The summer was coming and we were behind with the spring corn sowing. The winter had been especially wet and the ground was not having a chance to dry out. Every three days it had a good soaking as lows drove another cold front across England. All the wheat was in, now the barley had to be got in or the cuckoo would beat us to it and cuckoo barley never did produce such a heavy yield. Luckily I had planted thirty acres of winter wheat and now it was growing away to close the drill rows. We had to get help to get the seed in when the ground allowed and with only me on a tractor, there was just not enough time in each day, so father started to look around for a driver and a tractor.
This year everyone was in the same predicament; wet soil and too much to do. It was the mid sixties and every one was employed. Consequently the first problem arose of who wanted a temporary job for a couple of weeks or as long as the work lasted. I told father to forget the man problem; I knew a young lad who would help as he had often driven the tractor in his school holidays, and at weekends. Now having left school at Easter, he was waiting to join the RAF and so would jump at the opportunity to charge around on a plough field, dragging a set of discs behind him. The tractor was the big snag, as we had no use for two with usually only me on the farm. The cost of a new one was not justified for 180 acres of spring corn this year as before I had done it all on my own. It was the weather that was beating us this year.
Our prayers were answered by an old friend of father’s who was a woodcutter. He had an old Fordson Major that he only used in the cold winter months to drag wood out of the woods. All the spring and summer it stood idle and we could use it if it was of any help to us. That very day I went and had a look at it. Yes it was roadworthy, just, so would stand up to the nine miles from its summer resting place to our farm in the hills. The brakes were not too hot; in fact one on the inside wheel was non-existent. The good points were it drove in a straight line and started, so we took him up on the offer. When I looked at it, I had noticed that the offside front tyre was rather short of air so armed with a foot pump, me and Taffy set to work on pumping it up. That was not a good idea as we soon found out as the tyre had a large split in it, covered by a gaiter made from an old tyre and the more air we forced into it, the more the split opened, to reveal an inner tube that inflated like a balloon. So that is why the owner had run it on a slack tyre. We let some of the hard worked for air out and the crack closed up. That would have to do for now.
I drove the old wreck, as that is all it was, and Taffy drove the Dexter I usually had and followed me along the road. He was only fourteen and had never driven on a road before so I kept the speed down so he could follow in fourth gear as he had never had a tractor in any higher gear. At last we made the safety of our farm, without any hitches, and I got off to open the gate. Our land at Wittersham was on a hill and to approach it from the way we had was all downhill. Imagine my surprise as I got off to see Taffy coming at an even faster speed down the hill. On knowing where we were going, the silly little bugger had tried to be clever and change down into a lower gear and missed it. Now he was freewheeling and was panicking. I shouted to him as he sailed by to stand on the brakes and luckily he did. Both back wheels locked up and he careered into the large grip that followed the hedge alongside the road, his face as white as a sheet. I ran over and pushed him off and reversed my one year old Dexton out onto the road and started to tell him that to change gear you had to select the right gear and get the revs right before trying to change down in a low ratio. He had only tried to shift the little gear stick so changing gear from fourth to second by using the low stick instead of closing the throttle and applying the foot-brake, then slipping the clutch.
The weather seemed to take note that I now had a fighting chance of getting my acreage in at last before 20th April and relented. Taffy and I set to with a vengeance. The old Major never knew what hit it. Start at 8 am and go on until 7 or 8 pm, non- stop. The front tyre developed a permanent bulge but with the pressure low, held out. One field of sixteen acres had a nasty slope to it up at the top end and as I disked the plough down one afternoon, Taffy was charging around on the old girl, towing a set of eighteen feet ring rollers consisting of a ten foot roll with twin five feet sisters each side. As he turned at the top of the slope up in the corner, somehow the pin jumped out of the draw bar. Taffy, quite unaware of the event, came down the slope and turned to follow me along the bottom. The rollers followed him to the bottom but failed to negotiate the turn as now they were independent of him and took it upon themselves to plough through the pig netting fence, taking twenty yards of it with them and crashed into the gill. Blissfully unaware of the chaos behind him, I waved my arms at him to stop and drove over to where he had come to a stop. We both went to investigate the possibility of getting the gang up and out and to work. The problem soon reared its ugly head as the main roll er had been followed by its twin sisters and they all lay on top of one another, four feet below the sheer bank. We managed to uncouple the three and got the two five feet rolls out on a chain, but the eight foot roll refused to budge, having been rammed in the stream bed by its sisters and it lay at an angle, blocking the flow of water to cause a damn and within half an hour, the water was flowing over the roll as it does a weir. We needed help with this. To start with, we needed someone with a brain as to how to get the damn thing out and a tractor with more power. Even together, we could not move it. Mr Douglas was fetched out and with a winch, the roll was recovered, none the worse for its ducking. Re-hitched to Taffy’s draw bar with a pin, secured with a lynch pin through the bottom to stop it jumping out again.
A hundred and four acres were got in by us that week and we slapped ourselves on the back. The date was 19th April. From that we made use of the larger tractor lent to us to grub a few old apple trees out, a real snatch and yank job. That done, the machine was parked in an old lean-to shed and left.
Summer came and around July, Mr Griffin paid us a visit. We were all having tea at the time he crashed in the back door in a real state. His grandchildren were coming down and his wife had got him to clear out his old car and under one of the seats, he had found five devices that only went with something that he remembered he had left in the small padlocked toolbox mounted on his old Fordson Major and had we opened the box at all? We explained that as it had a padlock on it, we had not. “Good”, he said. “Where is the tractor now as he had to get something from that box.” He was in such a state that I said I would take him. We left and drove to our farm and started to walk down through the orchard towards the shed when he said I had better stay where I was. The mystery deepened as to his urgent mission. So I did as he said and he vanished to the shed, only to appear three minutes later and call me over. “That”, he stated, “was a close call”, and held his hand out to show me five sticks of gelignite wrapped in paper. He had left the tool box open to air up a bit. “Now where can we put these safe until tomorrow, when I will dispose of them properly?” He laid them in some rushes beside the dried up pond to get rid of later and on the way home in the car explained that earlier while cleaning the car out, he had found five detonators and only then remembered they went with the five sticks and where he had left them from a job in the winter. The panic was that any sudden jar in the state they were now in could have detonated them, especially as the box was full of iron spanners. He categorically said that we were lucky as any bump would have been “BANG!”
I never told him of the tree grubbing and speed that poor old tractor travelled across ploughed ground. I reckoned the stuff must have been useless. A real dud lot!.
Rye’s Own April 2004
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