Beautiful Tractors

Portraits of Iconic Models

Author: Rick Mannen

Pictures: Clive Streeter

Film: Frances Lincoln

“Can one fall in love with a Ferguson at first sight?” This question is asked, somewhat redundantly, and answered here with a yes, yes, yes. Paul Rackham certainly feels the tingle. Britain’s Mr Beef until he sold his huge farm in 2011, he also owns Britain’s biggest tractor collection, from which 40 “fabulous beasts” have been photographed against a drapey sheet like ready-to-wed debutantes. The mismatch is arresting, certainly for the first-time flirt enjoying it like a flip book. Meanwhile dedicated tractor stalkers will appreciate the nuts-and-bolts CVs alongside each beautifully restored machine.

And there is a good story to tell. Steam power began to be used in British farming at the very end of the 18th century but it was the invention of the combustion engine and the opening up of the vast North American prairies that spurred on development.

The first recorded use of the word “tractor” appeared in sales bumf produced in 1902 by Hart Parr of Charles City, Iowa. The advent of World War I, and the need to produce more food with fewer people, added impetus. But WW2, with its hunger for scrap metal, nearly did for all that heritage, until collectors spotted the danger and began buying up vintage machines. These days some old beasts fetch six figure sums. If you feel yourself beginning to drool, there’s a set of postcards you can buy too.

Quibble

The most modern tractor in the book dates from 1976 but it would have been intriguing to see one of the luxuriously appointed 12-wheel monsters working the prairies today