To begin with it had lights ! That was unusual enough. The (now) highly desirable folding front sidelights and the hugely sought after central bonnet mounted headlight together with a rear light and number plate light.  It also had a ‘Ploughing’lamp mounted on the rear offside wing.  These were not the normal fittings for a working tractor.

A TED Fergie with light fittings

The elegant little tractor still ‘has it’ after over 60 years of grafting; not unlike HRH !!

It had gone to a good home for sure.  Mr Jones was nothing if not fastidious about his implements, tools and machinery, his horses and his stock too.  His farm would have been a model today for any of the Agri/environment schemes (indeed it was entered into the All Wales Tir Gofal programme in 2003) as it was absolutely at one with the environment and nature.  To move from horse drawn power to a tractor was not an easy decision, he loved his horses, he knew them and how to treat and work them.  These new fangled machines were still, even in the early 1950s,  a matter of some suspicion and worry.  Nevertheless it was dearly cherished and looked after and served Mr Jones for the next four years.  In 1957, having become used to machine power and with farming gradually becoming profitable again, Mr Jones decided to go for one of the new Massey Ferguson 35 tractors, the first of the red Fergies, driven by a 4 cylinder diesel engine.  The little grey Fergie, still in superb condition and hardly having been over-worked, was traded in at Brecon Motors and was bade farewell as he drove his new red 35 home along the same road.

Now you will have to bear with me on this story, it is somewhat convoluted but the punch line is worth the wait, I promise.

How is it I know so much of this history, you may ask.  In 1969 I, and several other high octane young male students were hanging out of the hostel windows taking stock of the newly arrived female students.  It was a hot September and mini skirts were all the rage; say no more.  Amongst the beauties one stood out, not least because she was Welsh, not least because she was a 200 yards (metres were a long way off) sprinter and she was a farmer’s daughter….ahem.  Eventually, after many failed attempts, I managed to get a date and, cutting along story very short, for some years we were ‘close friends’.  The following summer I visited her farm, the very same farm, Mr Percy Jones’ farm.  Her mother thought me a tad ‘common’ and her father wasn’t over friendly, nevertheless I visited several times and gained some ‘street-cred’ when my strong, fit, youthful rugby playing body came in very useful to gather the hay harvest.  The hay trailer was hauled in by that same little red Massey 35.  Now I was no farm boy but even I recognised the ‘quaintness’ of Percy’s methods, even I could see here was a man farming in the past.

Leap forward 20 years, Percy had died, his daughters were married, my old ‘friend’ had married badly, she had erroneously reckoned on being able to tame and humanise a local farmer whom we all knew was not for taming.  I was asked to examine the buildings to see what could be done to make them sound and weather-proof as they had been some years without Percy’s attention, he having retired through ill health some years prior to his death.  In the buildings and lying around the farm yard were all the tools and paraphenalia of his farming life.  These cast off items were to be dumped and discarded,  I rescued them and they became the basis of my collection of farming bygones which I call Our Farming Heritage: The Percy Jones Collection. www.ourfarmingheritage.com

You will have seen some of my items in previous articles and I am constantly giving talks and/or exhibitions aimed at keeping alive the artefacts and the methods of farming that is the tradition of the Upland Welsh Farm.  Items range from simple wooden rakes, spades and forks, butter making items, ploughs and small hand tools.  In all there are over 200 separate tools as well as several carts and tractors.

Welsh Gambo - hill farm cart.

This Gambo is identical to hundreds of others which nearly every upland Welsh farm would have had throughout the 19th century and early 20th century.  I restored it some 10 years ago, the original Percy Jones gambo still sits in his old barn.

I have taken great pleasure in restoring all the items which were originally part of Percy’s farming life.  He was born in another place which is currently important to me, Llanwrthwl near Rhayader.  I am studying the valley and its old homesteads, it is a Cultural landscape of some importance in the history and evolution of farming in the harsh Welsh uplands.  In the early 1950s he and his schoolteacher wife moved from his home at the Talwrn to the banks of the river Usk.  They left with their equipment and tools, may donated by neighbours.

Now then, lets jump forward to the early 21st century.  I arrived in this part of the world in early 2001, it is a quiet place with few neighbours.  One of my near neighbours, he lives about 3 miles away in a similarly remote hill farm, was often encountered at the shows I attended with my collection.  He would sit, talk and reminisce about his old farming days.  He too was ‘old school’, he too farmed with horses until the first tractor arrived in the late 1950s.  Over the years we have become good friends.  I visit him regularly and we chat over his memories and the old farms which now lie deserted in the hills around us.

Upland ruin in the Cambrian mountains of mid Wales.

This now derelict house was the home of my friend’s mother and he remembers well visiting it in his childhood. How quickly a home becomes a pile of stones.

My next piece of researched writing will be a record of those lost farms and the people who lived and worked them.  My old friend is nearing the end of his days although he still runs a small flock of Beulah Speckle sheep on his small hill farm.  Over the last five or six years he has regularly given me some old artefact of his, often a wooden handled item which he himself has made.  I became the proud and humble owner of his scythe, the sned of which he watched grow and shaped with his own talented hands.

For a few years he has wanted me to buy his tractor, a rather nice little grey Fergie.  It is the only tractor which he and his father ever owned and it did all the work on the farm for over 50 years.  The story of its arrival has been told to me several times; one of the two horses on the farm sadly died and my friend’s father searched endlessly for another, but in the late 1950s that was an impossible ask.  As a young man my old friend wanted, like his friends, a modern tractor, he was no different to young farmers today who all want what their friends have, a bigger, more powerful tractor !  Finally he and his father went to Brecon and in the dealers yard was a traded in Ferguson tractor.  It came back to the old hill farm and there it stayed.  Unfortunately two things worked against me taking it away from him.  Firstly I had a grey Fergie already.  It was a TED of 1951 vintage which, interestingly, came from near Llanwrthwl.  Secondly, as an avid reader of magazines about old tractors my old pal had got the idea his was worth some two thousand pounds.  It wasn’t and I didn’t have that sort of cash anyway.  A year or so later he again asked me, this time he had just recovered from a spell in hospital with a serious illness.  He asked me what I would pay and reiterated that he wanted me to have it because he knew I would treasure it and it would stay in the valley where it had spent most of its life.   Now I’m nothing if not a sucker for heritage and provenance, we agreed a price, based solely on what I would get from my summer garden maintenance job.  I can’t say that as a simple grey Fergie tractor I was overly excited but as it was his tractor and it was in lovely condition I was pleased for both of us.  As the deal was done in November I asked if he would mind me leaving it in his shed until the spring.  He agreed, I gave him the cheque and he insisted on giving me the registration document.  I opened the old buff ‘log’ book and sat down, speechless.  The picture below tells all.

An old log book with a significant name.

Can you believe that this little tractor was the very one which Percy Jones bought in Brecon in 1953. Jaw dropping.

The “Wheel is come full circle” indeed.  The Percy Jones Collection now has his first tractor and I  have the treasured machine of my treasured and dignified old neighbour.

Old Fergie with honourable owner

20 years or so separate them, he is in his 80s ‘she’ is in her 60s. Proud owner with proud tractor.

Sometimes the mysteries of the Universe leave Welshwaller dumfounded…… mostly, the ways of the Universe leave Welshwaller mystified.

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