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Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Ploughing on



This week's Sepia Saturday prompt shows an old tractor on display at an international agricultural fair in Turkey.  No sepian photos of tractors in my family collection, but I do have a few photos of tractors, both old and more modern models. Our son-in-law John is a dairy analyst, but describes himself as "having been passionate about tractors before he could talk", and in his spare moments he writes a light-hearted, laid-back column entitled 'Grunt' for a monthly paper called Dairy News Australia, all about tractors and various farm equipment that John has acquired for use on his 40 acre property. Click here if you'd like to read one of John's Grunt columns. In this month's edition, he makes the point that he doesn't think much of tractor racing, because tractors are not built for speed, but for the amount of power they can put into the ground to operate ploughing and other kinds of farm machinery. 

The mention of tractor racing reminded me of the related concept of ploughing matches. I'm not certain about the exact criteria taken into account when judging such competitions, but I understand the main things to be looked for are the straightness and neatness of furrows. No point being finished first if you've made a hash of the field! Back before tractors were invented to make things easier, horses did the work, and the following sketch and historical account of a ploughing match describes how a few farmers got together and helped out one of their neighbours, in this case my 3 x great uncle William Cruickshank, by spending the day competitively ploughing three fields on his farm at Monquhitter Aberdeenshire. The names of the judges for each field are given, followed by lists of the winners and placegetters. I see that my 2x great grandfather Adam Cruickshank, brother of William, won his field of 12 ploughmen. Hopefully no favouritism was involved, especially as one of the judges' names was also Cruickshank.  There were a lot of Cruickshank families around the district, not necessarily related. At the end of the day a sumptuous dinner was provided for the participants by William's young wife Jane, and a good time appeared to have been had by all. 

These two Cruickshank brothers and their families were to migrate from Scotland to New Zealand some nine years later in 1863. 


Aberdeen Journal, 1 Feb. 1854, found through the Findmypast web site

When visiting the Southland district of NZ in 2013, 150 years later, we visited William's farm of Rosedale on the outskirts of Invercargill. It is a sheep property and is still run by Peter Cruickshank, a great grandson of William. No doubt there was a tractor or two around somewhere, but my photo only shows this old truck that the sheep looked to have commandeered.

We were also shown the property called Oakdale where Adam originally farmed, near the town of Gore. It is no longer in Cruickshank hands and the homestead that Adam and his sons built doesn't exist any more, but we were allowed to look around, and see old trees along the driveway and behind the homestead that the Cruickshank men had planted. I've shown a painting of Oakdale by Adam's granddaughter Charlotte Petrie in a previous post, and here is an aerial view of the property, taken while still owned by the family.

While there I took this photo of an old piece of equipment that might have been another remnant of that time, with a stand of big old trees in the background.

Later everyone gathered for a 'sumptuous dinner' at the nearby property of Helen, another Cruickshank descendant, and we hadn't even worked for it. Helen and her husband Frank have a beautifully designed garden, a feature of which is this huge piece of old machinery that one of their sons found and parked there permanently. I think it was some kind of harvester, not sure, but it was definitely going nowhere fast!

This next tractor photo comes from a colour slide collection, and my husband Roger is standing on the right in the back row. The photo was taken in about the summer of 1966, when his father Bob had been working in Vienna and took the family to stay with his wife Mary's relatives in Herefordshire for their summer holidays before returning to Australia. While there Roger was able to join  the local scout troop on a working camp across the border in Wales and remembers a very hard day's work collecting hay bales for the farmer. Part of that huge stack looks rather precarious, and several of the boys have bottles in their hands, but surely these scouts weren't drinking beer!  Little did young Roger know that decades later he would occasionally give his son-in-law John a hand collecting and stacking bales.

Here are a couple of shots of said son-in-law John with his pride and joy, a second hand Deutz-Fahr model, having fun enlarging the dam and ploughing a new track around it. 

    Here he's using the post hole attachment to dig holes for a new fence. There are always jobs to be done.

Whatever interest I have in tractors and farm equipment stems from John's connection, which is why I texted him this amusing advertisement that I noticed in a local newspaper in Invercargill on that NZ trip. I think he had taken a few days' leave from his day job at the time and was helping his dairy-farming father with silage, with only the occasional break.

Finally, here's another photo I texted back to John in Australia when my daughters and I were driving in Kent or thereabouts and got stuck behind this little old Massey Ferguson for a short time while it trundled along. Thankfully it wasn't too long before a passing opportunity came up.

John's off to a trade fair called Farm World this coming Saturday, probably checking out a few tractors. Meanwhile I plan to read up on tractors in other Sepia Saturday posts, and you can too at Sepia Saturday 272.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your post and all the photographs – and the comical advert.

  2. 46 ploughs at work competitively must have been quite a sight. Also Mrs. Cruikshank must have been quite a cook and hostess to feed that many people, sumptuously. Great photos. I love that piece of equipment in the garden. Some people are so creative!

  3. Fantastic photos! I love the rusted truck and I am in love with that combine/harvester in the garden. Many people are happy to put a rusted wheelbarrow or hand plow in a garden, but equipment that size takes some bravery, I suppose. If only I had room . . . .

  4. Wonderful post, for a non-farming gal. Thanks for sharing so many great photos. I never heard of a ploughing match, which would have stood to reason as competitive spirits abound.

  5. There are a lot of things worse for racing than tractors--e.g. turtles and beds...

  6. Our local university, Deakin, hosted an international ploughing competition a few years ago and I was astonished at the skills of the competitors. We were interested because several of my husband's ancestors were successful in ploughing competitions here in Victoria in the 1800s and also Devon before they migrated.

  7. I was very surprised to read that you had no sepia tractor photos in your albums. I was the opposite. As my ancestors were primarily farmers, I have an overload of wonderful farming photos but I have shown most of them before so tried to show different pictures this week.

    1. I had some farming ancestors but no photos of them, or none on the farm at least.

  8. I suppose this comment is a little off topic -- of farm equipment, at least -- but I love that white house with its red roof! It looks so cozy and comfortable nestled in near the trees and with all its outbuildings. I also enjoyed the photo of Helen and Frank's garden with the large piece of equipment (which might have become an eyesore in some circumstances). And then the sheep near the old truck. What a dear photograph!

  9. I love the rural shots, particularly the green, green grass.

  10. What a wonderful collection of photos of old derelict machines, a lovely overhead view, and a psychedelic shot of the family & tractor (I wonder why old slides often come out like that in color?) But my favorite is the story of the brothers who decided to help out by having a plowing contest. What a great idea. Made me smile!!!

  11. A terrific medley of photos. I should have liked to see a ploughing contest as much to watch the spectators as the teams. The lonely rusty green machine is a potato digger I believe. Wendy had one on her post this weekend.

  12. Those are some beautiful pictures. My family migrated over from Iceland about 100 years ago and we went back to visit a few yeas ago. I loved it over there. And the insane thing is that we still have family members that are not that distant. We even stayed with them and got to hear lots of old family stories.

    Heidi Sutton @ Ag Source Magazine