My mother, as others of her ilk do, awaited my first word with wrapt expectation. “Tractor!” Not quite what she had in mind. And she hasn’t been able to shut me up since. Loquaciousness is a dominant gene in our family.
The tractor that made such an early impression on me was my parents’ Harry Ferguson TEA 24, the legendary ‘Little Grey Fergie’. These tractors are often mistakenly referred to as a Massey Ferguson and painted red by people who don’t know any better. It was a constant feature of our lives. It could do anything and go anywhere, sometimes requiring rescuing from places in which it may have inadvertently ended up.
Dad had also procured a matching Ferguson System two-furrow mounted plough with which he had systematically ploughed the farm, as part of a development project aimed at introducing ‘improved’ pasture species.
That combination of Ferguson plough and tractor was the stuff of global legend, something that I didn’t fully appreciate until many years after my first word was spoken.
The ‘Ferguson System’ was an ingenious patented combination of a converging rear three-point linkage system and a hydraulic ‘suck’ valve. This meant that a plough could be mounted directly to a tractor, rather than towed, and that a constant load applied to the tractor’s rear driving wheels by the hydraulic draft control system automatically adjusting the plough’s depth. This combination of technologies revolutionised arable agriculture by making cultivation both straightforward and affordable. Now that Ferguson’s patents have expired, this system can be found on virtually any tractor manufactured anywhere.
Another example of a British Golden Age of mechanical design that also produced such gems as the Land Rover and the Spitfire, the TEA 24 is a consummate testimony to less being more. Its light weight, durability, reliability and simplicity were ideally suited to mass production, resulting in tens of thousands of these being built and sold around the world. Manufacturing alliances were struck with David Brown and with Ford to meet the global demand, fast-tracking both of those companies into tractor manufacturing under their own brands.
In 1953 the Harry Ferguson company merged with Canada’s Massey Harris. But it wasn’t until 1957 that the colour changed from grey to red, the name Massey Ferguson and the three merged triangles brand appeared. Massey Ferguson is probably one of the most enduring and famous tractor brands the world has seen.
No, I am not a tractor groupie or some sort of agricultural machinery geek. I am a collector of assorted facts and trivia that occasionally assemble themselves like a jigsaw puzzle in my brain. That said, I did major in agricultural mechanisation as part of my agricultural science degree some years ago, when there was only one Massey University (nothing to do with the tractor company) that offered a degree in agricultural science. I also had a Bit Of A Thing for hydraulics for a while. How times and fashions change.
All of these tractor snippets fell together after a dinner outing at a friend’s place on Saturday night. To my great delight, he has a collection of tractor models in his Man Cave, including a TEA 24 and a MF 35. My joy was unbridled. Seriously.
To me there are only two key things to the art and science of marketing: providing outstanding customer service, and constant innovation. In the 1940s Harry Ferguson was able to tick both boxes. Well done, that man.
Had he lived in the 1940s or 50s, Reuben James’ furrowed fields would have been ploughed by a Ferguson System, not by a mule pulling a single-furrow John Deere plough. I think that that would have greatly improved his outlook on life. I’ll explain this to Kenny Rogers next time we meet.