Rare exhibits win at Vintage Tractor and Heritage Show

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A tremendous entry of vintage tractors and machinery competed for top honours at the Newark Vintage Tractor and Heritage Show earlier this month, with some rare and wonderful exhibits.

Kevin Watson claimed the oldest tractor in show title, with his 1904 Sharp Auto Mower – the oldest tractor in the UK and possibly in the world. “When it was built, everyone was still making big steam engines, cumbersome things for heavy work,” explains Kevin. “Wilfred Sharp wanted a tractor to do small jobs on the farm, to replace one horse rather than replacing 10 horses. He built this one as a prototype, and amongst the die-hard tractor enthusiasts it’s always been a myth about whether it survives or not.”

Wilfred Sharp sold the tractor to Power Farming magazine, which toured England with it in the 1950s, but it’s been in private hands since. “I’ve known about it for 15-20 years, and it took me five years to buy it as the previous owner didn’t want to sell it,” says Kevin. The Humber engine is running, and he plans to take it to the odd working event. “It’s a very historic, important tractor, and winning this award just topped the weekend off.”

Taking the best exhibit owned by a person under 30 was 27-year-old Ben Knowles, with his 1955 David Brown Taskmaster. “I’ve always been into tractors; engineering runs in the family and exhibiting opens your horizons. I’ve been doing it for 10 years, and there’s always a good social, fun element.” Ben is only the third owner of this tractor, and there are just four of this model in existence. “I haven’t done much to it; every scratch and dent tells a story and I prefer to keep them original. It’s got a bench seat so my wife and I go out on road runs – it does 40mph but handles really badly!”

Ben also has a couple of Fordsons, a David Brown 990 and a 780 at home, and stewards at local tractor shows. “I was shocked to win – I wasn’t expecting it at all and it means a lot; I had to shield during Covid so I haven’t been out a lot – it was quite overwhelming.”

In the commercial vehicle classes, it was Andrew Ibbotson’s 1944 Bedford OWLB which won the best pre-1950 British class. Exhibited by Alex Smith, who stores it for Andrew, the Bedford is mid-restoration as a coal truck. “Andrew’s grandad Harry was a coal merchant and he used to go on rounds with him,” says Alex, who was also exhibiting a Fordson tractor at the show. “I’ve got 27 tractors altogether in various states, and military vehicles and cars as well – I’m trying to save them from the scrapman. If we don’t preserve these vehicles, they’ll be lost forever.”

 Historic exhibits

Other stand-out exhibits at the show included a wide range of Rustons stationary engines, many of which were originally used to run water pumps or to automate farm work, in full working condition, steaming away on the showground.

Inside, a huge demonstration of remote-controlled tractors and vehicles made for compelling viewing (and a successful marriage proposal for one show exhibitor).

On the quirky side was a water-tight Fordson Major developed by Mike Bigland of TVR sportscars to launch and recover boats for the RNLI. A fleet of 30 of these extraordinary amphibious machines were built from 1975 onwards, and are still in service today, including with the Ministry of Defence.

A stunning 1949 Massey Harris 722, believed to be the oldest working British built self-propelled combine, attracted a lot of interest. Having spent its entire working life at Hill Farm, Fakenham, Norfolk, it was restored by a small team of enthusiasts including the current owner, Scott Bunting. Of the 395 machines made, there are only three or four surviving today.

Another popular display was a self-propelled S.P. Minor Jones baler, introduced in 1954 at a sale price of £1,125 and driven from the Jones factory to the new customer 15 miles away in north Wales. Only six to eight of these machines were built, and this exhibit is believed to be the only one to survive.

Massive auction

With so many enthusiasts in one place, it’s hardly surprising that there was strong demand for Saturday’s auction (4 November), with 500 lots going under the hammer. “It was a great entry – 100 more lots than last year and possibly a record,” says auctioneer George Watchorn, divisional partner at Brown & Co. Attendance was also excellent, with 500 buyers registered despite the wet weather. “Everything sold very well – trade was really swift,” he adds.

Highlights of the auction included a fully restored 1962 Fordson Super Major, which sold for £5,000, while a restored 1962 Fordson Super Dexter commanded £4,800. A 1972 John Deere 2120, with 9,100 hours on the clock, made £5,750.

Smaller implements and spare parts were similarly in demand. “We had two match ploughs which sold well; a Ransoms TS59 two-furrow went for £880 while a Kverneland three-furrow made £700.”

 About the show

The Newark Vintage Tractor & Heritage Show is organised by the Newark and Nottinghamshire Agricultural Society and supported by the Nottinghamshire branch of the National Vintage Tractor and Engine Club (NVTEC). The Newark and Nottinghamshire Agricultural Society is a charity whose main objective it to promote and champion agriculture throughout Nottinghamshire and the East Midlands region.

Contact for further information

Elizabeth Halsall

Events and Development Manager

Newark and Nottinghamshire Agricultural Society

Organiser of Newark Vintage Tractor and Heritage Show

T: 01636 705 796 E: [email protected]