Belfast Telegraph

Tractor still exerts powerful pull on Co Tyrone farming clan after 50 years

Moy farmer Ben McFarland, who turns 93 soon, paid £865 for the tractor in 1969 and since then it has served the family very well
Moy farmer Ben McFarland, who turns 93 soon, paid £865 for the tractor in 1969 and since then it has served the family very well
Ben, Eric, Gary and Lewis have all been in the driving seat over the period, with the primary school pupil the latest to take his turn and carry on the tradition
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

A Co Tyrone family who have passed a tractor through four generations have been celebrating the 50th birthday of their treasured piece of machinery.

Half-a-century ago Moy man Ben McFarland, who turns 93 next month, made his way to David Brown Tractors in Dungannon's Ann Street and paid the princely sum of £865 for the vehicle to use on the family farm.

He chose wisely, doing the deal with Charlie Taylor, manager at the time, to bring home the David Brown Selectamatic 880 machine - and the rest is history.

The 880 had no power steering and no cab to shield the driver from the worst of the weather, but Ben's son Eric, now 63, remembers coming home from school and finding the magical new machine sitting in the farmyard.

From that day it became part of the family.

"March 27, 1969 was the day she came home," Eric recalled, the date rolling off his tongue.

"And looking back now, you could say it was money well spent. She's never let us down.

"I remember it had a bright red seat and one extra bonus - a foot throttle.

"The 880 was a competitor for the Massey Ferguson 135 at the time, but you needed to be from Co Armagh to be able to drive a Massey!"

In its 50-year career, hardly a day has gone by when the engine hasn't been turned and the 880 put to work.

"She's been out there every day, come summer or winter, and never let us down," Eric added.

"In the tractor's early days it was used for cutting silage with a 43-inch mounted forage harvester, but most of its working life has been spent buckraking in silage and scraping out cattle yards, while also picking the odd potato or two.

"The purchase of a shear grab many years later allowed us to cut the silage into blocks at the silo face and the 880 transports the blocks with a small link box to the cattle with no danger of sharp edges or spillage."

In all the years of hard work, the tractor has never been far from the family farm, just a mile outside the picturesque village.

Eric added: "The odd run into town and back is as far as she's got, but she's still a working tractor.

"I'm not sure who'll be retiring first; me, my dad or the tractor, but I think the tractor might outlast us all."

In its lifetime it has travelled the equivalent of 1,000 marathons - some 26,000 miles - on its journey to and from work.

"That's roughly what she's done just getting to her workplace and back," said Eric.

"The cattle yards and the silage are only a short distance by field, but we've been travelling by road twice daily over the last 50 years.

"My father did a lot of the driving in the early days, before I took over. I'm sure he'd still be behind the wheel, but it's difficult for him to get up into the cab these days. One of my four sons Gary (35) took over and learnt to drive her when he was nine years old."

Now Eric's grandson Lewis, aged seven and a pupil at Moy Primary School, is graduating to the driver's seat (on private land).

"That's four generations of McFarlands, not a bad record for a single machine," added Eric.

"We've obviously made a few mechanical tweaks over the years, but the original clutch and life pump remain in full working order. She pretty much looks like she did the day she came home.

"The engine was done up a few years ago and that should keep her running for some time to some.

"It's in God's hands how much time she has left, but we're sure there's still a few miles left in the tank.

"She's not ready for retirement quite yet, so we'll be keeping her going as long as she's fit and able.

"I can tell you one thing, if I was going as well as she is, I'd be a very happy man!"

Eric's wife Margaret joked that her husband had been married to the machine longer than her. "I've been in the family 43 years, but that wee tractor beats me by a few," she said.

"She's a real workhorse. Eric's as proud as punch at the way she has lasted over the years."

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