Every journey starts with a first step …

Stepping forth, stepping out, stepping into the unknown, just making a start is all that’s needed.  Sometimes, often in fact, generating the strength of mind and body to take the plunge is the most difficult part.  I suffer greatly from good intent between sun-up and sun-down, it is mostly just like blowing bubbles, the intents drift away or burst prematurely.    The last few weeks however have seen a small sea-change, a little burst of energy and enthusiasm in both work and domestic re-arranging.

For a start I needed to make an all-out frontal attack on one of my barns;  I can’t remember now what the urgency was but it was of sufficient gravity to make the impossible happen.  On a wet weekend morning I started to empty machinery from a little wain-house which adjoins the old corn barn.  For the most part the machinery therein had not seen the light of day for at least 10 years …ahem.

2 wheel tractors

I had forgotten that most of them were in there … but now I’ve got them out I want to get started restoring !! There are some quite unusual items sitting around here just now.

My early interest in collecting was actually in the old garden and horticultural machinery which was prolifically produced in the immediate post-war years,often by companies who had been forced to diversify after years of manufacturing for the war effort.  For the most part, the smaller two-wheeled cultivators were aimed at the English market gardeners and are thus quite rare in upland Wales.  Several of the machines I have came from old estate gardens where large scale horticulture was common.  Two of my favourite machines actually did spend their working life in Kent and Leicestershire and ended up in Wales  through emigration.

The first was a 1950s Auto-culto with a rotavator attachment fixed to the rear.  It languished in a vegetable plot created in the rear of a Barn conversion at a farm near the little village of Bethlehem where I did an enormous amount of wall rebuilding.  For several years I eyed it through a beech hedge and finally got the opportunity to ask the owner – father of the farmer for whom I was working – what was he going to do with it.  He said if I wanted it and could get it out of there – the hedge had been planted after it had been driven in! – it was mine for the taking.  It was a matter of grunt and shove to get it out of the earth into which it had sunk and then a front-end loader on the farmer’s tractor lifted it clear of the hedge and onto my trailer.  The son / farmer told me that he thought there may be some attachments in the scrap pile at the farm which went with the machine.  Indeed there was, a saw bench driven by a belt from the front of the Jap engine, a grass rotary mower, spare lug wheels and tyred wheels, a plough and cultivator as well as a small chain harrow.  All had been awaiting the scrap man who luckily had not arrived.

It was a strange collection to find on a sheep farm in the western Brecon Beacons.  It was explained to me that the machinery had belonged to the farmer’s grand-father, a Leicestershire market-gardener and it had been brought to Wales when the family moved some 30 years ago.  A few weeks later,on a wet and windy mountain side where I strove to rebuild his walls, the farmer rode up on his quad bike and, reaching into his waterproof jacket, brought out a brown envelope which he said went with the machinery.  Indeed it did, the envelope contained the hand-book for the machine and a supplement for each of the attachments, the original purchase invoice and several servicing invoices as well as some spare spark-plus and tools. A complete small-holder’s machinery kit.

The other is still a machine which brings a smile as well as many grunts.

BMB Ploughmate

This rather large machine is a BMB Plowmate – note the spelling of ‘plough’ ! – it’s the American spelling which is pertinent as the young lady guiding it hails from South Carolina. It too came complete with all the necessary cultivation attachments.

It is a much larger machine, indeed it is almost the front end of a tractor !  The BMB Plowmate came to me from a man near Ammanford who had brought it from Kent where it had worked in a large market garden.  He used it to plough the rough ground around his new house and the machine had inadvertently got built into the cellar or lower level.  I asked if he could really get it out but he was dismissive and told me to just turn up with a trailer and he would have it ready for me.  When I got back to him there the machine stood awaiting my arrival; he had literally driven it UP the wooden stairs which came from the lower cellar area straight into his wife’s beautiful new kitchen with lovely oak floor ….. I have to say there was not a mark to be seen !! On him or the floor !

Anyway, enough of this, the whole point of telling you this tale is to alert you to the fact that I am actively sorting, taking steps to re-arrange so as to better house the more valuable and special items, such as carts and old tractors.  More on the latter below.

The mention of America brings me to my next ‘stepping-out’ activity.  I have been hosting my apprentice waller from South Carolina for some weeks as she prepares for her first Dry Stone Walling Test  (a part of the National Certification Scheme under the auspices of the DSWA and Lantra) and we have raised some good pieces of wall.  Then, as if to confuse me further by bombarding my sensitive hearing with yet more New World accents, albeit this time they were Yankee rather than the Confederate drawl I am so used to, I had the pleasure of leading a group across the Rhogo hill on one of the organised walks run with Ty Gwyn farm at Llandrindod Wells.

It was rather strange trying to explain the Pre-historic settlements of Wales and the coming of the Romans, how the landscape still reflects the settlement patterns of much earlier times, how the arrival of the Normans messed up the Early Medieval Welsh multiple estates and so on.  The notion of cattle droving seemed to ring a bell but I had to disabuse them of the notion of the Texas rawhide type drove.  They were however, very interested in the link which Radnorshire has with the early migrations westward and in particular the number of Radnor folk who accompanied young Will Penn on his journey to establish Pennsylvania – interestingly he had wanted to call his newly acquired land, a gift from King Charles in settlement of a debt owed to Penn the elder, New Wales.  It was Charles who insisted on the eponymous version.  The Quakers and Baptists who set forth with Penn aboard the ‘Welcome’ in August 1682 left a land which held little for them and where their religious activities were the subject of much persecution.  No wonder Penn’s ‘Holy experiment’ was attractive and no wonder my guest walkers were so intrigued at the possibility they were walking on lands that their forebears may have trod.

The annual show suddenly appeared on the diary page as I turned through the first days of September.  Beulah Show is typical of dozens of rural community celebrations that occur throughout the land during the later Summer months.  As always the sheep sections were vigorously contested and well attended with hundreds of entries.  So too the Trotting Races were their usual mix of excitement and confusing rhetoric (this year we had a new commentator who was far easier to decipher if less amusing to the ear !) but the crowd that comes along demonstrates clearly the enjoyment the races represent.  My part is but a crust, the Vintage section is not a great facet of the whole, indeed I feel a little embarrassed that those gallant souls who bring their machines along rarely get any interest shown.  I was even more embarrassed this year to discover the entrants for the Vintage were expected to pay the £6 entry fee as well as bearing the cost of transporting or driving their tractors and displays to our show.  Fortunately the gate-guards, those intrepid volunteers who stand all day taking the entry fees, did not seem to have been told and every tractor that turned up as well as the old Land Rover that the judge brought along, entered onto the hallowed field gratis.  So it should be.

I ponder long and hard a suitable route for the Tractor Run.  Often stepping much of it out, each year I attempt to ride a different route to the previous couple of years, not easy when there are not too many routes that take you out and back to Beulah !  This year I had pretty much sorted a nice run by the end of August but it was weather dependent – the farmer over whose land we would travel was perfectly happy for us to do so just so long as it had not rained, he had recently re-seeded.  Blow me if it didn’t just pour down on the day before (and the day after !) which scuppered that plan.  A new route came to me about five in the morning on the Saturday of the show.   At the stroke of midday, in sunny weather, nine tractors followed the old Series 1 Land Rover of Sue Best and Phillip Bowen,my friends from  the Shakespeare Link Willow Globe at Llanwrthwl, she being the daughter of the Landies first owner, he being the High Sheriff of Powys elect, out of the showground and through the lanes of Beulah and Garth.

Tractor run 2013 Beulah

Brinley Jones of Newbridge-on-Wye leads the procession of tractors on his FE35 Gold.

Altogether the convoy consisted of two FordsonMajors, a Massey Ferguson 35,two Ferguson TED 20s, one being my very own Fergie Fach acquired from a neighbour at the end of last year.  The FE35 Gold of Brinley Jones led the first half of the run ably kept in line by the inimitable Stanley Archer of Llandovery on his trusty blue steed.  Stan was returning to us for the first time since his shocking accident at an Onslow Park show when his trusty steed decided he was a rather attractive tractor and rolled him over and lay on top of him.  Luckily the efforts of several strong men saved him from the worst of injuries …..  I’m not sure I would have wanted to go near another tractor after such an assault !  Good on ya Stan ol’boy !

Archer's Fordson Major

Stanley Archer Esquire takes a bow at Onslow Park on August Bank Holiday this year,a short year after he had a nasty experience there and thankfully he managed to get back to Beulah this year too !

We ran through the narrow lanes around Garth Bank and then zoomed up the 25% Ty Rosser pitch which created much belching of exhaust smoke but all the old machines got up without a hitch.  A little off-roading through one of the estate’s forest plots led us into the hills and, taking an old road, we crossed the river Cammarch via a ford and returned along a rather bumpy track to join the Abergwesyn road near Beulah church.

Early on the morning of the show I have to get to the ground and set up the area – a matter of several metal,  pins and some ‘caution tape’.  I was hoping this year to have taken my Standard Fordson N, a ‘War Ag’ tractor celebrating her 70th birthday, but despite having been happily parading around the field at the back of my farm just days before, she refused to co-operate.  However the little Fergie Fach which I had acquired back last year and which turned out to have been originally owned by the man after whom my collection is named (The Percy Jones Collection,  www.ourfarmingheritage.yola.com) did attend.  She had been given a rather attractive coat of paint in the days prior to the show by my visitor (who chose to stay home and paint rather than come to Brynmawr with me – see below).

For the first time in over 30 years the little Ferguson TED was switched onto TVO ( Tractor Vaporising Oil) which was the fuel she had been designed to run on. TVO has disappeared from use and cannot be bought anymore but Bryn, my neighbour from whom I bought her, had given me a full 10 gallons of it, so we decided to try her.  The idea is that she starts on petrol and then,once she has warmed up, a switch is turned that changes the fuel supply to the TVO tank.  She ran the whole tractor run on it without a blip.  Just as pleasing was the fact that Bryn happened to come onto the field early on and got to see her in her new coat.

Ferguson TED and old owner

The 1951 Ferguson TED is re-united with her second owner who had worked her for over 50 years on his little upland farm.

Following the run the judges perused the line and decided that Brinley from Newbridge-on-Wye was the worthy winner on his Ferguson 35 Gold.  Very pleased he was too but everyone enjoyed themselves and will hopefully return next year.

Beulah Show Tractor run 2013

The line-up of tractor run folk, stopped at Garth Bank for a photo shoot. Beulah 2013, another dry sunny show day !

Meanwhile I have stepped into a very different world, in a place not far from my childhood home in the Eastern Valley of Gwent.  I have been working with some gentle souls from the valleys who have turned their backs on Non-conformity and become Buddhists.  At a beautifully restored and converted Baptist chapel – I am still wondering what my Grannie would think ! – in Brynmawr, the dry stone wall around the old cemetery needs re-building.  I tell you, the life of Welshwaller continues to throw up strange and fascinating encounters …… more next time !

Buddha in Baptist Chapel

What DO you do with an unloved decaying old Baptist Chapel ? Here’s a novel idea !

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