Wareham & Purbeck YFC & Vintage Ploughing Match, 5 Oct 2013
Full article from edition 6 including previously unpublished photographs of tractors and their owners.
By Geoffrey Stubbs
Images by Mike Gale
Each October as autumn begins to rust the leaves and the air becomes crisp, a small patch of Purbeck echoes to the tappety-slap and jangle of a couple of dozen diesel engines. To a certain kind of rural sensitivity, the roar of tractors and the smell of grease is pure pastoral heaven. Some prefer the livestock aspect of farming but this type likes nothing better than lying under trucks and tractors wielding spanners and welding units, or driving around fields in ever-decreasing circles. If that’s you, read this.
The Wareham & Purbeck YFC & Vintage Ploughing Match is part of British National Ploughing Championship organised by The Society of Ploughmen. The English language is yet to generate a collective noun for both sexes but we believe the society also welcomes ‘ploughwomen’. Annual events are held in each of the English counties and Wales and Scotland, culminating in a national competition which decides who will represent GB in the European dig, hosted by the European Ploughing Federation. And you thought it was just a bit of fun the fields.
So what’s the point? Inspecting the elements, we observe two primary motivations; firstly, a desire to preserve and venerate practical stewardship of the land through skills-based competition encouraging awareness of the role of people in agriculture, i.e. farmers. Secondly? Showing-off.
Here is that peculiar relationship between man and machine writ large. The paintwork may be polished to the same loving attention to detail lavished upon supercars but unlike the owners of the latter, you can be sure most will know every cog, split-pin and sprocket on their tractors. These are old-fashioned agriculturalists; they will drop a gearbox in the field, pull it apart, change the clutch-plate and slot it back together just for fun (you can tell how much they’re having by the level of jovial cursing accompanying the exercise). But spectators won’t see (or hear) much of that at the competition – every machine is purring and growling just as nature intended by the time it comes to match date.
With all this attention to appearances, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this is not beauty contest. The judges are not looking at the paintwork – it’s the furrows that count, which is why a modern-day CASE can compete against a little old Massey Ferguson. The ten categories may be roughly segregated into three broad sections determined by age: open, vintage and classic. You’re ‘classic’ if manufactured before 1976 and ‘vintage’ prior to 1959, ‘open’ at any age. Further combinations are reached with stipulations as to the number of furrows used, the type of plough (be it conventional or ‘reversible’) and whether hydraulic rams may be attached. We’ll be going into more detail about this in another edition, so stay tuned.
The tractor, or ‘Tra’hrr’ as they are sometimes colloquially referred to in these parts, may have replaced horse and oxen behind the plough but the farmers remain the same; there are good and bad, those who mistreat their beasts of burden and those who cherish them. The latter type have always gotten the best from their charges, be they flesh and bone or metal and rubber, and this is an important value to impart to young farmers. The term ‘pride in workmanship’ encompasses upkeep and maintenance of tools and it’s at competitive events such as these we see that maxim at work.