A living museum was how one person described this working day for members of Mid Devon Tractor Engine and Machinery Group. It was a dry day, even warm, allowing the many tractors that turned up to try their wheels in the field lent by the White family at Guscott’s, near Coleford. One outfit that drew much attention was the White brothers’ reed comber made by Murch of Umberleigh around the time of World War One. Ian and Keith White have owned the reed comber since 1971 after its previous owner retired, used it quite a lot but it is not often seen in public these days.
Keith, who lives near Sandford, is chairman of MDTEMG. His brother lives near Guscotts where his son, Roy, now lives with his family. Most years they grow the specially long wheat for thatching, using their reed comber to prepare the reed for the thatcher. This is becoming increasingly important with a need for the “proper” thatch material for listed properties. With the reed comber, the brothers were using a 1938 Clayton thresher.
Another outfit getting lots of attention was the Saunderson tractor pulling a Davey Sleep plough. The Saunderson Model G is owned by Geoff Parfitt of Bratton Clovelly, last used in 1952 and only seen in public twice since then. This tractor was bought in 1918 from Messrs Glass and Co, agricultural engineers of Tavistock, by a group of farmers from the Whitchurch area near Tavistock. Around 1940 Mr Cyril Heyward of Liddaton near Brentor bought it to replace a steam engine for his agricultural contracting business. He bought three more Saundersons, using them until the early 1950s when it was laid up. Mr Parfitt bought it in 2008 from Mr Heyward, some parts being almost buried.
Geoff, a retired BT engineer, has always been a tractor enthusiast. His grandfather had a Saunderson new after World War One while living in Sussex. Geoff had to get some parts made for it, others he made himself. He also did all the paintwork including the pin-striping. Geoff added that Saunderson tractors were built in Elstow, Bedfordshire, first appearing in 1904. He first showed his restored vehicle at the Tavistock Steam Rally this year. The Davey Sleep plough attracted interest, too. It is a rare machine, not were many made. Geoff said it was a very impractical piece of machinery. It would have been made at the Excelsior Plough Works in Plymouth by Davey, Sleep and Co Limited.
Geoff ’s wife Carol was helping at the gathering; their son David lives near Bow with his wife Nikky. David runs the web site steel-wheels.net for collectors. As someone said, it is so good that this sort of machinery survives while there are still the people around who know how to use it and maintain it.
MDTEMG secretary, Michael Coleman, commented that it had been a good turn out with people turning up with their tractors and machinery, people coming in to see what was happening as well as people driving past stopping and calling in out of curiosity. The day was to raise funds for Devon Air Ambulance Trust. Another such gathering will be held in the spring. Mr Coleman said it always very much depends on the good will of local farmers lending land for which the group is hugely grateful.
It was a day when the different notes of the tractors blended with the conversations, groups of people clustered around a piece of machinery, memories stirred, information shared. The group has about 80 members, meeting on the third Wednesday of the month from September to May at Morchard Bishop Memorial Hall.