Shed life, but not as we know it

By Paul Charman

Paul Charman finds 'tractor trekkies' who seek out old farm machinery and boldly put it together

One of the lovingly restored vintage tractors, a Super Dexta. Photo / Murray Elphick
One of the lovingly restored vintage tractors, a Super Dexta. Photo / Murray Elphick

We went to the Bay of Plenty looking for the Vintage Farm Machinery Club "tractor trek" last month, but no joy.

Finding a tractor trek is never easy, even in the day of GPS and mobile phones.

Tractor trek events are moving targets and they tend to be run in areas lacking good cellphone coverage. They traverse remote rural roads, or vast stretches of private forestry land, places where given half a chance your TomTom will send you down some washed-out paper road surveyed in 1870.

This one was promoted as a "bush bash" and it ran along a maze of lonely firebreaks between Ngongataha, Pyes Pa and Putararu. We dispatched a photographer to look for it, but the poor chap eventually gave up and returned to us shaken, white-faced and without having taken any pictures at all.

Panic attacks are terrible things, and hours of driving along dark, pine-tree-lined roads, then stopping to ask directions at a remote farmhouse and having an enormous dog attack your front bumper with its teeth, can clearly bring one on.

That said, a dozen or so farmers and ex-farmers from Tauranga and Rotorua Vintage Farm Machinery Clubs seemed to home in on the event first-time round, and no trouble at all.

They even kindly supplied us with some photos.

Aside from an hour or so for lunch, this lot spent an entire Saturday chugging along through those rugged back blocks, pretty well sweeping aside anything that got in the way.

They're not exactly spring chickens, being aged from their mid-50s through to their mid-80s, but even so in several cases the tractors used were about the same age, or older, than those driving them.

Beautifully restored machines brought along for the fun included an early Fordson Major, Internationals, Fergusons, a Farmall, a Holder and an Allis Chalmers.

This kind of venerable farm machinery delights hundreds of vintage farm-machinery enthusiasts nationwide, folk meeting in small groups in mainly provincial towns, especially South Island ones.

And the big thing about the machines they restore is that they're expected to be able to work, not just look good.

For example, the tractor trek event traversed forestry roads unused for nearly four years, so the "trekkies" had to chainsaw and tow away fallen trees blocking their path.

"Tea tree had grown up to about two metres high along some sections of the path - you couldn't see through it, so you had to look down and follow the wheel ruts," said Tauranga Vintage Farm Machinery Club president Tom Deverall.

"But, aside from that and a couple of minor river crossings, our trek was mostly level, easy and huge fun. A couple of our older members - guys who seldom get to drive off road these days - really had a ball."

Tom says restoring vintage farm machinery takes place quietly "below the radar", but he maintains the tractors, stationary motors and other kinds of farm equipment the enthusiasts work on are all worthy of their due.

"Think about it. Primarily it was machines like these which once generated the wealth of our country. They deserve to be preserved, every bit as much as vintage or classic cars do."

There's a fair amount of emotion and nostalgia attached as well.

"I can remember my grandfather at Matamata using an old stationary motor to power his cow shed, the type many of us now try to restore if we can find them. You have to realise the huge leap forward getting hold of such a machine represented before we had a nation-wide electricity infrastructure.

"Imagine milking 80 cows by hand, then getting a stationary motor to power your dairy shed. The machine would drive a main shaft, which would drivebelts to run your separator, milk pump, water pump and so forth. This saved many hours of hard toil every week.

"These kind of machines also ran sawmills and other businesses over many decades. Why should all sign of them be allowed to decay and disappear?"

He says restoring such machinery can almost become an obsession, demanding hundreds of hours of work over years.

"I know a man who salvaged two old motors from an old disused mine at Thames, then got them going," says Tom. "We network, search for and find the old parts we need. Of course, we always try to keep it original, but if need be we'll adapt similar parts, make them out of steel or even get them cast at a foundry.

"This hobby really gets a hold of you. You do what you have to do - in fact, you'll move mountains to restore one of these great old machines."

- NZ Herald

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