Fordson project reaches maturity

Published: 04:15PM Jan 10th, 2012
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In a small village a few miles from Wooler in Northumberland, Alan Barnes indulges in three of his great passions, cheese, ice cream and classic tractors like this 1939 Fordson Standard N.

Fordson project reaches maturity

The Maxwell family have farmed at North Doddington since the 1940s and their dairy herd provides the ‘raw material’ for their excellent ice cream and cheeses. The farm nestles in the picturesque Glendale Valley at the bottom of the Cheviots and is one of the few dairy farms now left in Northumberland.

Complete

My visits to this area of Northumberland would not be complete without dropping into Doddington to enjoy a tub of their excellent ice cream. Perhaps a ‘Double Ginger’ some ‘Heather Honey’ or the rather superb ‘Newcastle Brown Ale’ or the rich ‘Alnwick Rum Truffle’ or one of the seasonal treats such as ‘Yuletide Pudding’ which is available at Christmas.

The range of award winning cheeses is also outstanding with an increasing amount now being exported to countries all over the world. So duly stuffed with ice cream and cheese I am then primed for a wander around the farm to see what has been going on since my last visit. I should mention that the farm is not open to the public and it is only thanks to the kind hospitality of the Maxwell family that I am able to visit the private areas of the dairy.

As well as the dairy herd which is managed by Robert Maxwell there are also sheep on the farm and some of the valley acreage is given over to cereal production. This makes North Doddington one of the last traditional Northumbrian mixed farms and one which still remains very much a family run business. The aim to produce high quality products has earned the family a deservedly high reputation in the industry.

During my last visit I was able to spend some time with the head of the family, Malcolm Maxwell, and hear about his recent tractor restorations. While farming may be the family business Malcolm’s hobby of rebuilding classic tractors now occupies much of his spare time. He left school in 1938 and worked with his father and brother on their farm near Lockerbie in Dumfriesshire. It was here that tractors and in particular the early Fordson tractors certainly got into Malcolm’s blood.

His father had bought a steel wheeled Fordson F in 1923 and this remained in use on the farm until the mid 1930s when it was replaced by a brand new Fordson Standard N which was bought in 1937. This was one of the wide wing versions of the tractor which were being produced during the years leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War and was painted in the dark blue Fordson livery.

That early exposure to the Fordson Standard probably accounts for Malcolm’s continued enthusiasm for the model and why he now has five restored examples in his classic collection. That is not quite accurate as although there are certainly five of the tractors on the farm only four have been fully restored with the fifth still waiting for attention.

Favourite

While this particular tractor dates from 1940 and although the machine was built during the war it still featured the wide wings of the prewar model. The narrow wing version was certainly in production by then and it seems likely that any factory stocks of the wide wings were being used up. Work on this restoration has already begun and although there is a considerable amount of work still to be completed there is a chance that it may be finished by the end of the year. When completed the Standard will be finished in its original wartime green livery.

While the Fordson may be a particular favourite, other makes do get a look in and Malcolm has recently completed the restoration of a rather nice Grey Ferguson which has now joined his collection of completed tractors. Since the Fergie has been finished he will now be able to concentrate on rebuilding the remaining Fordson Standard.

Last year saw the completion of the restoration work on his 1939 Standard N a tractor which he had bought some 20 years ago while on a visit to Yorkshire and spotted the old rusty Fordson parked at the side of the road. It must be said that this tractor was not in the best of condition and was very badly rusted but it was an early model with steel wheels and Malcolm was tempted to enquire if it was for sale. The owner was not willing to part with that tractor but he showed Malcolm another Fordson, the Standard N, which was parked up behind one of the sheds and had not been visible from the road.

This tractor was in much better condition, it looked to be complete, the engine started up and ran, much of the tinwork appeared to be sound and even the tyres were good. This machine would make a good restoration project and a deal was agreed and the tractor duly came back to North Doddington.

However, a further inspection did reveal one problem which had not been noticed previously. The toolbox fitted on the side had masked a crack in the engine block which had been subject to an earlier repair but there still appeared to be some slight leaking.

With Malcolm having a farm and dairy business to run at that time and with some of his other tractor restorations being worked on, it proved to be a little while before the Yorkshire Fordson received any attention. In fact it was almost 20 years later in 2009 that the tractor entered Malcolm’s workshop for the work to begin. It was decided that the cracked block was rather too badly damaged and not worth repairing and having acquired a second engine of the same type at a sale in Harrogate a couple of years previously the old engine was removed and the replacement fitted.

Even after being stored at the farm for such a long time most of the tinwork was still in good condition and any minor rust patches were soon dealt with. However, the rear wings had suffered rather badly with extensive rusting and a good deal of rot so these were removed and discarded and a new set fitted. The footplate had rusted rather badly and this was also replaced. The tractor was stripped down in the workshop but the main body really only required a thorough cleaning, stripping off the old paint and re-priming.

Good condition

Wheels and axles were in excellent condition and the tyres which are thought to be the originals looked good for a few more years. Apart from the engine and the rear mud wings the rest of the tractor is original, even the steel steering wheel has survived in good condition.

Local vintage tractor enthusiast Jimmy Atkinson from Wooler has known Malcolm for many years and has helped out with the restoration work in his spare time and at weekends. As he told me, “Malcolm has the knowledge and I do the lifting” an arrangement which seems to give very satisfactory results. Jimmy has an interesting collection of tractors of his own and these include a Case DC4, an International, a Fordson Major and three Standard Fordsons which will all be fully restored in due course.

While Malcolm, with help from Jimmy, handles most of the mechanical work when rebuilding his tractors the final paintwork is left in the skilled hands of a local painter. The tractor received coats of Fordson orange and the completed tractor made its public debut at a local vintage rally in July 2009. Its bright orange finish makes a nice contrast with the other three completed Standard Ns which are finished in blue. Two of these date from 1937 while the third is slightly earlier having been built in 1936.

Malcolm has more than enough tractor restoration work to keep him rather busy for the foreseeable future, not only is there the fifth Standard N to finish but there is also a 1960s Dexta waiting in the wings which will probably be the next project.

Words & Pictures Alan Barnes

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