Marks The Centennial Of The Tractor

Big Eagle

Under the big Eagle, Helen Case Brigham chats with Bill Skinner who has handled much publicity and performed important work promoting New Zealand's '100 Years of the Tractor'.

Content Tools

Editor Vintage Farming Magazine, 78 Oxford Street Ashburton, New Zealand

1989 is the year of the tractor in New Zealand, and to prove it, committees throughout the country are staging some of the biggest shows ever seen there.

It all began about four years ago when the local vintage farm machinery magazine, Vintage Farming, published a small note saying that, according to most books on the subject, it would be one hundred years in 1989 since the first machine to fit today's definition of a tractor was built.

The fact that this machine was built in America, and not in New Zealand, didn't seem to matter at all. Clubs and committees throughout the country were soon hard at work planning for some really special shows, or rallys as they are called here.

The New Zealand economy has depended heavily on farming ever since the country was first settled about 150 years ago. Without the invention of the tractor, the country's agricultural industry would not have been able to keep pace with the demands made on it.

This was probably the major reason why so many people throughout the country put so much effort into planning for the centennial.

At the time of writing (early May) six rallies have been held, with the theme of the tractor centennial. About four more are to be held throughout the remainder of the year.

Of the first six, three, all held in New Zealand's South Island, have brought together some of the largest collections of tractors even seen on one site.

The first of these was held at Gore, a farming town at the south of the South Island, on February 25 and 26. The display consisted of 405 tractors of all ages, sizes and many makes. The oldest was a 1916 IHC Mogul (serial number SB 13650) owned by M. H. Rodger. The newest was a 1989 215 HP John Deere.

The rally began on the Friday night with a street parade of 286 tractors through the streets of the town. This really woke the local people up as to what was to take place in their town over the next two days.

While the main focus of the event was on tractors, other vintage machinery was not forgotten. There were well over 100 stationary engines, many driving pumps, saws etc. There were traction engines, vintage implements, several horse teams, and a bullock team.

Events held included chaff cutting and threshing displays, and slow races for tractors throughout the weekend.

New Zealand has never had a tractor manufacturing industry, and as a result, many makes of tractors have been imported from many countries. There were 47 makes represented at the Gore Rally, among them Lanz, Hanomag, M.A.N. and Mercedes Benz from Germany; McDonald Imperial and Howard from Australia; Munktells from Sweden; Renault from France; David Brown, Field Marshall and Leyland from Britain as well as many John Deere, Case, Allis Chalmers, International Harvester and other American makes.

Three weeks later, the second of the large tractor centennial rallies was held at Christchurch, 320 miles north of Gore, and the South Island's largest city.

This rally also drew more than 400 tractors of all ages. The rally was organised by The Case and Vintage Farm Machinery Club, which was also celebrating its 21st anniversary the same weekend. (The Gore Rally was organised by a committee representing six vintage machinery clubs from the surrounding area.)

Once again, a wide range of makes and countries of manufacture were represented. Putting in an appearance was one of the very few New Zealand built tractors, an Andrews and Bea-van, powered by a single cylinder Blackstone engine. This tractor is equipped with very heavy wooden wheels. Another rare make was a four wheel drive Fitch, built in 1926. A rare sight for New Zealand was two Avery tractors together, a 1915 8-16 and a 1918 Atom.

As well as the usual makes on display, other rarer makes were Sift, R&P (an unusual American tractor with flat steel pads fitted to the rear wheels), Sheppard, Austin, Samson Sieve Grip, Newman and Holder.

As with all the rallies, a Grand Parade was held each afternoon when most of the tractors entered the ring and paraded in front of the huge crowd; a really amazing sight.

There was a full programme of events such as trailer backing and tractor balancing.

One week after the Christchurch Rally another huge event was staged at Winchester, a small farming community some 85 miles south of Christchurch. This was a three day event, organised by a committee representing seven clubs from the surrounding region. It differed from the other two events in two ways: tractors on display were mainly vintage machines from before 1954, although there were about 10 rare machines from after that date; and there was a ploughing competition held for vintage tractors and ploughs. This was in two sections, beginners and experienced, and attracted 49 entries.

With about 420 tractors from before 1954 on display, this must count as one of the largest collections of vintage tractors the country has seen.

There was a pulling sledge in operation, and a dynamometer for tractors fitted with power take offs. In addition, a horsepower tester for testing the power delivered from the belt pulley was in operation. This machine was built locally in the 1930's to test the power of the German built Lanz Bulldog tractors. It uses a variable pitch propellor, driven through a gearbox. It made a very interesting display.

Special visitors were about 26 tractors from the Nelson region, 350 miles to the north, which had driven all the way, calling at the Christ-church Rally the previous week. Their trip had taken three years planning, and went almost without a hitch.

Tractor balancing was an interesting event. Many tractors tried this, but the most successful was one of the oldest; a 1916 IHC 8-16 Mogul.

Another really big attraction for the crowd was a starting race for Lanz Bulldog and McDonald Imperial tractors. Both these makes have low compression diesel engines. The fuel is ignited by being sprayed onto a hot surface, but this surface must be first heated with a blow torch before the tractor can be started. They are both single cylinder tractors, and neither is fitted with a self starter. The Lanz is started by removing the steering wheel and fitting it into the crankshaft, to turn the engine over.

The tractors were lined up and stopped some hours before the event to allow them to cool. The drivers then lined up, raced to their tractors, lit their blow torches, and heated the tractors up. When started, they had to back them to a line, then return to the start line. In their hurry, several drivers tried to start them too cold and flooded them. A really fascinating event.

In common with all these rallies, there were rows of stalls selling all manner of crafts, souvenirs and books. Each rally produced a souvenir metal hat badge which sold very well, and the Winchester committee also produced a stainless steel wall plaque featuring what is reputed to be the world's first tractor, the Charter.

An excellent hard cover book, packed with colour photos, on the history of the tractor on New Zealand, was launched at the Winchester Rally. It features contemporary advertising material, early photos of tractors working, newspaper and magazine reports, and many photos of restored tractors. The author's aim was to feature every make of tractor that has been in New Zealand, and he certainly appears to have achieved this, with more than 120 makes being mentioned.

All this activity for the tractor centennial has done a lot to raise the profile of the vintage machinery movement throughout the country. A lot of tractors have been restored specially for it, and a lot more people have become involved with old machinery. Some new clubs have even been formed.

There were a number of overseas guests at all the rallies, including Neale McDonald from Australia, whose father built the McDonald Imperial tractors, and Helen Case Brigham (great-grand daughter of J. I. Case) and her husband from Maryland, USA. They both represented the J. I. Case Heritage Foundation, and appeared to really enjoy the two rallies they attended.

While we are pleased with the success of the tractor centennial rallies in New Zealand, and especially with the benefits they have had for the hobby as a whole, it has been a little disappointing that the theme doesn't appear to have been taken up on a large scale elsewhere in the world. It has been mentioned in some Australian magazines, and also in England, and we have heard of a few tentative plans from the United States, but nothing on a large scale appears to have been organised anywhere but New Zealand.


G.E.M. has received numerous stories about the tractor centennial celebration in New Zealand, and we find we cannot use all of them in their entirety. On the next two pages, you will find photographs in color taken by Philip Wyndham and Michael Hanrahan, which show some very interesting and rare tractors we hope our readers will enjoy seeing. Philip Wyndham, of 1 Parian Place, Rossmoyne, West Australia, 6155 is another reader who sent us a story on the rallies; some curious facts he included in his story follow:

'From records available in New Zealand, they know that there were 136 tractors there before 1919, and 44 of these tractors have survived.'

Arthur P. 'Brig' and Helen Case Brigham also sent us a story about the rallies which they enjoyed and documented with numerous photos. We regret that we could not use all of this material in its entirety, and we applaud Michael Hanrahan for his suggestion which led to such great efforts on the part of so many New Zealanders!