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Philip Madison has been a good friend of mine for quite some time. He has patiently suffered my incessant chit chat on the subject of tractors for longer than I care to remember, and on many occasions he has put himself out, dropped what ever it was he was doing, to come and lend a hand cranking handles, or loading a find onto a trailer.
Although he himself has never actually owned or restored a tractor, he was always enthusiastic and always around helping with other peoples projects. I was quite surprised therefore when I got a phone call from Philip, who was babbling like someone demented about "county full track", and "got to get it back today" At one stage, I wondered if he had been eating magic mushrooms, as I couldn't understand a word he was gabbling about.
After a couple of minutes with the phone at arms length I heard Philip saying " are you there, hello, hello" I introduced myself sarcastically, and we both laughed. I asked him to start again and explain what it was that had got him so heated up, but calmly!. Phil informed me he had just purchased a track machine at the Uttoxeter bi-monthly sale. I asked him to be more specific and he said "its got no badges on and its blue!" and went on to say it was a Fordson. Arrangements were made and about two hours later Phil arrived outside with his dad's Range Rover and trailer. He had a beaming smile on his face and was quite chirpy.
On our arrival at the auction ground, the last few attendees were getting ready to leave. We pulled up near to the main building, where we sought out the security staff. Phil, showed them the release slip and they gave us a pass, waiving us on to the site. There were a few nice machines in the paddock waiting for collection, All were fairly new. A nice pair of early Ford 4000's stood together, and looked quite well in the palling light. There were a couple of Massey Fergusons here and there too, one in yellow which was an old council machine. Another in green which was larger. As we drove past I had a bit of a look at it, it was a clean 165, with a roll cage and new rear tires.
As we reached the spot where Phil’s machine stood, my first impression was that he hadn't done as badly as I thought he would. The body work was free of any major dents, and it seemed fairly straight. We got out and I caught Phil looking at me in anticipation, he was standing slightly back with his arms crossed and rubbing his chin. "Looks okay" I said. The thought crossed my mind to pull his leg and kid him up, but I couldn't find the heart. Phil was pacing round like a young kid, buzzing with excitement. At last he said "Well.....what do you think?" I went round a few of the obvious things, like the paint and odd dent. Then I explained that judging by the lack of wear on the hitch and tracks, it didn't appear to have been abused much. We talked for a while and then decided it was time to mount up.
Phil had thrown a couple of old railway sleepers on the back of the trailer to act as temporary ramps. Although they are sturdy things, I wasn't sure that they would be safe enough to load on, but we decided to give it a try. Phil jumped on and tried the starter. It wouldn't bite, we tried again and turned the engine until the battery was about to die. Then she finally barked into life, clearing her throat with a roar and cloud of black smoke. we let it run for a while and whilst it was warming up, I checked the tank....not a lot in there.
It was agreed that we couldn't mess around for too long or she would dry up on us. So with a grinding noise and a lurch, Phil dropped her into gear. He looked decidedly pale as it inched forward to the ramps, and in all fairness it was a bit steep. Phil was leaning so far forward that his head was almost over the bonnet, his knuckles were clenched white on the steering rods, and he didn't look at all comfortable. As the front of the machine got closer to the trailer, the tracks met the ramps and the front began to lift. Once the weight transferred to the back of the trailer it settled and the incline wasn't as steep.
I went to the front and climbed up, keeping near side to Phil so he could watch my signals. After a minute of gingerly scrabbling her way up, I jumped down and Phil pulled on closer to the front. I waived him to stop as the weight was straddling the wheels and he killed the motor. Jumping down, the relief was clearly visible on Phil's face. There is nothing more unnerving than taking a machine on an incline and expecting it to over turn. Even if it can't!!.
I chocked the tracks using the sleepers front and back, and we roped the front and rear by the hitch to stop her moving. Once roped up, we started the journey back to Phil’s place, planning as we drove about what we would have to do first.
On our arrival back to Phil’s we had a bit of trouble reversing the trailer through the gates. This resulted in Phil, catching the post and nearly uprooting it in the process. However we did manage to get in, even though the gate was now drunkenly swinging shut on it's own. We un-roped and set the sleepers in place at the rear. Phil climbed up and I passed him a five gallon drum of diesel fuel, which was swallowed thirstily by the tractor. This time it responded straight away, the engine fired up and not so much black smoke filled the yard.
In hindsight what was to happen next should have been blatantly obvious, and I feel I have to remind everyone at this point just how dangerous this hobby of tinkering with tractors can be. Phil began to reverse the major off the back of the trailer, he was taking his time, paying attention to positioning and my signals when as the machine left the crest, suddenly without warning, the inside sleeper gave way!
There was a terrific crunch and in the blink of an eye, Philip was thrown sideways over the machine. As the tractor rolled over Philip hit the floor and sprawled out. It all happened so fast, one second he was smiling, the next he was gone. The machine was rocking dangerously on it's side and I knew it stood every chance of toppling over and pinning his legs.
I ran over and grabbed him by the arms and pulled as hard as I could. Luckily the tractor had stalled, puffing blue smoke into our faces. Philip was wide eyed but reaction urged him to check the machine. We stood for ages, not saying anything. ... just looking, fuel and oil seeping onto the dirt yard. We had been so lucky to avoid a disaster. It was only too apparent that, had Philip been pinned beneath the sharp edges of the tracks, they would have caused him a permanent injury. As we looked around to assess the damage, we realized that it was the broken sleeper that had saved Philip from being crushed. It had fallen under the track propping it slightly and stopping the roll over.
We got our heads together, moved the Rover forward and unhitched the trailer. Then with the rope and a chain we hooked up to the underside of the tractor feeding the chain over the top to pull it back over. Shifting into low box the Rover took the strain, after a bit of dragging the tracks bit into the dirt and she flipped back onto both tracks. We looked on in dismay, the fall had twisted the bottom runner, pushing the bracket inwards into the front wheel. It would need to be rebuilt, but before that it would have to be straightened in order that the wheel could turn and we could move it around the yard and under the lean-to.
Philip sat down on the trailer, he had suddenly gone quite pale. The realization of how close a disaster had come to us had sunk in. We took a break and I made us both a hot drink in which I put an extra sugar in Phil’s. Once he was feeling better I took the range Rover up to Gimbles garage to get some small portable oxyacetylene bottles. We lit the torch and applied heat to the lip, near to the crease. Then with a large stilson wrench and a bar for leverage, we pulled the offending protrusion away from the wheel. Now at least we could move the thing to a place we could start work on it.
Once we had levered the runner from the wheel, I asked Phil to drive the machine around so that we could reverse it under the lean-to. I could tell he wasn't too keen, but it was the only way for him to regain his confidence. We measured the distance needed to drop the track off at the split link, and set her into position. We applied heat again until we found that with great effort we could split the tracks, then we carefully reversed the major backwards, and together lowered the last sections to the floor. With the tracks now off, we could start working on bringing her back into shape.
To be continued...........