The Chiltern Open Air Museum farm is a key part of the Museum’s operation. It’s not just a static display of historic farm buildings and artefacts, but a working example of Chiltern farms of the past.
Traditional practices are maintained where possible although the farm does not focus on any one particular era. Artefacts are used in the farm’s day to day operation as much as possible and key to this are the tractors. The four sturdy workhorses in all have around 200 years of hard labour between them. And there is the other – more about this later!
Tractors have been the backbone of farm labour for over 100 years, slowly usurping horses and man’s physical labour. The first steam powered tractors appeared in the 1860s and by the end of that century the first petrol tractor was patented. However, it was not until just after the turn of the century that petrol tractors went into production.
Tractor innovation has come a long way in the intervening 100 years. And the next inevitable step is the driverless, computer controlled vehicle for tasks such as ploughing and harvesting and who knows what else.
Innovation is essential, but remembering the past is also important, not just for nostalgia and the pleasure this brings to many, but to help remember how things were done to provide lessons for the future.
Currently two tractors are regularly used on the farm, a 1950 Ferguson and its junior partner, a 1981 Ford 4600. The Museum also has two Fordson Super Majors. One dates from 1950 and is only used on special occasions such as driving the threshing machine during the Museum’s Harvest Festival event.
The second Fordson, a later model dating from 1961, needs much renovation work before it can play a more active role in the farm’s operation. The project is now underway, although it may be sometime before she is working on the farm again.
The task in hand is being led by volunteer and former agricultural engineer, John Smithson. John’s wealth of experience working with agricultural machinery around the world for many years has been a major plus for the Museum, with his superior knowledge of machinery no longer in regular use. John first became involved with the Museum when he offered advice on renovating the ‘Ransoms’ threshing machine. Having become fully involved with that project, he then stayed on as part of the Museum’s farm artefacts team of volunteers who ‘tinker’ with the farm machinery every Thursday.
Progress has already been made and the engine is running again. But other essential work will take many hours and the team must also continue to progress other projects.
Considering the basic conditions the team have to work in, they do a superb job in keeping the mechanical farm artefacts operational. Volunteer Olly Mazzitelli is adamant that if the team were provided with a new, modern workshop, the tractor renovation would be completed in no time. However, it would take significant funding to provide such a facility and the Museum has other priorities. And of course, it would not be in the spirit of a traditional farm if the conditions did not replicate those that the Chiltern farmers of the past often had to work in!
Developments on how John, Olly and the rest of the Thursday team are progressing with the project, as well as more about the individual tractors, will appear in this blog in the future.
And the other tractor? Well, it has to grow up first, but in the meantime it provides lunchtime entertainment for hard-working volunteers!
“Volunteer Jane Bland finds time to try out the Museum farm’s latest tractor whilst the Ford takes a rest”