THE LITTLE GREY FERGIE.
The great virtue of the Fordson tractor that invaded the local farms in 1940 was that it didn’t need new machinery. You simply took the shafts off your horse drawn tackle, put a simple drawbar on and hitched it up. However, this limited the tractor to simple haulage work and as time went on other engineers started to take an interest. The most important of these was a man called Harry Ferguson.
Harry Ferguson was born in Ireland in 1884 and all his life he was a compulsive innovator in engineering. In the 1917 he started to develop his thoughts about improving agricultural tractors for the Irish government and by the mid 1930s he had his ideas fixed and was ready for production.
I don’t know whether he realised it at the time but he was going to start a revolution in tractor design. His ideas were so radically different that they were going to change the face of agriculture. Every tractor produced today all over the world embodies his original concept of a machine that didn’t simply replace the horse, it changed everything by becoming a multi-purpose power source and the core of a whole new concept in farming. What became known as the Ferguson System was a hydraulic lift fitted to the rear of the tractor and special implements were attached directly to the tractor giving great improvements in control, grip and handling.
Harry went to various motor manufacturers for help and almost reached an agreement with the Morris Motor Company but when this fell through in 1933 he started his own factory in Belfast. He went into partnership with a firm that made gearboxes at Huddersfield and David Brown Tractors was born. At this point the tractor still looked like a Fordson fitted with Ferguson Hydraulics.
In 1938 Ferguson visited Henry Ford on his farm. He took one of his Ferguson-Brown tractors with him and demonstrated it. Henry was so impressed he immediately came to an agreement with Harry whereby Ford would manufacture the tractor and Ferguson would market it. There was no paperwork, this was the famous ‘Handshake Agreement’ that led to Ferguson collaborating with Ford to re-design the tractor. The result was the Ford-Ferguson 9N which was the first ‘Grey Fergie’.
By 1947 Henry Ford and his son Edzel were dead and Henry Ford II was in charge. He terminated the sales agreement with Harry Ferguson but continued manufacturing the Ford-Ferguson. This triggered Harry to find a new partner and he found one in the Standard Car Company in Coventry. Production of a new tractor, the Ferguson TE20 started using the engine out of the Standard Vanguard and the English Grey Fergie was born.
In 1953 Harry Ferguson and Massey-Harris merged and in 1957 Harry sold out and left and died in 1960. The factory was a huge success and in all over half a million Grey Fergies were made at Banner Lane until it was superseded by a new design in 1956. The factory went on to become the largest tractor manufacturers in the world.
The Grey Fergie became so popular that there can’t be many farms in the district that haven’t used one at some time or other, they became one of the family. My picture this week shows Colin Barritt at Kayfield on their Fergie. This was taken in hay time and a Fergie with the right implements could take much of the back-breaking toil out of the job. This applied to all the other jobs on the farm and it became possible for one man to run a small farm.
This revolution, together with the rise of road transport and cars spelt the death knell for the cart makers, wheelwrights and stables all over Barlick were converted to other uses. Apart from a few jobs like milk retailing or rag and bone collecting, the horse became a curiosity. I can remember my mother sending me out into the road to collect horse muck for her roses when I was a lad in the 1940’s. This became tin on the ground.
So, to go back to my original theme last week, all changes lead to some disruption. That’s the reason why human beings are so wary about it. Our cloth was priced out of the market and 20 mills vanished in Barlick and Earby. The horses went because the internal combustion engine drove them out. The tractors at Banner Lane have gone because it’s cheaper to produce them elsewhere. The lesson is that no industry or way of life is immune from these upheavals. All we can hope is that the accountants show a little more sensitivity the next time they have bad news for us.
SCG/01 January 2003
NICE TIMING LADS!
I think I might be a bit sensitive in the matter of the timing of bad news. This might have something to do with the fact that I was made redundant at Bancroft Shed on Dec 20th 1978. Will the last person to leave please switch the lights off, and a Merry Christmas to you too!
So what’s triggered this off? Two things really; I am sure a lot of you noticed that just before Christmas there was an announcement that forewarned the Rolls Royce workers about the chances of ‘downsizing’ in the plants at Barlick. When I read about it I thought “Great! Just the sort of cheery message you need when you’ve just hit the credit card for the Christmas presents!” My sympathy to all concerned.
All this was reinforced when I was sat with my early morning cup of tea and a pipe listening to Farming Today on Radio 4. The programme was a live outside broadcast from the Massey-Ferguson factory at Banner Lane in Coventry. The occasion was the fact that the last Massey-Ferguson tractor was to roll off the production line that day. Apart from a few people to be kept on to strip the machinery out and wind the business up, everyone was redundant, over a thousand workers out on the street. Fifty six years of continuous tractor production down the drain. Now I don’t know about you but I haven’t seen this reported anywhere else nor the fact that production will be transferred to Brazil, France and Turkey.
So, the trigger was the timing, who was it that decided that Christmas Eve was a good time to close the Banner Lane factory down? Did they take a moment to consider how this would affect the workers? I have done a bit of digging and find out that the concern that made the decision was the Agco Corporation of Atlanta Georgia which was formed in 1990 after a merger of the original Allis-Chalmers Company and Deutz Allis, a German company who had taken over their agricultural interests in 1985. They bought Massey-Ferguson in 1994. In a press release originating from Turkey the closure of Banner Lane is described as ‘a part of their global restructuring, increasing efficiency and strengthening their competitive position plan.’
So there we have it, in our modern ‘globalised’ world, the Banner Lane factory became surplus to requirements and the decision was made by accountants 4,000 miles away in Atlanta. I know it all makes economic sense and these are businessmen making the best decisions for their shareholders but it makes my blood run cold. I suppose my gloom was deepened by the fact that in my last piece I described what led to the death of the textile industry in Barlick. Is anything certain about the future of our industries? Watch your backs!
Right, that’s enough of that. Lets have a bit of certainty. Back to Banner Lane which at one time was the biggest agricultural tractor manufacturing plant on the world. Here’s a bit of history for you, we have to start with the Fordson Tractor.
In 1907 Henry Ford in America decided to open another branch of his business, his designers started work on what they described as the ‘automotive plough’. Because of shortage of labour, huge acreages and surprisingly, the fact that American horses had been bred for riding and light carriage work rather than heavy draught animals, by the end of the 19th century, most heavy field work in America was powered by steam.
Henry Ford had spotted a gap in the market for a light, cheap machine that could pull farm machinery. By 1917 this design had been refined into what we called the Fordson Tractor. Funnily enough, there wasn’t a big market for it and what saved the day was a request from the British Government for two tractors to assess as we were literally being starved into defeat by the German submarine campaign.
The trials were successful and the government’s idea was to get a licence from Ford to manufacture the tractors in this country. When they got the estimates in, each tractor was going to cost £425 with no guarantee of delivery. Sorenson, the negotiator for Ford said this was ridiculous, they could make them for £175. When asked how long it would take to get 5,000 tractors into the country at that price he replied that they would ship the first batch in sixty days and the entire shipment was in the country three months after that. This is how Britain became the first country in the world to use the Fordson Tractor and it revolutionised our farming.
The first batch of tractors was used exclusively on the heavy arable lands of the southern half of England. They proved so popular that Ford built factories here to satisfy the demand. It was to be twenty years before they arrived here. So why, if they were such a good thing, did it take so long?
It’s very hard for us to realise just how important horses were to Barlick as late as the 1930s. All farm work and most transport in the towns was horse-drawn. Farmers bred their own horses and in some cases even made carts. Henry Bradley at Higher Green Hill near the Anchor Inn was noted for his carts and wheelbarrows. Cars were a rarity and my picture shows Bill Barritt from Kayfield at Salterforth in what would have been a common sight right up to the war, a horse drawn gig. Actually this picture was taken in Ireland in the late 1950s, they were even further behind than us!
The food shortages of World War Two triggered the War Agricultural Executive which was a government body that dictated to farmers what they should produce. For the first time in over 300 years land was ploughed to grow grain. As this was unknown in the area the government provided the contractors and machinery and the day of the tractor arrived. These were all Fordsons and they became a common sight working on the farms. As the farmers became familiar with the new technology they saw the advantages. With the end of the war, mechanised farming mushroomed and this forced the innovations we will look at next week.
SCG/01 January 2003