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by Anthony West (UK)
I live in an area renowned for its rural beauty. Small fields with hedgerows and trees are common place, as are small hamlets with village greens and the odd duck pond complete with swans.
The center of any village once the shop is closed is the old tavern. Rustic places with cheerful names like "The Griffin" "Red Lion" or "The Plough and Harrow" are found dotted around the country lanes all over the place. The warm glow of yellowish light can be seen for quite some distance at dusk, and these places often fill with tired farmers seeking a little break from the toil of their work.
They sit discussing the finer points of their vocation, debate on who bought what for how much at the cattle market. Putting the world to rights over a pint of bitter and a smoke.
My family and I had just left one such place, called "The Abbey Inn", it was about 6:30 pm and the light was beginning to weaken. Heading over towards "Black Cock" bridge, I pulled in to let the boys have a look at the narrow boats moored at the side of the canal. The air was still and mist was beginning to plume from the water and roll over the bottom of the fields. We walked along the tow path towards the far end of the field. Where a large copse of trees could be seen bordering a long brick built wall of a stately home. Little Wyrley Hall, I am lead to believe was commissioned by Henry the 8th for one of his wives but I have no idea which one.
It is an awesome place. Wooden framed with timber beams, sculpted chimneys and herring bone brickwork. Tiny leaded windows and a gravel driveway, give rise to a prickly neck and to the talk of ghost's as we peered over the boundary wall.
Further on was a derelict farm which had an enclosed court yard and a rickety roof, no glamour or glass here!. Behind that in the mid distance was a little cottage with a hawthorn bush border.
On approach the two up two down building was clearly very well maintained. The lawns were trimmed and neat, the borders filled with marigolds and ferns. This I was to learn later was a dressing station built by Cromwell to patch up the wounded soldiers from his campaign here abouts. It was incredibly small both inside and out, its beamed ceiling had me crouched over and the inglenook fire place with fire lit made the room stifling hot.
Now the residents of this place were stood in conversation round a two furrow plow, and contrary to what might be expected, didn't stick a double barrel up my nose and demand my reason for being there. Instead I was acknowledged with a wave and "all right are you?" The man was I would say, in his fifties. Plump and short with a broad smile I offered a guess as to weather it was a "Ransomes" plow to be told it was a Fordson two furrow semi digger!
It was obvious it wasn't a horse plow, which meant it was likely to belong to an oldish tractor. The subject was soon broached and I was lead to a barn at the back and shown an old TVO Fordson Major E27N. Probably not the most exciting of tractors. Most certainly very common, in fact I think every enthusiast has owned one at one time or another. The poor old major so many variations and adaptations over the years... coupled with its availability in comparison with other models and makes, often gives rise to a lack of interest. This one however was one of the best examples I had ever seen.
The man who owned it was called George. He had bought it 18 years ago from an implement sale in Staffordshire and had restored it to full and original condition.
Far from being an idle exhibit George used the machine in plowing matches all over the country. When not competing he puts it to work on a saw bench and bags logs.
At the time of our intrusion George was just finishing his winter checks and was about to start and hitch the plow to the old Fordson for the first time to do a couple of runs.
I stood by watching with interest as George wiped the oval tank over with a dirty cloth revealing the dark blue livery. He began to go through the procedure that I knew only too well and after running petrol through the overflow set the choke and throttle and began to pull. It took a while, no harsh jerks though, just a leisurely pull on the handle about seven times before the crisp bark of the exhaust shattered the still night air. Once running she soon settled into an even tickover and was left to run while the blocks were kicked from the wheels. This done, the petrol was switched over to paraffin and the engine gave a little murmur of recognition as the TVO took hold.
It wasn't long before the barn began to trap the TVO fumes, and they began to cascade all over us. The sweet smell bringing back fond childhood memories of the ice cream van.
It didn't take long at all to offer up the hydraulics to the plow. We were soon off to the bottom paddock where after a cursory check for hidden objects I was handed George's dirty old rag. George told me to pace out seven feet in at the top of the paddock, tie the rag to a stick and spike it in the ground! Off I trotted leaving the kids at the bottom on the gate, the noise of the exhaust lessening as I went. I paced out seven feet and turned to look down the field catching sight of George in the drivers seat. Judging from the light , which was now dusk, this would only be a short exercise.
The moon was rising higher although there wasn't a cloud in sight. I raised my hand and I heard the growl of the major turn into a roar. The plow went in and the engine began to sound more determined as the governors did their job. Smoke raged from the pipe, and George was intent on his steering. Once near to me he left a fair distance for the head land, and backed her up. He then got in line and stopped, George beckoned me over and dismounted. With a big grin he said "Jump on, start her off and drop that lever. Then... you've got to aim for the lads on the gate... don't take your eyes off them okay?. Forget everything else".
Advice taken, I set out on my first experience of plowing. Engine growling bones shaking and steering wheel bucking and fighting madly. Half way down I was covered in exhaust fumes and soot, my ears were ringing with the sound and I was being jolted all over the place! Still my grin was so wide the flies had something to aim for!
At the bottom I eased off and dipped the clutch only to be jolted forward hard like an emergency stop. George had been following me down watching intently that I didn't bend a share.
He jumped up and took over and I thanked him profusely for his kind hospitality. We returned to the house where I managed to take just one photo of the old Fordson on the field under a high moon before enjoying a hard earned hot milk for the kids and a cup of tea for me. Had it not been for the night taking over, we would have no doubt stayed a while. As it was, we had to leave with the offered invite of a return visit, the smell of paraffin in our clothes and the sound of the exhaust note ringing in our ears.
I have to say that I agree with what a lot of people say....."It's a grand life if you can stand it"!