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As told by Neil Atkins
by Anthony West
Neil Atkins is a man in his late thirties, a mild and patient character who talks fondly of his farming heritage. He farms around a hundred and fifty acres of arable land, in a village called Southam, located just outside Leamington Spa in Warwickshire. The soil is a rich dark brown and is well looked after. unlike some areas in the midlands it is also fairly flat, broken only by hedgerows and the occasional valley and brook. A copse of wildbreaking silver birch and oak trees surround the top side, overlooking a gentle slope to the farm itself.
Neil farms the same land that his father and family farmed before him. A single man devoted to his work and his growing collection of farm toys, he has spent years accumulating tractors of all sorts, adding them to his now large collection. All of his machines apart from one, are all from local farms. Neil states that he remembers many of the tractors at work as a child on visits to local farms, it is nice to know the history of his collection. The one which he tells us about is the only one he knows little about, but it is being resurrected after many years of outside neglect.
A-C did much to improve mechanization on smaller farms throughout the U.K and U.S.A, The machines on offer soon distinguished themselves in the fields, and the name became synonymous with reliability and durability. By being diverse and offering a range of products from skid units, root balers, baggers to combines, A-C went on to become a fundamental part of mechanized farming, whilst many other competitors fell by the way side due to economic crisis in the early part of the century.
Neil's particular A-C is an 'M' the best known of the A-C crawlers, in Britain at least. It was introduced in 1933. and used the 'UM' engine common to the 'U.' It was available in Standard, Wide track and Orchard format and could comfortably handle three to four furrows. Provided with four forward and one reverse gear it was very much an agricultural model, however due to its rugged power and reliability, it was used exclusively as an industrial or construction workhorse by some owners.
Neil took time to tell me of that first encounter with the 'M,' and how he came to own it. Here is his story in his own words:
I have always been a land man, the memories of my early childhood are centered on this very farm. Of my father and uncle working with the sheep and cattle until late night and of the hypnotic warmth of the kitchen range. We would work ourselves out in all weather, and no matter what time we finally came in, there would always be warmth and something on the stove for us to eat. I love my way of life, my dogs and I love tractors, and for as long as I can remember I have been surrounded by both.
I suppose in comparison, I have a lot of tractors in my collection. Although I have to admit that most of them are what people would term as, 'As found' or 'ex farm' condition. They are all local machines, apart from the 'M,' most of them coming no further than three miles away from here. I know who bought them, what they did throughout their lives and how they were treated, in fact I have driven many of them.
As you can see, I don't just have an interest in tractors, I also like army trucks, and well just about anything interesting. The tractor that will probably be of most interest to people is my Allis 'M' crawler. It was built in 1935, although for some time I believed it was 1939 because of the number on the engine. Which following a letter from a magazine turned out to be the serial number.
I didn't set out to buy it, I went to a bus sale initially looking for a vintage bus and was lucky enough to discover it. I went on the off chance that something would catch my eye, it was a local bus firm and that sort of history appeals to me. The bus company had been in business for years and I had been taken to school by them as a child. Sadly economics and old buses had run the company out of business and into the hands of modern competition, who took over the routes and were closing the place down. Before they could do that though they had to sell and clear everything from the old place.
There were numerous spares and oddments and eleven old style buses at the back of the yard. Some were from just after the war, with nice two tone paint and sweeping lines that we can only see in films these days. I had always fancied one of the old ash wood framed, E.R.F lorries that I remember as a child. Or an Albion with the big flat chromed radiator and flat screen. Most of the items were classed as non running restorable classics, the sale didn't appear to have raised great interest, but one group in particular were intent on buying. They were grey suited gentlemen with mobile phones and smart shoes and I found that they were from the B.B.C set and logistics dept. buying items for television sets.
We were allowed access inside the buses, they were all lined up side by side, facing inwards towards the center of the yard. All eleven were in varying states of disrepair, and I spent a while just admiring the lines remembering the summer trips and the journeys too and from school, before venturing inside them. I settled for a bull nosed 'Comma.' It was in good condition really, the panel work was sound and the interior wasn't too ravaged. I climbed aboard and sat behind the sparse dashboard, the size of the steering wheel a give away that it was muscle and not power steering! and the heavy gear change and clutch offering no synchronized gears.
As I walked up the isle towards the back seat, the smell of the upholstery brought poignant memories of grey shorts and brown leather satchels flooding back in my mind. I peered through the back window, which was crescent shaped and split into two, where upon something caught my eye. I wasn't sure what it was at first, but it was a machine of some sort, the elevated view from the bus allowed me to peer over the top of the fence. I spun round and left the bus, nearly knocking one of the grey suited gentlemen over in the process.
I hurried over to the fence, but couldn't see over it, so I had to make my way along the line until I found a gap which, with a struggle I could fit through. I could see an outline amidst the rubbish of what I had seen from the bus, it was surrounded by tin sheets and tires and over grown by elderberry trees and initially I thought it was a 'caterpillar.' As I got closer to it, the diamond emblem on the radiator side gave it's identity away and I knew it was an Allis Charmers. It was green and moss covered, the years of outdoor neglect had left it in a desperate state. Parts were missing, things were seized solid, it was nearly grown over by trees.
After a while I return to the sale that was by now well under way. I couldn't muster any enthusiasm for it though, the buses had lost their appeal and the excitement of my find had taken over. The big problem now was to whom I should make an offer. I thought about it and decided I would leave it until after the sale, so I asked the office for the name and telephone number of the owner and left.
The number I had been given was to the new firms transport manager, Mr. Ron Peterson. I called him and we chatted about the Allis, and made arrangements to meet that afternoon. He was an affable man who in truth wasn't concerned with the finer points of agriculture, but he did allow me to buy the Allis for 'Scrap' price. A mere £100:00. He also promised to call me when the yard had been cleared so that I could retrieve my find.
Several weeks went by before Ron called, and it wouldn't be for another two weeks before I could spare the time to go and fetch it. When I got there, the whole place was all but leveled, which made pulling in with the ex-army trojan easy.
The site foreman ordered the digger driver to pull the fence down so that I could pull the machine out backwards. Just as well really as other wise it would have meant a full day with a chain saw just to cu a path. I was pleased to see that the Allis was still in the same place I had found her, I reversed up and dropped the axle of and set the ramps.
The Allis was well embedded in the earth, the years spent in the ground had taken a tight grip on the tracks, which themselves were solid. Now came the hard bit. The Trojan was fitted with a diesel Donkey winch, which the army used for pulling tanks onto the trailer. I linked the wire to the tow hitch and pushed the handle to 'retrieve' The donkey began laboring, the wire was taught and complaining, and I was worried that if it wouldn't budge that the wire might snap and cut the cab off the lorry!
Eventually, the Allis went with a "snap" the tracks started to squeal in disagreement and she began to slide backwards. Once the tracks made contact with the stone ground, the machine seemed to give in to the will of the wire and it was pulled onto the trailer without fuss.
Leaving the winch wire attached, I lifted the rear of the trailer and attached the axle. The journey home was uneventful as one might expect from a truck used to pulling forty to fifty tons every day, but I was glad to get home and draw the lorry onto the yard.
I looked over my new toy and in the dusk it appeared to take on a whole new light. Although it was rusty and green and in a terrible state of disrepair, it seemed to glow with a new purpose.
The following day was spent pulling the machine about from one spot to another, the grease nipples were fed and old oil and diesel thrown over the tracks. This seemed to have the desired effect and the shunting too and fro, seemed to loosen the thing up.
Inspection found that the block was split, the manifold was rotted away, the levers were seized solid and some of the instruments are missing. I have in the time since I acquired it, rebuilt the final drive and got all the levers operating again. I am still looking for a variety of spares to complete it, however I am finding that my commitments on the farm don't really afford me much free time. I have discovered another M some miles away which is owned by a farmer and who has allowed me first refusal should he decide to sell. This was as a result of going to buy a set of engine side panels, manifold and other spares for mine, so who knows I might have two!
My intention is to strip the 'M' and have the block repaired locally, it's not a bad split so I feel it will be okay. The whole thing needs stripping of paint, and repainting to do it justice, and again, time allowing this will be done at the same time. I have made (but not fitted) a new floor sheet and seat assembly, as the original had rotted or been taken off.
The whole thing is now in the process of being pulled apart bit by bit, little by little, but it will be completed and restored to its former glory. My ambition is to complete the M and put her to work (for fun only) on the fields plowing and disking. Then it will have pride of place amongst my collection which briefly comprises of: two fowler track machines, a track Marshall, a 3/45 Nuffield, an IHC 250D, a 1932 Fordson N, three E 27N's, a Nuffield 3/45, a small BMC 850, a Model N Trackson with ditcher, and an Allis combine.