Red Cliffs Big Lizzie

Vintage Tractor Festival

Big Lizzie

Big Lizzie at Barclay Square Red Cliffs. A Land Rover is parked alongside to show relative size.

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P.O. Box 284 Red Cliffs, Victoria 3496 Australia

Red Cliffs is a small, friendly country town with lots of sunshine and a laid-back country atmosphere, nestled amidst acres of irrigated vineyards, oranges, avocados, almonds, asparagus, and other horticulture in the northwest of the State of Victoria, Australia. It was founded after World War I as a soldier settlement area, the first-allocation of blocks taking place in 1921. The early settlers gave their hearts and souls to the district with a courage and determination that laid the foundation upon which modern Red Cliffs is founded. And throughout the century, agricultural machinery has played an important part in the lives of the local horticulturists. It was inevitable that the tractor became the modem symbol of farm mechanisation.

The first internal combustion powered tractors arrived in Australia at the start of the 20th century. They were crude, but they heralded a new age and revolutionized farming practices. Within two decades tractors from North America and Europe flooded into the country, and Australia also established an indigenous tractor industry with highly comparable machines. However, the early tractors were noisy, cantankerous and uncomfortable.

Today one can find a wealth of old tractors of all sorts in Australia that are highly coveted by overseas collectors. They are scattered on farms in various degrees of decay and have been collected together in museums all around the country. Dedicated fanatics who have collected and restored tractors delight in displaying their machines at the number of tractor and vintage machinery rallies that are held all over Australia.

The McDonald engineering business in Victoria commenced in 1903, when brothers Alfred Henry and Ernest John McDonald set up a workshop in Melbourne which they registered under the business name of A.H. McDonald & Co. In 1908 they launched the first Australian tractor, known as the McDonald Model EA, followed by Model EAA. It possessed only one gear with a forward speed of 2.25 m.p.h. And it is the McDonald connection with 'Big Lizzie' that is of interest to Red Cliffs.

Big Lizzie is probably one of the physically-largest tractors ever built in Australia, a most remarkable lady, who today resides in Barclay Square, Red Cliffs. She was the brain-child of Frank Bottrill, who utilised all his inventive ingenuity and perseverance to turn out a remarkable mechanical monster that laid its own track as it went along. In 1915, he began to construct the frame and assembled the tractor himself at a yard rented near the A.H. McDonald & Co. works in Melbourne. Gears and other machine components were supplied by the McDonald Company.

She was a 34 foot long, 11 foot wide, 45 ton tractor, powered by a 60 HP Blackstone single cylinder crude oil engine. Big Lizzie was equipped with the Dreadnought Wheel, patented in 1906, which was considered superior to a similar concept, the Boydell wheel used in England. The diameter of the flywheel was seven feet, and the drive wheels were 4 feet in diameter. Destined for work in the wool industry at Broken Hill, she drew two wagons some thirty-two feet long, built to carry 35 tons each. Three thousand gallons of fuel and 300 gallons of water were housed in tanks, both on the engine and wagon. The oil cost approximately four pence per gallon then. Lizzie sported several gears, four forward and two reverse, and her forward speed reached the great maximum of two miles per hour.

By 1915 the machine was ready to travel. She contained the family home as she set out on the long trek to Broken Hill, approximately five hundred and sixty-five miles away. As the great monster lumbered from her backyard in Richmond, she presented a remarkable picture to the startled inhabitants of Melbourne. With queenly dignity she passed through the city streets, half tank, half house, complete with children, chooks and a cow, trailing a convoy of wagons behind her, the like of which had never been seen before. At Kerang, Bottrill was offered a remuneration haulage contract which he gladly accepted, and it was a further six months before he was on his way again. During the epic 21 months journey, she encountered many problems and setbacks, and when she finally reached Ouyen, Bottrill was advised by two very authoritative railway workers that there was no way in the world that such a heavy engine would make her way through the very heavy sandhills of Hattah, and if he wished to reach Mildura he would need to take another route. However, he had every confidence in his magnificent machine, and would not admit to the possibility of Big Lizzie even faltering through the sand hills, let alone being unable to conquer them.

His confidence in the machine was fully justified, and Big Lizzie sailed triumphantly across the 'Big Sister' sand hills at Hattah, but the severity of the test was shown by the marks gouged in the sand by the huge engine and were still to be seen there years later.

At Mildura, she met the worst setback she had encountereda Murray River floodand she was forced to remain on the Victorian side of the river. She obtained work carrying wheat from the surrounding wheat farms. The largest load she carried at one time was 899 bags of wheat in Merbein, and she used up to four gallons per mile of crude oil with a full load up. At the end of World War I she obtained a contract clearing land for the Soldier Settlement at Bird-woodton, and then moved on to the Red Cliffs Settlement where she did the bulk of her work. In 1924 Big Lizzie set off for Glendenning Station in Victoria's western district where she was actively engaged in work until 1929. For years she rusted away under a huge red gum on the property until the Red Cliffs Jubilee committee in 1971 approached the owners with a view to bringing her back to Red Cliffs. A deal was clinched, and she was transported back to Red Cliffs on a low loader. She is once again a resplendent queen, that remarkable lady having been restored almost to her former glory. Minus her house and trailing only one wagon, back in the district where she belongs, she holds audience with tourists under the shade of a jacaranda tree. So what more appropriate name to call a Red Cliffs Tractor Festival than Big Lizzie.

The Red Cliffs Big Lizzie Vintage Tractor Festival is to be held at Red Cliffs (near Mildura) Victoria, as a follow-on from the spectacular 'Flood of FergiesRed Cliffs to Wentworth' held in 1996. In that year, 50 years of the Ferguson tractor was celebrated all around the world, and we were delighted to take part as the Australian connection in those celebrations. The Ferguson TE20 tractor was highly popular in the irrigation district of Sunraysia because of its versatility, reliability and great manoeuvrability in confined spaces and was ideally suited to vine and citrus growing. In 1956 it was the right machine at the right time. The revolutionary Ferguson three-point linkage system increased efficiency to such an extent that the original Fergies are still being used fifty years on. The Ferguson system was based on its adaptability to the horticultural industry. After World War II, thousands of the little gray Fergies were sold in Australia. Over a period of 10 years, the local Ferguson dealer, the late Syd Mills, sold more Fergies than any other dealer in Australia. At the sales peak, he officially sold 976 tractors from the Victorian dealers as well as hundreds more that he acquired from South Australia and New South Wales. It was the most important icon on the Sunraysia agricultural scene.

During the 1956 flood it was the little grey Fergie, because of its adaptability, that was used on top of the levee banks, where it brought in scooploads of fill and padded down the banks at the same time. In 1957 a monument to the little grey Fergie was erected at the town of Wentworth. It is a cast miniature of the Fergie standing on a rock cairn. A plaque carries the story of how Wentworth was saved by scores of tractors working day and night on the levee banks encircling the town. It is the only monument to a tractor in the world.

In 1997 the Promotions Committee placed a Tourism submission ('Flood of Fergies') in the Ansett Victorian Tourism Awards, and another in the Inaugural Mildura 1997 Tourism Awards. It was named a finalist in the Ansett Victorian Tourism Awards (Significant Regional Festival or Event), and won its section in the Mildura Tourism Awards.

So building on the Flood of Fergies event, the Committee intends to utilise Big Lizzie, which is known throughout the tractor world. In planning a vintage tractor event, the Committee reflects the cultural importance played by the tractor in both horticultural and dry land farming in the region.

The Festival will run from Friday September 4, to Sunday September 6, 1998. The three-day tractor event involves vintage tractors of all makes incorporating 'Fun with Fergies,' a swap meet (vintage tractor and Land Rover parts only), and in cooperation with the Dareton Tractor Pull, the National Bulldog Championships. The Festival is open to all makes and types of tractors prior to 1959, and those entering the National Bulldog Championships are limited up to and including 1955. Organisers are also looking for the oldest tractor (any make) in Australia to take part. In the National Bulldog Championships, classes for the tractor pull are based on horsepower for all Bulldogs produced until 1955. Later models of Bulldogs, though they cannot enter in the National Bulldog Championships, are eligible to enter in the Open pull against other makes of tractors.

We have a particular interest in the KL Bulldog, which was built in Australia. During World War II the Lanz Mannheim Works in Germany was destroyed. After the war, Kelly &. Lewis established a separate division, KL Tractors Ltd. at Springvale, Victoria, to produce the KL Bulldog tractor, in spite of the fact they had no agreement with Lanz to manufacture the tractors. There were many delays, and production did not commence until late 1949. Because it was thought that farmers would not like to own the first tractors out of the factory, the first KL Bulldog was given the serial number of 1001. A committee member of the Red Cliffs Big Lizzie Vintage Tractor Festival is the proud part-owner of 1002. This was picked up at a sale on a mallee farm some years ago, and it took part in the 'Flood of Fergies' 70 odd kilometre trip from Red Cliffs to Wentworth. I am not sure what state the driver was in at the end of it! Kelly & Lewis wound down production of the KL's about 1954. In all, around 900 were produced, of which only 600 are believed to be in Australia today.

We are also celebrating 50 Golden Years of Land Rover in Australia, with events included specifically for Land Rovers. There are approximately about 800-1000 Land Rovers in Australia, and it is hoped that many will find their way to Red Cliffs in September. As well as an old-fashioned road trial, events will include obstacle courses, precision driving, trailer backing, tilt board and agricultural work.

Our aim is to break the record for the largest number of Ferguson vintage tractors together at one time in the Guiness Book of Records, and to create an Australian record for the largest number of vintage tractors (all makes) together at one site.

On Thursday, September 3, a Briefing Dinner will be held at the Red Cliffs Football Club Rooms, plus a video showing of Flood of Fergies.

Friday, tractors depart on a tractor trek through river country to Lindemans Winery, a meander through horticultural properties containing wine grapes, oranges, persimmons, almonds and asparagus to Thompson's Lake for lunch. After lunch, tractors travel through wheat country to a private pad dock of approximately 300-400 acres, where they will remain overnight. Whilst the tractors are taking their leisurely trek through a variety of country, the Land Rovers will be participating in an old fashioned road trial. A river cruise on the PV Rothbury for families and friends of the drivers will also leave the Red Cliffs mid-morning and head upstream, the first time a pleasure cruise has operated in this direction.

Saturday and Sunday include a tractor pull, ploughing, tilt board, novelty events, a grand parade, National Bulldog Championships, 'Fun With Fergies', a hot air balloon display, horse drawn vehicle rides, and several exciting and unique tractor events. Simultaneously, specific Land Rover events will take place. A variety of mouth-watering food stalls, plus arts and craft stalls, plant and souvenir stalls will tempt the visitor. On Saturday evening, a Bush and Folk Music Concert will be held on site.

The Red Cliffs Big Lizzie Tractor Festival invites visitors from all over to join us and partake in good old-fashioned Australian country hospitality. We welcome you to Red Cliffs and guarantee that you will have a fantastic three days with us. Help make this the greatest tractor event in Australia!!