‘Why and How I Started the Coldridge Collection’ (Part1) Mike Thorne
Visit the Coldridge Collection in the Ferguson Club Gallery:
(Then scroll down to ‘Coldridge Collection, Devon’)
It was suggested to me by Club Member, John Selley, that I write this article for the Journal. So here we go, but be warned, it may go on a bit!
Well, like most things in life, I did not suddenly decide to start The Coldridge Collection, at Lower Park Farm, Coldridge in Devon. No, of course it had a long gestation period before I actually bought a TED20! So this is the story which will unfold as a series, the tractors, the implements and the buildings they are now displayed in.
A Ford Ferguson and Ferguson Brown displayed at the Coldridge Collection
On leaving school with one GCE in maths in 1954 I started working as a student at Little Stoke Manor, a 1000 acre mixed farm in Oxfordshire. Their range of 11 tractors would sit very well on a rally field today! There were 2 Fordson Standards, 2 American Allis Chalmers Model B, 2 Caterpillar R’s, an International F20 and a 15-30, a Minneapolis Moline Model GT, a new type Fordson Major Diesel and a Ferguson TED20, 6 volt with a Posthole Digger and a Ferguson tipping trailer. I happened to be the main driver of this tractor which suited me very well.
At the end of this year in Oxfordshire my next stage was to attend a one year National Certificate of Agriculture at Oaklands, St. Albans, Hertfordshire. They also ran a Diploma course in Horticulture. Their fleet of tractors included a Field Marshall Series 3, a new type Fordson Major Diesel, an International of some sort, a Ferguson TEF20 with a high lift loader and a David Brown Diesel Cropmaster which was in the throws of being rebuilt in their well-equipped workshop. I found the tuition very much to my liking, working in all the departments of their farm as well as classroom learning in the afternoons. We were treated like adults, but needless to say there were some pranks and, for some reason, I was submerged in a cattle drinking trough! I then had to dry out my clothes as well as some paper money I had in my pockets!
One evening we were given a talk by a representative of Harry Ferguson Ltd, at the end of his talk there was a question time, so some clever dick in the front row (me!) asked him why Ferguson did not make 4 WD tractors to which he replied ‘our tractors have such good traction they do not need it’. Well what do you make of that today!
While I was attending Oaklands my father moved house to rent a farm house at Nicholls Farm, Redbourn, Hertfordshire. It had previously been owned by L.F. Dove Ltd., who had been a Ferguson dealership for that part of Hertfordshire. The only evidence of their ownership I found was a rear axle half shaft and hub!
When I had finished my second year at Oaklands I returned to work at Little Stoke Manor where I spent a further year. Three of us were taken, by the bailiff (in this context he is The Landlord’s Agent!), to The World Ploughing, which that year was held at Shillingford, Oxfordshire between 10th and 12th October 1956. It was on this occasion that I first encountered the recently launched Ferguson FE35 and I took the opportunity to speak with a ploughman who was using one to ask his opinion of the tractor. His response was very positive and provided me with the opportunity to make my own inspection. I gave it ten out of ten and a bronze star!
This second year at Little Stoke I lodged with farm bailiff, David Blomfield and his family and two young teenagers, boys. One of them had been given a 1/16″ scale Airfix model kit of a TE20 which I helped them put together and paint. I wish I had that in the Coldridge Collection today, sadly all I have is just 4 front wheels!
I left Little Stoke for the second time to return to living at Nicholl’s Farm and I found myself a farm job at Organ Hall Farm near Boreham Wood about 12 miles away. This was a rented 120 acre farm run by two brothers, Ron and Joe Salter, mainly based on dairy cattle with about 40 cows housed in traditional cowsheds over the winter period, this was a real working farm. Their tractors were two new type Fordson Major diesels and a rather forlorn Fordson Standard Industrial on small wheels – a real collector’s piece today, this was parked outside in the yard. I worked there for about 3 years and then decided on yet another change, this time working for the Milk Marketing Board (MMB) as a trainee cattle inseminator. Part of my early training was at one of their main centres, in my case Little Horwood, Buckinghamshire. I was able to lodge with the Blomfields as they had moved to a nearby farm, very handy! Part of the early training was handling and looking after the stock bulls, there were about 6 different breeds. By day in Spring, Summer and Autumn the bulls would be taken out, one by one, from the bull sheds (rather like traditional cow stalls but larger and more robust) to be tethered for grazing. This operation was done by passing a looped rope up through the ring in the bull’s nose and then placing the loop around the base of the horns. The long end of the rope was tied to the nine holed rear bar of the farm’s TED20 and then tow the bull slowly out to the field to tether him. I can remember carrying out this procedure with a big mature Hereford bull, Porch Jumbo, with the engine at a brisk tickover, on petrol, he decided to stop and stalled the engine! I restarted and off we went in the most nonchalant manner! I was very glad he did not become aggressive and charge the rear of the TED20!
© Mike Thorne – Journal 101, Summer 2022
‘Why and How I Started the Coldridge Collection’ (Part2) Mike Thorne
After three years of working for the MMB at their Little Kingshill Sub Centre, Bucks, the head inseminator and I decided to form a farming partnership and we bought, with a mortgage, a 120 acre farm Lower Whitsleigh, North Devon. Most of my friends thought I had made a mistake! Anyway, the purchase included a new type Fordson Major diesel with a Cameron Gardener Rear Loda. After a year of dairy farming at Lower Whitsleigh we were offered a private mortgage so we bought Lower Park Farm, Coldridge and 57 acres where I looked after the 40 dairy cows, more or less 6 days a week, on my own. It was with the purchase of Lower Park we became the owners of a TEF20 minus its fuel injection pump, a Ferguson rear mounted mower and a Ferguson fertilizer spreader. I soon found and fitted the correct CAV fuel pump so now we had two tractors. The partnership was terminated in 1967.
Next I found myself a job as a welder for a firm of well respected steel fabricators A.E.Watson of Exeter, who always had some high profile projects underway. Passing their exacting welding test at my interview I was take on at 6 shillings per hour. For me the nine months I spent at Watsons was Iike a condensed apprenticeship in steel fabrication and I took every opportunity when overtime was offered, and there was plenty. After nine months I left feeling I could do better on my own. Well things did work out steadily for me. I was still living in Lower Park’s rather dilapidated farmhouse, rent free until it was sold and I received my share of the money I had put into the partnership. By 1970 my business was quietly established and I was employing a few people. In 1977 I was offered Lower Park and its 57 acres. I thought the asking price was fair but I was unable to raise a mortgage. The owner offered me a mortgage over a three year period which, by hard work, I was able to payoff to the terms of our agreement.
By 1980 a friend, who worked as an estimator for a scaffolding firm in Exeter, called at my workshop one afternoon to tell me he had noticed a grey Ferguson for sale for £100. I was quite fired up by this rekindling of my Ferguson interest, so I arranged to view it, making sure I had £ 100 cash in my pocket! Well, I bought it although it was a non-runner, and made arrangements to collect it with my TK Bedford lorry which had a hydraulic lifting crane fitted. On getting it back to Lower Park I put fresh petrol into the tank and cleaned up the plugs and points and it fired up and just about ran. This tractor is No.1 in the Coldridge Collection. It was at this point that the collecting bug really got a hold of me! For the next few years I purchased lots of tractors that came my way, different makes and even some crawlers, all done in an indiscriminate way, with a tally of just short ono. Then, at one of our early open days I can remember talking with an enthusiastic visitor who remarked about the variety and number of tractors I had. I suddenly thought that this was crazy having such a wide assortment, I would need 200 years if I were to get them all restored! No, it would be much more realistic to concentrate on one marque and that, of course would be Ferguson. I had read a lot about Harry Ferguson and his small team who doggedly developed a pioneering concept into a solid functioning piece of engineering, i.e. the Draft Control the integration of tractor and implement on the converging three point hydraulic linkage. In terms of tractor models that I would focus on it would be the time span between the Ferguson Model A through to the end of the 100 series. I would also embrace the range of implements and memorabilia, technical data as well as the other Ferguson achievements particularly in the automotive area.
So as time went on I gradually sold off the non-Ferguson models including several that my friend, the late Ernie Luxton had restored for me to a very high standard. Ernie was a most competent Ferguson trained engineer, who, in all the mechanical work he carried for me, was never beaten by any problem that arose. The painting of most of the restoration projects was carried out by Peter Clarke to a very high professional standard.
Gradually it dawned on me that there was not much point in just restoring tractors and implements then storing them sheeted up in a dry shed. No. What would be more creative would be to design and build a space in which to display the finished result in a civilized setting. Of course, this was just the excuse I needed to indulge in a bit of design fantasy! From a young age I have been interested in architecture and making things, Meccano was a great educational toy for me.
My business, by this time (early 1990’s) centred on fabricating and erecting both agricultural and industrial steel framed buildings, from providing the customer with just a basic frame and roof to full ‘turn key’ projects, and it was flourishing. However, there was hardly any opportunity to build something a bit special, but now I had the excuse I was looking for. What sprung to mind was a seven sided building (a heptagonal) set slightly into the sloping site, thus helping it to integrate into the landscape. Five sides would be glazed with tinted toughened glass thus following the arc of the sun from East to West. The vertical glazing bars would be set to lean outwards by 20°, springing from a 2′ high plinth stone wall, rather like the arrangement used on airport control buildings to reduce glare. The two remaining sides, would follow the same profile but would be in-filled with heavy duty tongued and grooved boarding set on the diagonal and stained black. The roof would be slate clad (weight 8 tons) topped off with a glazed finale. I set myself the challenge that I did not want fixing bolts on the finished exposed frame. This involved fabricating the seven main frames and the top ring beam on a level concrete floor. To erect the building the centre ring beam was raised on scaffolding set at the correct height with projecting stubs welded to each external comer, these had one 13mm hole drilled in them. At the top end of each of the seven main frames was drilled a corresponding hole. The idea being that as each main frame was raised into position and bolted down to the foundation bolts, a temporary long bolt could be inserted into the aligned holes with the ring beam. When all the seven frames were erected and bolted down we had a relatively stable structure. One by one the eve beams were cut to the correct length, each end having a com- pound mitre, and tack welded into place. After all this was completed and all Ihe intersections fully position welded, (he long bolts were withdrawn and the holes filled with weld and ground smooth. Now the scaffolding could he taken down. The next stage to complete the frame was the cutting and tacking into place the twenty-one purlins, each ring of a smaller rectangular hollow section which is functional and looks aesthetically correct. The last element to be welded into the frames were the window sills, glazing bars and the necessary steelwork that forms the porch and doorway. Then the steelwork was painted in MF Brown.
There was a serious down turn in the construction industry about 1992 so further work had to be put on hold for two years, so at our open days, we displayed a circle of tractors within the skeleton framework! By May 1995 the building was completed.
1 would like to give credit to those people who were key players in this project. My good and long-standing friend Robin Haughton who dealt most professionally with the exposed roof timbers, the continuous internal timber window seating and the diagonal boarding. Robin was also involved with the steelwork assembly but I did most of the site welding – it took ages!
The late Frank Conibere did a super job on the perimeter stone walls using stone from a local quarry. Geraint Vanstone and his son Graham did an excellent job with the complicated intersection of the slate roof using lead soakers rather than the ridge tiles which I thought would look too heavy: but the line of the change had to be spot on, anything less would have been an eye sore! However, Robin and I were allowed to do a lot of the straight forward slating!
Prior to starting this building, I intuitively chose to use 160 x 100 x 4mm rectangular hollow section (RHS) for all the main structural members but when I had worked out the weight of the roof slates I thought I had better get this checked out by my qualified structural engineer, Alan Beal. All was in order but he sensibly pointed out that I could reduce the size of the purlins as they became shorter towards the centre of the building. I am very glad he raised this point, which was followed, as it does look right.
Well, this heptagonal shed was completed in May 1995. Just to round off by relating the fact that a bit before it was completed, I went to see a clairvoyant lady in Crediton for a consultation. Several times during my time with her she said ‘I keep seeing a bleeding flying saucer’. Well, at night, when the internal lights are on, that is just what it looks like!
Needless to say, we soon moved in all the restored tractors – that was a good feeling!
© Mike Thorne – Journal 102, Autumn 2022