When I found that some of my friends were in the North Bucks Vintage Tractor Club, I just had to go to the club's latest event; a ploughing match.
I turned up at the match in a field near Castlethorpe on a sunny Sunday morning in February to find plenty of classic and veteran tractors lining up to plough.
Progress was slow to begin with. The first spit or opening (the first furrow) is the most important one and there was plenty of stopping, adjusting, and starting again.
Every other furrow has to line up with the first spit. The ploughing has to be to a consistent depth and width, and be as straight as possible. That’s less easy than it sounds; soil varies, even in different parts of the same field. Moisture content makes a difference too.
The weather had been dry for a few days but a little rain beforehand would have made ploughing easier, one of the ploughmen told me.
Closest to the camera is an International Harvester B414. These tractors were built in Bradford between 1961 and 1966. Further away with Hanslope’s steeple beyond it, is a Massey Ferguson 65; big brother to the 35 (see the photo below) they were made in Detroit between 1958 and 1964.
Once the first spit is completed, each tractor and plough makes more rapid progress. They each plough on a plot 12m X 60m, or about 40’ X 200’ in English. Contestants are marked on (amongst other things) uniformity and firmness, how they start and end each furrow and on general appearance; judges award points for each.
This was a charity match, in aid of Willen Hospice. Matches that are part of the national competitions use larger plots.
There are various classes for different ages of tractor and for different types of ploughs. Any tractor built between 1959 and 1974 goes into the classic class. Earlier tractors plough in the veteran class.
But their plough has to be of the right age for the class, too. Some ploughs are tractor mounted, some are trailed. You can see the difference in the photos. There are also novice classes.
Some of the two dozen tractors and ploughs that competed. Closest are two of the popular Coventry-built Fergusons. The nearest red tractor is a Massey Ferguson 35, the successor to the Ferguson from 1960 to 1965 and about the same size. It was built in Detroit and pulls a mounted plough.
Two tractors carry sighting poles for setting up their furrows.
This tractor club has around 150 members, and also covers Beds, Northants, Oxon and Herts. Contestants came from Gloucester, Oxfordshire, and Southampton.
Tractors and ploughs usually have to be trailored to matches, which makes the small one and a quarter ton Ferguson TE20 tractor a popular choice; with the plough it means the combined weight of the trailer and towing vehicle falls well inside the 3½ ton towing limit.
The TE20 is often known as the “Little Grey Fergie” or the Little Grey field mouse”, or often just the “Fergie”. They were made between 1946 and 1956, so come under the Veteran class. There were quite a few Fergies on the field, and I think every one used a mounted plough, as did many of the other tractors that day.
The match had started at 9 in the morning, It finished at 4 pm, when tractors were already being loaded onto trailers. What a pleasant way to spend an English Sunday.
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