As the beautifully polished hearse carrying Ken’s coffin pulled away from the group of cottages where he had spent most of his life, it turned left, into the country lanes, rather than right, down towards the main road.
It seemed apt that the man who had been head tractor driver here for so many decades – first for Dad, and then for me – should be carried past all those fields he’d known so well on his last journey away from our little village.
The few family that this mad world allows to attend the service followed in convoy, and Hazel and I stood on the roadside to see him on his way for the last time.
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I was half cross that I hadn’t brought my Thermos, to raise a battered silver cup to the big Mercedes, but a sad smile and a respectful wave seemed enough.
I spent the afternoon in my tractor reflecting on how Ken was almost the last link to a way of farming that – on this farm, at least – is long gone.
The 7.55am opening of the barn doors – not locked, just shut – to reveal seven Fords, all with their keys in. The 10 o’clock tea break, the drive home for dinner at 11.55 – even if a job was on the point of completion.
The drive back out to the field at 1.05, the three o’clock tea break, and the journey home again at 4.55pm, into a barn that had stayed wide open all day. And nothing would have gone missing.
And it was almost always a strict five-day week, with Friday evening seeing the ceremonial handing over of the little brown envelopes. Harvest or late drilling would provoke a bit of overtime – to everyone’s benefit. I’ve forgotten the last time I did a strict eight-to-five, or spent the weekend indoors if the tractor beckoned.
Ken was in charge of all the winter ploughing. “If you finish by Christmas, you can have the day off, Kenneth!” Dad would say – every year. How we all laughed.
He’d drive the Kidd Rotaflail while the rest of us built the outdoor silage clamp, and apply fertiliser farm-wide with a Taskers Fertispread. Just a few tasks from a different time – all gone. Driving the combine would be the only job that survives to this day.
When I was converting Dad’s extensive slide collection on to the computer, I stumbled across a mid-60s picture of Ken, a couple of his brothers and his father, rogueing in Long Field.
These were the days when many farms drew heavily from one family. They were also the days when the Allman 150-gallon sprayer saw perhaps a couple of weeks’ work a year, and chemical control of grassweeds was just a dream.
They are grasping bunches of wild oats, most have a roll-up, and are all wrapped up well against the heat. “What keeps you warm keeps you cool!” was the logic of the day.
It’s tempting to think of the “good old days” after seeing that picture – it takes a mid-winter shot of Ken’s father on a Fordson half-track, cab-free, and wrapped up against less pleasant weather, to remind us of the reality of those days.
A final thought struck me as I sat in my climate-controlled cab, with three-way Alpines keeping me entertained while I cracked on with spring sowing. With Ken’s passing, I am now the last man alive to have worked every square inch of this farm.
That was my cue to shut everything down and, better late than never, reach for the Thermos. Cheers, Ken.