The Wee Grey Fergie

Not a title which means much to many people of this generation, but to those of us baby-boomers, and those with a connection to the land, it engenders an era gone past.

But to go back to the beginning…….

Tom Monroe on tractor  undated.jpg

My father was born in 1918 (so a baby-boomer of the First World War) into a family which might have been called gentlemen farmers. They obviously had a lot of farm machinery, and accounts which I have, show that they did lots of contract work for the local farming community who could not, or did not want to, purchase equipment which they would only use for a short time.

I have no records of when they bought their first tractor, but the above updated photo shows my father driving what I believe to be a Wee Grey Fergie. Now, I may be wrong because his model had many variants. The formal model name was TE 20, (from Tractor, England, 20 horsepower) not a very inspiring name.

In 1916, Harry Ferguson started development on ‘The Ferguson System’ to make a plough and linkage become part of the tractor as a whole. He got a patent granted in 1926, and then worked further on the linkage in the early ’30s. Production of the pre-TE20 models began in Huddersfield in the David Brown Factory in 1936, and in 1939, Henry Ford in Detroit, in the States, took on production of some 300,000 Ford Ferguson units to 1947.

There were some problems between Ferguson and Ford about the production location, and by 1945 the Wee Grey Fergie TE20 was built by the Standard Motor Company, Coventry (who built the Standard car). In all, from May 1936 to July 1956, approx one million units were sold worldwide.

So why am I such a nerd about this tractor? Well, I never knew my paternal grandparents and their farming business, but I did know my maternal grandparents, also farmers, with a relatively-small-holding near Lisburn, Northern Ireland. An undated photo of my grandparents, shows the compicated kind of mechanical reaper which was used with horses.

Sarah and John Stewart at Ballymullan on reaper date unknown.jpg

This 1966 photo shows their Fergie with direct linkage from the tractor engine to the reaper blades…

Bobby Stewart ploughing Jul 1966.JPG

…..and this one of the same year shows a different mechanism attached to ‘turn-over’ hay to dry it off. Nice to see the evident equality with my aunt driving the tractor…..

Bobby and Agnes Stewart on 'wee grey Fergie' Ballymullan.jpg

…..and still manual labour was necessary until the farmer could afford another module  for their Fergie to do the job…

Agnes, Bobby Stewart, and mother Marg Crawford, Ballymullan.jpg

So I was regularly at the farm with my brother and eventually at about the age of 11 or 12, was allowed to briefly drive the Fergie. I can clearly remember the cold winter’s day in a field of kale, which was being cut by my uncle, and thrown into a trailer, and I was empowered to move the tractor and trailer forward. I don’t think my Grandmother or Mother were informed! It was not an easy vehicle to drive but eventually I believe I made some small contribution to local agriculture!

Hence my strange ‘attachment’ to this farming machine……

Move forward to a week ago when I received a birthday present which delighted me immensely. A little scale-model of the TE20, along with a lovely drawing of a rural scene by Trevor Mitchell showing a Fergie, ploughing, a postie on a bike,  a church clock-tower, and a flock of birds…..

P1060058.JPG

P1060059.JPG

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!

Not the slightest idea….

The old Irish Homestead, which has seen better days

The old Irish Homestead, which had seen better days, but still very much part of my childhood.

The Scottish ancestral home, near Inverness, Scotland

Foulis Castle, the Scottish ancestral home, near Inverness, Scotland, which we have visited many times

s I have become older, I have become more interested in my back-ground. Where have we fitted-into the world, what influence have our great-grandparents had on who we are. And what influence have we individually had on our succeeding generations. Besides our blood family, there are also many other circles within which we move, our neighbours, club memberships, school friends, and work colleagues, to name but a few. So do we have an influence on all these folk?

Then there are those far-off relatives-by-marriage whom we have never met, and are unlikely to meet. However we are duty-bound to at least use one ear when listening to the intricacies of the relationship when relayed by someone close. Social media has brought many of these people within communication range, but we will still not meet them in the flesh.

No, I am mainly concerned about my own recent, and not so recent, predecessors and their close families, …….my DNA, if you will.

I am fortunate in that those before me were able to utilise the clan system, and the known history (from about 1100 ad) to document the earliest ancesters right through to my grandparents on my father’s side. This info was available to me through family publications….so no real problems there.

Luckily I knew my maternal grandparents well and many aunts, uncles and cousins, but my paternal grandparents had both passed-on before I could know them, even as a child.

So I was able to get into the history of a well-to-do Scottish land-owning family, and the life of a small Irish farming family, but even then I have only scratched the surface. I know nothing of their daily lives and how that influenced their approach to life. Did it make them ‘harder’ if life was difficult, and would this percolate into the ethos of the family, and the behaviour of their descendents?

Images of more than two or three generations back are limited so we cannot see, or image whether our facial features, skills, attributes etc are discernible as part of a long line. Very strange, that we are part of this long lineage, and yet, we are only in connection with a maximum of two generations on either side of ours.

Presumably, future generations will be asking the same questions as we do, but I hope that the work I have been doing on digitising all the available photos, documents etc into some form of logical order for generations to come will prove hopeful……

You scratch my back………..

My maternal and paternal grandparents made their living off the land in the area of Lisburn, which is now a major City in Northern Ireland, but in those days (1940’s and ’50s) was just a sizeable market town about 8 miles south-west of Belfast.

Sarah and John Stewart at Ballymullan on reaper date unknown

My mother’s folks were humble, but hardworking, farmers with cattle and lovely arable land which afforded a beautiful vista over Belfast from the

agnes-bobby-stewart-and-mother-marg-crawford-ballymullan[1]

Ballymullan hills. All the ground was based round a little cottage, in which five children (four girls and a boy) had been brought up, and although the facilities were primitive, it had a lovely

Ballymullan homestead...seen better days Jan 1969

warmth about it….maybe the subject of another post. You could walk to anywhere on their farm within 15 minutes so it was not extensive. They grew potatoes and wheat, along with hens, pigs, and their herd of cows, which provided the farm with eggs and milk, as well as some income. I don’t remember horses being used but the ‘Wee Grey Fergie’ tractor was where I started to learn to drive about the age of 11′
On the other hand, my father came from what must have been

Baling 1943 Jim Monroe on rt, Tom Monroe 2nd from right

a relatively-wealthy family. All the photos I have from two generations back, are smartly-dressed men and women, posing with staff in front of large houses. The

H's Monroe g'parents + unnamed uncles large house

Monroe family was well-known in Irish history, (specifically in this area) although this was not really discussed at the time. They had an agricultural contracting company (to do work for local farmers who did not have, or require, the expensive machinery), bus company, brickworks, a large farm, workers houses etc and as far as I know.the road was named after the Belsize House where they lived. With little imagination the company was called ‘Monroe Bros’

So there were two quite different families in the same area, and the common link was the marriage of my mother and father in 1943.

Four ladies (Monroe)

My mother had worked in some office in Belfast so was aware of accounting practices. It appears that she took on the position of Book-keeper within the

Perhaps great aunt Minnie

firm, and I recently came upon an old accounts book for 1944/45. She probably gave up when I was born in 1945.

It makes wonderfully-interesting reading, at least for the family, as many of the customers of the agricultural contracting business were individuals (or their descendents) whose names were mentioned regularly in our childhood, but we as children would never meet them. There were also titled people whose estates obviously needed extra help during the ploughing, planting and harvesting seasons.

The various activities involved in this business were numerous, and many would not be known to urban dwellers and the costs are well detailed. They included the following (with modern-day coinage in brackets):-

  • Ploughing, £1/5/00d per acre….(£1.25)
  • Cultivating, Discing, grubbing, carting, digging, harrowing, sawing…7/6d per acre…… (38p)
  • Threshing…..10/00d per hour….(50p)
  • Binding bales, 14/0d per acre……(70p)
  • Tractor work including 2 men, 8/00d per hour……. (40p)Tom Monroe on tractor  undated

But the one set of entries which intrigued me most was the one, in 1944, where my father’s father’s business did work for my mother’s father’s farm at Ballymullan. It came to £14.16.00p, a not-insubstantial sum. It may have been that the bill could not be paid immediately due to a cash flow problem, but the accounts show quite clearly that cash of £4/16/- was paid on 16th October 1944, with the £10 balance being paid-for by 2 tons of potatoes!

I have no way of confirming the value of potatoes in 1944, so cannot comment on which side felt they had done well out of the deal, so perhaps someone can enlighten me if such information would be available…….

A very dry summer, and a few lies!….

I was reading one of my blogging friends’ posts and was reminded of an incident from childhood…..almost 60 years ago

…………………..as a child, on our grand-parents’ farm-land, there was a large clay-pit, no longer used, which filled-up every year with rainwater, and then slowly emptied through evaporation. There were two pools, one very small which dried quickly, and one which had never really completely dried before the rains returned, and no-one really knew how deep it was.

My brother and I were warned never to go near, but curiosity meant that one year we ventured down to the area, and discovered the small pond was almost completely-full of frogspawn. As it was a hot summer (weren’t they all?) it was evident that in a short period they would die from lack of water, so we decided to rescue them by transporting the jelly-masses by bucket-load and tipping them into the larger pond.

This proved to take several days for two young boys to achieve. Parents or grand-parents could not be advised of the project because of the prohibition on approaching the steep sides of the clay-pit, so we had to provide a number of plausible un-truths as to what we were doing each day!

Suffice to say, the project was completed successfully and we may have been responsible for the large number of frogs in the area later that year! Fortunately there were no houses in the immediate vicinity, and we were able to inform parents and grand-parents of the project. We felt good,about it (I think justifiably!), and had something to write in the inevitable essay which had to be prepared on our return to school..

….needless to say, the whole area is now covered  with houses and the incident forgotten, but it still remains fresh in the mind of a boy who never really grew up….

…almost there!

After many years of suggesting, a year of cajoling, and quite a few months in the planning, Lady of the House has got us booked on a trip to Canada. We have travelled life together for over forty years, and are now about to embark on some rather long physical journeys together.

The west coast is our destination, with Banff, Calgary, Jasper, Kamloops, and Vancouver all to be visited and stayed-in,  and arrived-at by coach or train.  After all this bottom-numbing travelling, and packing/unpacking, it will be lovely to embark at Vancouver on our week-long Alaskan Cruise on the Holland Volendam ship.

The trouble with visiting such a vast country (10 million square kilometers!)   is that we can only see a small (but no doubt, beautiful) part of it. This will leave the Good Lady (and perhaps, even me) wanting to see more, so any Canadian Dollars remaining may well be preserved for later use!

What to pack or leave out from the limited weight allowance will no doubt vary from day to day as the final hours approach, but with her great expertise of these occasions, no doubt Lady will win with her common-sense approach. If we had only had the first week of travelling, then loose/casual would have been the order of the day, but to have our stately cruise with lady’s birthday happening whilst there , means that I have to be prepared to make a sartorial effort!

I get bored whilst sitting in a metal tube, many miles above terre firma, so crosswords/sudoku/light reading/film-viewing/snoozing/eating will need to be used to fill-in the hours. However, what I have read in the travel guides, and seen on Google Street about our various destinations lead me to believe that there are many wonderful experiences and sights to be witnessed on this ‘semi-retired’ treat to ourselves. ….bring it on!

And just think, there must be couples in Canada looking forward to coming to Scotland with the same anticipation!

If only……………

 

 

question mark

I’ve kept a detailed diary for over fifty years, in an attempt to preserve a record in the life of an ‘ordinary person’. It has proved invaluable in settling many arguments about where or when an event occurred in our lives, often giving us a surprise as memory detail fades with time.

Unfortunately, I know of no such diaries kept by my grandparents, on either side. This leaves me with an amazing lack of information about my forebears. I had obviously many, many chances to ask questions, but never did. Such questions would not have been about great philosophical ideas or earth-shattering revelations, simple day-to-day enquiries about their life.

  • Their parents were farmers, and lived in the country, so how did they get to school?
  • What games did they play?
  • What toys did they have?
  • What was their favourite food?
  • What did they do for holidays?
  • Did they have to wear hand-me-downs?
  • How well did they do at school?
  • How did they meet their eventual spouse?
  • What was their wedding like?
  • How could they afford the relatively-large families?
  • Did they read a lot?
  • How did they get to a doctor…and how could they afford it?
  • How did they keep warm without central heating and double glazing?

………….Just a few of the questions which shall be forever un-answered. None is of great importance, but put together and with a bit of imagination we might be able to piece together ‘a day in the life of’ for people just over 100 years ago.

Are there any questions you wish you had asked your parents or grandparents…but never did?

And do your children ask you questions about your youth?

Remember, remember…..

Recently, we have had the local noises of fireworks, as people, for some strange reason, let off excessive numbers of fireworks. Is it to ward-off evil spirits, or just some kind of ‘last-fling’ at the end of Spring?  Why should we want to remember the Fifth of November, anyway?

This morning, at the Cathedral, we remembered the fallen, in a very gentle way, with no blazing trumpets, but a simple selection of hymns, Peter Maxwell-Davies’ moving ‘Farewell to Stromness’ played on the piano, and Frikki Walker’s ‘Prayer for Peace’.

This afternoon, with the foul weather, we started to clear out some old photographs. No easy task! We thought we would get rid of a lot, but it feels rather uncomfortable to destroy images of ones we knew, and maybe even more so, those we didn’t know, as they were before our time. So we compromise by getting some destroyed, some scanned-into the computer, and others to be sent-off to relations who might not have copies, and would welcome them, and even more to be passed on to the Glasgow’s People Palace. This is because the Lady’s forebears were famous in the Glasgow East-End Ministry, and were great supporters of the working people of the area. 

And so we have had a period of recalling those who at various times have passed-on. And what memories will we leave behind, and how will people sum-up our attitude to life and others (as they will)? Happy, pleasant, annoying, snobby, short-tempered, truthful, reliable, patient?

So it behoves us to remember this whenever we interact with someone we love, or someone we have just met for the first time…because we are laying down how we will be remembered long after we are gone. How would you like to be remembered? …..maybe I will just go down as a long-winder old blogger!!