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How workhorses of yesteryear can pull heart strings

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 24, 2012

  • This 1938 Minneapolis-Moline UDXL is the ultimate tractor for the avid collector, says Peter Love. Clockwise from right: A vintage motor ploughs the Moline Universal C; a striking 1919 Hart-Parr 30, made in Iowa; and a 1961 Ford 901 still hard at work

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As with any enthusiasm, if it is entertainingly expressed even the most unlikely subject becomes infectious.

Tractors must certainly qualify as a niche interest. To the uninitiated a tractor is, well, just a tractor – the unsung mechanical muscle of the farmyard, and our occasional nemesis along a country lane.

So, turn the pages of Peter Love's Tractors in Focus and be bewildered and beguiled by this collection of veteran, vintage, classic and modern machines.

There is surprisingly much more colour, design and character in these chunky workhorses than you might imagine. Muscular though they are, their designs miraculously squeeze out a bit of flair to accompany the function.

Monikers like John Deere, Ferguson, Ford and Field Marshall conjure familiar and nostalgic images to the enthusiast. For those innocents, who never much considered if there was a wonderful world of tractors out there, such names present a pleasing learning curve.

To say Peter Love is an enthusiast is probably an understatement. Born into a family of farmers and photographers, it is easy to see how tractors caught his imagination. Having acquired his first camera at the age of ten, he began taking pictures of mechanical items – and grew up to be a professional transport/agricultural journalist and photographer.

Tractors and crawlers may be regarded by some as the poor relations of the preservation world – but Peter's vibrant images, enthusiasm and informative captions do much to set the record straight.

Through his travels in Britain and abroad, he has captured more than 150 images of tractors old and new, elegant and workaday. Large and small, of various makes, and in various stages of preservation, this book focuses on an area of interest and preservation little known to many.

Almost at odds with the mundane toil they were required for were the jaunty colours. Bright reds, blues, yellows and greens greeted the first-time buyer. The colours would have faded down the years, in many cases obliterated by rust, with the machines ultimately falling to abandonment. But Peter has located the lucky ones. Preserved and restored to pristine condition, they are now revered and often rare collector's items.

In extended captions the author gives a potted history of each tractor. The evolution of shape and performance is well chronicled with creations like the somewhat primitive-looking Case C tractor (the number three bestseller in Britain in the 1930s) contrasting with a 1998 Massey Ferguson 36 combine.

The good thing about these preserved tractors is that they are not museum pieces, but are still out on active service. Some still work for a living, others strut their stuff at agricultural events and special rallies, and some are trundled out for light duties as tractors of leisure.

One thing that Peter's book tells you, if you didn't know, is that there are a lot of serious tractor collectors out there prepared to pay big money for the tractor of their dreams.

When it comes to the ultimate in tractor-collecting, the author says it has to be the 1938 Minneapolis-Moline UDLX.

"This go-anywhere tractor had a high enough road speed that you could go shopping with it, and had a radio and cigarette lighter as standard," he says, of a vehicle that looks like a bizarre cross between car and tractor.

"Although it was not ultimately a success, about half the 150 survive today and sell for, in good order, £120,000."

Choice tractors don't come cheap. Peter's captions catalogue some eye-brow-raising prices – although there are still bargains to be found.

A rare 1976 John Deere 2030 Mk2 reached a record £8,200 at auction. A 1977 Massey Ferguson 135 made a record price of £34,000 when sold to a very keen Massey Ferguson collector from the Home Counties, while a rare Marshall MP6 fetched £40,000.

If your pocket isn't that deep, you can, of course, seek out a rusting hulk and set about preserving it yourself.

But cheaper than all these options, and much more relaxing, is simply to gaze at these evocative pictures – and appreciate tractors in a compelling new light.

Tractors in Focus is published by Halsgrove at £19.99.

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