Lovers of a little grey tractor and what came after it made their way to Coldridge on a blustery and wet Saturday afternoon to celebrate an unusual anniversary. Eighty years ago – 1936 – the first Ferguson tractors were built, designed by Harry Ferguson. Ten years later came the T20, 10 years after that came the Ferguson 35.
So it was these three anniversaries that brought all the enthusiasts together, some with their own tractors, most simply going along to look at the amazing Ferguson collection of Michael Thorne, right from the beginning of the Fergie. Michael Thorne is known to many for his engineering and construction business. He is also known for his passion for the Fergie tractor, for things mechanical, and his vast knowledge of the “family.”
The day had been put together by Michael Coleman, secretary of Mid Devon Tractor, Engine and Machinery Group, who realised the trio of anniversaries when reading the Ferguson Club magazine. He got the agreement of Michael Thorne who very generously opened his collection for the afternoon. People were also able to browse the contents of several bookcases and look at the two Ferguson books Michael has written. He is now working on a third.
Michael Coleman explained: ”Eighty years ago (1936) saw the first production tractor to incorporate Draft Control with a three-point hydraulically operated linkage – which revolutionised tractor design and remains the basis of tractors to this day. ”This was the Ferguson Type A, built for Harry Ferguson by David Brown Ltd (Ferguson – Brown Model A). The partnership later split up and David Brown began building his own tractors, while Harry Ferguson went his own way and the Second World War intervened. ”By the end of the war, there were empty shadow factories which had been used for building bombers and munitions, so Harry Ferguson talked to the chairman of the Standard Motor Company and from this began the production in 1946 (70 years ago) in one of those factories of the TE20.”
Half a million of these ‘Little Grey Fergies’ were produced at Banner Lane, Coventry, with large numbers being exported around the world, many of which are still running both overseas and in the UK, not least in Mid Devon!” Its replacement in 1956 (60 years ago) was the Ferguson 35, which later became the Massey-Ferguson 35, again a popular and successful tractor. ”That in turn was superseded by the MF135, of which it is said that this tractor has been responsible for more agricultural production in the world than any other machine, but that’s another story and was not being celebrated at Coldridge!”
As well as members of Mid Devon Tractor Engine and Machinery Group (MDTEMG), there were also Ferguson Club members, people coming mainly from all corners of Devon but also a few from further afield. Among the visitors was 87 years old John Tucker of Newton Poppleford who had lived at Rackenford. He was a YFC member and went to the Ferguson school for a week to learn how to look after the machine. He now has a collection.
A surprising part of the Michael Thorne’s collection was a huge pair of glass panelled doors. They came from the Banner Lane factory in Coventry, one of the shadow factories, financed by the Government, and one of the largest covering 80 acres. Its history is fascinating, entwined with that of the tractor. But change was to come, the last tractor came off the production line there on Christmas Eve, 2002. The site was earmarked for housing and the last part of the factory demolition was in July, 2012. A memorial to the tractors was unveiled in 2014. However, Michael Thorne had heard about the demolition, and thought the factory doors should be saved. After a lot of telephone calls and much persuading, he was delighted to bring the doors back to Coldridge where they are now upright again with the factory name above and a factory clock either side.