AUGHAFATTEN, Northern Ireland — Some old tractors are parked behind hedges once their useful working life is over. Others are dismantled and sold on for parts.
Thanks to the rapid pace of technology, tractors are retired at younger ages these days, quickly being replaced by fresher younger models. But thankfully there is a growing trend of preserving older tractors for the generations to come, saving them from the tractor graveyard.
Northern Ireland is steeped in agricultural history and is famous for the development of the Ferguson tractor and its associates. It was a great revolution when actual horse power was being phased out. With the Ferguson tractor farmers were experiencing the latest in what was new technology of the era.
That was the case for the Millar family from Aughafatten just outside Broughshane in County Antrim. Sadly a horse that had traditionally done most of the work on the Millar farm had passed away — so the decision was made to replace it with a tractor.
“My late grandfather William Millar bought a new Ford Ferguson tractor in 1944,” said Brian Millar, whose father, Samuel Millar, is the current tractor owner. “The tractor was bought because a horse had died on the farm and he needed something to replace it with, this time a mechanical version.”
Because horse-drawn implements were not suitable to be attached to tractors, a range of tractor implements were available. William Millar bought the Ford Ferguson with a plow and a potato planter as well.
“The tractor and plough cost £260 (about USD$316) when new 75 years ago from the dealer R Allen and Sons based on Wellington Street in the nearby market town of Ballymena,” Brian Millar said. “The tractor originally came on steel wheels, which we still have, along with heavy stakes and spade. Later on they were changed to rubber tires with a single rib on the front and Dunlop tires on the rear. The rear rims are known as the Belfast rim. Also the wheels’ back rims were made by the famous Belfast engineering company Harland and Wolff.”
Through the years the Millars used their Ford Ferguson for plowing the fields and planting potatoes with a bell planter. Since then the Ford Ferguson tractor has been restored twice — once back in 1986 and then resprayed again in 2015.
“We wanted to preserve the tractor as it played such a historical significance on our farm, so we gave it a full restoration from top to bottom in 1986,” Millar said. “Then in 2015 we were approached by the organizers of a local show being held at Greenmount Agricultural College in Antrim, who wanted to use our tractor and plow as a display piece.
“Whilst we agreed, when we took the tractor and plow out of its winter storage we thought it didn’t just look so impressive. So a total respray was then carried out ahead of the show. As it happens, this turned out to be a very quick turnaround as the tractor was sandblasted on a Tuesday, then resprayed and was sitting pride of place at the show on the Friday evening.
“This tractor was also converted to 12 volt, which makes it very easy to start. There were a few late nights that week I recall but all were worth the effort as the Ford Ferguson tractor and plow were displayed very well there.
“In the past the tractor was used for plowing, potato dropping and general farm use. These days the tractor is a family heirloom and is part of our collection of older tractors and implements. We take this particular tractor to shows around both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It’s in real good condition, albeit with two very small oil leaks to repair.
“This is, however, at the end of a long list of other restoration projects we have to complete.”
In 2018 Brian and Sammy Millar took the tractor to a “spark plug” tractor run hosted by a local vintage club, the Braid Valley Vintage Enthusiasts, of which the pair are members.
This year, together with the Ford Ferguson’s stable mates — including a Ferguson Brown, a continental Ferguson and a diesel Ferguson — the Millars are attending a number of vintage-tractor events and rallies.
“It’s good to take the tractors out every now and then,” Brian Millar said. “These Fergusons are very much part of our history and we need to preserve them for as long as possible.”
With 16 years experience behind him, award-winning agricultural journalist Chris McCullough is always on the hunt for his next story. He grew up on the family dairy farm in the heart of Northern Ireland and is based on the country’s east coast. He travels around the world to bring readers international news.