22 August 1997

Attention to detail clinches trophy for Leics finalist

This years Tractor Driver of the Year final, held at Silsoe Research Institute last week, saw finalists travel from as far as Somerset and York. Geoff Ashcroft reports

THIRTY-two-year-old Neville Kirkham from Rushey Fields Farm, Woodhouse, Leicestershire, is Tractor Driver of the Year 1997.

Appearing in his second final at the Silsoe Research Institute, he fought off tough competition from fellow finalists Nick Watson, Roger Denton, Tom Reeve and Stanley House.

Mr Kirkham gave creditable performances in all five sections of the event, which enabled him to clinch the coveted title. He scored highest in two sections, came runner-up in a further two, and had a close third in the fifth section.

"Neville went about his tasks in a workmanlike manner and his attention to detail was excellent," says Graham Wells, chairman of the judging panel.

"He appeared to have done his homework well and gave a good all-round performance on the day."

All-round performance it might have been, but it was far from easy as all four runners-up kept the pressure on throughout the day. Out of a 250-point maximum score, only 22 points separated all five finalists.

Nick Watsons efforts at applying the pressure saw him clean up in the materials handling and fertiliser spreading sections, but felt afterwards he did himself little justice in the ATV section.

"Nick Watson certainly knows his way around machinery," explains John Deeres Rob Epton, who judged the materials handling section. "He was confident, a smooth operator and went about his tasks in a methodical and businesslike approach."

It was his skills as a sprayer operator though, which were to stand him in good stead for the fertiliser calibration and application section.

Nick Watson was the only one who could set up the machine without the aid of an operators manual," says Warwickshire Colleges Tim Morgan.

But from here on in, it was pretty much downhill for Mr Watson who gave disappointing performances in the ATV and road work sections – leaving room for Mr Kirkham to add to his pointstotal.

Despite giving a solid performance on the road section, Mr Kirkham could not quite match that of Roger Denton. Mr Dentons combination of chains and straps to secure a Ford 7840 on a tiltbed trailer and general knowledge of road legislation, impressed road section judge John Guppy.

"Roger and Neville were clearly ahead of the pack in this section. But despite Neville stopping and checking his load before going onto the dual carriageway, he could not quite match Roger Dentons overall knowledge and performance over the 8-mile road course."

But in the last two sections, it was Mr Kirkham all the way.

Ploughing judge Graham Wells and ATV evaluation judge Robert Walker both marked him top of their respective sections.

"All day, there had been a slight kink in the ploughing close to the headland and after getting the plough set up, Mr Kirkham showed no hesitation in removing it."

It was this attention to detail and confidence that was to prove Mr Kirkham a worthy winner at the end of a tough days competition. In addition to netting the coveted Tractor Driver trophy from Silsoe director Professor Brian Legg, Mr Kirkham also collected a cheque for £1000 from the Royal Agricultural Society of England.

Its all over! Competitors, judges, organisers and surviving machinery at this years final gather for the mandatory team photograph.

Tractor Driver of the Year 97. Neville Kirkham with the coveted trophy – not forgetting a £1000 cheque.

Tractor tasks

&#8226 Ploughing: Set up and work a Dowdeswell DP10 four-furrow reversible, mounted on a 135hp New Holland 8360 tractor.

&#8226 Fertiliser spreading: Calibrate and operate an Amazone ZA-M twin disc fertiliser spreader, mounted on a Massey Ferguson 4270 tractor.

&#8226 Materials handling: Using a John Deere 4400, stack a palletised load to a height of 4m (13ft) and move soil using a rehandling bucket.

&#8226 ATVs: Make risk assessments of a Kawasaki Bayou equipped with a Lempro Spray Rider, and a Suzuki Quad King fitted with a Lempro slug pellet applicator. Drive and reverse Polaris Magnum/Ifor Williams twin-axle trailer through course, then show awareness of carrying capability by loading trailer with an ATV.

&#8226 On the road: Prepare a 110hp Case MX110 and Jones tilt-bed trailer (loaded with a Ford 7840) for the road, then safely negotiate an 8-mile course.