Do modern tractor drivers smell the earth?

The scene at Singleton's autumn meet.
The scene at Singleton's autumn meet.

AFTER the harvest, the ploughing. The smell of damp earth, the little shriek of stones on the shiny share (if you were on scalt land), the scent of hot oil and TVO up the spout and the grim silence of the tractor driver huddled for hours against the cold.

My brother with his little grey Ferguson used to get off the tractor and let it trundle up the incline in bottom gear while he did a score of cabby warms to get the blood circulating. The tractor moved at 1.5mph and he often just walked alongside anyway. It was deep ploughing for the sugarbeet crop to come. The usual scene at Singleton’s Autumn Meet these days tries to capture the good old days and my picture here is one I am quite pleased with.

How many tractors can you see? From left to right, a Fordson Major, David Brown (red), three Fergusons behind it, the Fordson Standard closest to the camera, another Ferguson in the distance and finally a Fordson Dexta I think, but I am not too sure about it. It is a classic scene and for me as redolent of past times as is Turner’s painting ‘Steam’, showing the first steam driven passenger engine emerging from its crucible of bright new industrial light 150 years ago. Already this scene is 60 years out of date. Do modern tractor drivers smell the earth? What they probably will not experience very much any more is the wildlife which used to abound on the fields after harvest and even after ploughing.

Forty years ago on Langford Farm at Lavant for instance, I used to see a flock of about one thousand finches whirling in the autumn air above hundreds of acres of stubbles and plough. I used to stop the landrover and sit quietly for a few minutes with the binochulars. Most of the birds were chaffinches. You could easily tell them with their white outer tail feathers and big white shoulder patches of the cock birds.

Always among these would be the bramblings with their speckled heads and forked, black tails. There would be scores of greenfinches too, depite being mainly tree feeders. Goldfinches could number in their hundreds after the thistle seed if any, or groundsel and even shepherd’s purse. Linnets in hundreds would dance with a characteristic bobbing flight. House sparrows and tree sparrows would join the merry throng and yellowhammers could number 200 with a good contingent of corn buntings- the most I saw were 25 of these now rare buntings.

Today you won’t see much on the open autumn fields, though strips for pheasant shooting are helping to make a vital larder for these small flocks of the winter so that is a big help. But on the fields of my boyhood, we would see very large flocks of peewits, dozens of hares and grey partridges and scores of finches on every field.

Yes, they were good old days, that is if you did not have to drive a tractor hour after hour, month after month.

Richard Williamson