Old Ford tractors still have a place on the farm

Just because a farm is geared up for top productivity with a fleet of modern high-tech tractors it doesn’t mean the golden oldies can’t still play a role, as Peter Hill reports

With 810ha (2000 acres) of arable cropping and more than 1200ha (3000 acres) of grass to look after on their own farm and through contract farming agreements, it is little wonder that Richard Hooper and his sons Michael and Nick run a trio of modern high horsepower tractors from their farm on Wiltshire’s Salisbury Plain.

But take a peak in the barns and it soon becomes apparent that the 200-250hp machines are not the only tractors working in the fields at Cornbury Farm. Admittedly, the two ancient Fordson Majors are kept largely for sentimental reasons but a pair of younger Fords justify their place in the fleet by still earning their keep.

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Richard Hooper aboard the Fordson Power Major he drove when it was new at the head of a protest march about the treatment of farmers on Salisbury Plain who lost their farms to the Ministry of Defence despite an understanding they would be returned after WW2.

Although the 1953 Major has the distinction of being one of the earliest examples of this popular tractor, the 1957 Fordson Power Major has the most sentimental significance. When it was brand new, Richard Hooper was pictured at the wheel leading a protest after the Second World War against what was seen as unfair treatment of Salisbury Plain farmers and other residents.

“The Ministry of Defence issued a compulsory purchase order to farmers on Salisbury Plain to secure training grounds for infantry and motorised units preparing for action in the war,” he explains. “The original understanding was that some of the land, at least, would be returned – but that never happened and I was among those who protested about the situation.”

Cornbury Farm’s Working Classics

  • 1953 Fordson Major – a very early model now a keepsake
  • 1957 Fordson Power Major – the ‘protest tractor’ now runs a generator and pto power washer
  • 1967 Ford 5000 – recently given a cosmetic make-over, pulls trailers and does odd jobs around the farm
  • 1996 New Holland Ford 8340 – 12,000hrs and still going strong on fertiliser spreading and ploughing

Today, the Power Major is kept in decent running order by being fired up every so often to drive a generator when three-phase electricity is needed, to operate a welder and to power a pto-driven power washer.

“It’s really handy for these little jobs around the place,” says eldest son Michael Hooper. “The Major’s quite happy chugging away and giving to a bit of exercise now and then does it some good.”

The family’s Ford 5000 is 10 years younger and has just been treated to a cosmetic make-over now that it has parted company with the big Farmhand loader it operated for much of its working life.

“It was worked hard when it used to be our main handling machine, loading bales and getting all our grain out of storage,” recalls Nick Hooper. “And even though we had to put in two or three clutches a year, it was very effective it could load a 25t grain lorry in about 20 minutes.”

The classic Ford now has an easier life in its newly gleaming state, pottering around with a trailer and tackling those odd jobs for which the farm’s main tractors are a bit too big.

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The Hoopers’ 12-year old 8340 is a favourite on the farm and still going strong with more than 12,000 hours on the clock.

Although the 1996 New Holland Ford 8340 is a relative youngster alongside these oldies, it is fast becoming a classic in its own right. Perhaps not for its functional styling but certainly for the solid and enduring performance that the best examples of this Basildon-built machine keep serving up as the years go by.

“We had an early Ford version – an 8240 – that was brilliant, with spot-on brakes and everything,” says Nick Hooper. “The 8340 hasn’t got the best brakes but it’s done more than 12,000 hours and is still going strong.”

The six-cylinder slogger may been relieved of its spraying workload by a bigger capacity self-propelled machine but it still puts in an honest day’s work with a five-furrow plough and furrow press and also with a fertiliser spreader – and it remains in tidy order despite the corrosion hazard that comes with that particular job.

Tractors from the Ford family have clearly featured for many years and those that have been kept rather than replaced by newcomers are obviously held in high regard. Still, there are past examples that generate mixed feelings.

“I remember the three Ford E27Ns we had many years ago,” says Richard Hooper. “They were quite nice little tractors for their time but we did have to carry a drum of oil with us all the while because every lunchtime they needed a generous top-up.”

Others from a succession of just about every generation of Ford tractor that followed include a 1985 Ford 6610 that departed the farm only recently. It was equipped with the low-profile cab commonly found on this model but also – and more unusually – an old-fashioned crash gearbox.

“Crap cab, great gearbox,” is how Nick Hooper sums-up that particular tractor. “Ford did things best when they kept them simple and often got it completely wrong when they didn’t.”

Richard Hooper agrees with that sentiment. He dismisses as a gimmick the Select-o-Speed early powershift and as “horrendous” the column shift that briefly blighted the Series 10 tractors.

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This 1967 Ford 5000 was once the farm’s main handling machine until its role was superseded by telescopic handler. The Farmhand loader has only recently been removed and the tractor treated to a cosmetic make-over.

“You sometimes had to push and pull the lever through endless movements to get the gear you wanted,” he explains. “In some gears, the lever hit the steering wheel because there was so much slack in the linkage!”

After that, it is easy to understand why the simplicity of the constant mesh gearbox had so much appeal.

“I never liked the synchro ‘box because reverse was off on a dog leg from the high and low ranges and had a lower ratio so you often had to make a gear change as well,” adds Nick Hooper. “But as long as you could master double clutching, which is a dying art, the old crash gearbox was a delight.”