Ex Tractor Fan

Ex Tractor Fan

As a small boy, my weekends frequently had large swathes of play time cut out of them by the need to visit relatives in Coventry. For the uninitiated, Coventry is an industrial town in the Midlands of England which, thanks to a rapid and highly effective urban clearing programme implemented by the Luftwaffe in the early 1940s, isn’t very pretty. For a six year old, it’s right up there with visiting the dentist.

But despite eating into my precious school-free weekends, the journey did have two highlights; first, the Brown’s Lane  Jaguar plant – locally known as simply “The Jag” – where I would gawp at the magnificent cars on display and daydream of the wonderment that went on inside the huge factories. Secondly – usually on the way home due to the strange, apparently genetic condition that prevents both me and my dad from deciding what is the quickest route for any particular journey – the Massey Ferguson factory at Banner Lane.

In its day, Banner Lane was the largest tractor factory in the world and the row upon row of bright red Masseys outside used to hypnotise me. Once home, I’d dig out the large cardboard box of model cars from under my bed and drive around the floor ploughing imaginary furrows in the carpet with the closest thing I had to a tractor. If memory serves me right it was a Volvo 240 station wagon with the boot lid missing.

Since then things have moved on – both Brown’s Lane and Banner Lane have ceased production and I have got bigger, uglier and fallen out of love with agricultural vehicles.

Moving farming - but not moving me

With their big tyres and chunky looks, tractors naturally appealed to me as a boy, but as a man whose interaction with them is now limited to the time I’m stuck behind one on a country road, cursing its sloth like top speed and the fact that it’s throwing semi–decomposed cow faeces onto my bonnet, the magic has gone.

Well, maybe not quite. Thanks to the current Mrs Grimley’s insistence that North Shore City presents limited opportunities for patting cows, we spent last weekend at Fieldays in Hamilton. And the only way I was able to get a break from leaning into various pens of flatulent livestock was to feign a strong desire to poke around the mechanical stuff.

And in many ways my interest was genuine – the engineering is absolutely fascinating and the respect I have for the work tractors do is unparalleled. Farming accounts for around 7% of employment in the country, 4.5% of the GDP – over 3 times that with associated industry taken into consideration – and without the humble tractor, this would not be possible. It was even a Massey that took Sir Edmund Hillary to the Pole.

However respect is not the same as love and while my inner five year old will forever stand captivated at the gates of The Jag, he drifted away from tractors when the reaper came calling at Banner Lane.

But thanks largely to the good folk at Tractor Pull NZ Inc – whose fabulous fundraising barbeque in aid of Christchurch kept the cynical 31 year-old me nicely distracted – he was convinced to pop back for one more lingering look as various outrageously tuned lumps of farm machinery took their turns at dragging the weight-transfer Fendy down a 100m track.

The astonishing “Who Deeres” machine stole the show – with its CAT V8 engine that threw out columns of smoke capable of shutting down local airspace whilst sounding like Thor with a hangover – but it was the “Sweet-As EBRO” team that stole my heart. Proving that it was possible to not just take part, but seriously compete in this most deliciously brutal test of man and machine on a budget of $2000, was enough to start a little voice whispering all the way from 1986 that this could be quite good fun.

I suspect the current Mrs Grimley can shout loud enough to drown it out for now, but it will only take one unsupervised Trade Me session for all that to change. The learning curve for fixing up a $500 tractor is probably a steep one, but for the time being that is immaterial; all the little voice is concerned about is making sure we paint it red.

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