The Transantarctic TEA20’s: Mike Thorne

The Transantarctic TEA20’s: Mike Thorne

Tim Hanson, editor of your Club’s Journal, asked me if I would write an article for the next edition. My reply was, “well I will have to get my brain cell into gear!”

What follows is a precis of chapter 14 of my book TE20 in detail, published by Herridge and Sons in 2006. That chapter in turn was based on a report I have in my archive written in part by the late Sir Edmund Hillary, leader of the famous Arctic expedition to the South Pole late 1957/early 1958 and I.G. (Jim) Bates who was the travelling engineer on the trip. Further input was drawn from an article by tractor author Michael Williams. Also, from two important books I have on my shelves, Edmund Hillary’s autobiography and The Crossing of Antarctic – Sir Vivian Fuchs and Edmund Hillary.

Prior to the shipment of five TEA20s to the Scott Base on the western side of polar plateau the tractors were prepared by Norwood, a Ferguson dealership on South Island. It so happened that at the time my friend the late Keith Base had been moved from his role at Stoneleigh Abbey as a senior training instructor to Norwood’s to set up a training school adjacent to their premises.

At the time it was felt prudent that the Antarctic team should all be trained in the servicing and repair procedures relating to their TE20, a sensible expedient! Not only. that, but the team had the opportunity to consider design and evaluate various modifications they would need to make to the standard tractors to enable them to cope reliably with the conditions in this hostile environment. Just to mention a few; temperatures of minus 30 or below, deep soft snow, deep crevasses, smooth ice, sastrugi (wind driven frozen snow ridges of greatly varying dimensions) it should also be pointed out that the Polar Plateau rises to just offer 10,000ft (3048m) above sea level, thus engines and humans loose 3% of their power per rise of 1000ft (304m) of altitude due to thinning levels of oxygen. Thus at 10,000ft a petrol engined TEA20 would only produce 16hp compared with the normal at seal level of 28hp. With the engine set to run at 2000rpm max to compensate for this loss of power output the tractors governors were reset to allow the engines to run up to 3000rpm maximum speed, (Hillary noted when operating in low gear with engines running at 3000rpm, petrol consumption fell to 1 mpg (1.609km per 4.54L).

One of the three preserved TEA20s of the Antarctic epedition is exhibited at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, with Mike Thornes’ friend Keith Daniels posing by it.

Now to have a look· at what modifications had to be considered by Edmund Hillary’s team and Norwood’s engineers, so that the five Ferguson destined for Scott Base had a chance of meeting the challenges. Keith Base related a good many years ago to me that the first modification the group considered was to fit standard Ferguson tyre tracks to the rear wheels and to replace the front wheels with ski’s, thus enabling the tractors to be steered, when this idea was tried out on snow in the South Island, it was found to be totally unworkable. I remember Keith telling me that on one occasion he and his group were discussing with Hillarys team how this short coming might be overcome, so picture this group standing in Norwood’s yard scratching their heads over how to deal with this problem. Then Hillary said “why not put the f***ing . tracks over the front wheels as well and weld up the steering in the straight ahead position”. Keith told me everyone looked amazed and a bit sheepish, why had they not thought of that! Then some bright spark from Keith’s team said “well how are you going to steer it then?” Hillary’s reply was “I am going straight to the South Pole so I won;t want to steer the f***ing thing”. So this became the chosen track system. To achieve this, larger diameter front wheels had to be fitted which in turn meant that the tractors wheel base had to be extended so that the front wheels cleared the idler wheel on each track. This was achieved by equipping each of the five tractors with a Ferguson Epicyclic reduction gear box, which added an extra 4.75inch (l20mm) to the normal 70inch (l778mm) wheelbase. Although this gave the tractors an extra lower range of gears, Hillary’s report states that it was hardly ever used. It should also be pointed out that the tyres were made of a special silicon rubber which was more suited to the extremely low temperatures. The same type of rubber was used for the heavy duty electrical wiring. They were all painted red to enable them to be seen more easily.

A crevasse the survey team missed. The two Fergusons were able to recover the third.

The five tractors bound for Scott Base were shipped from Norwood’s depot by road to the dock where they were loaded onto the Endeavour. They were each given female names, no doubt to compensate for the lack of female company on the trip! The two tractors below deck were Daisy and (Sue, now displayed at AGCOs manufacturing facility at Beauvais), tl1e three on the deck were Liz, Aggie and Gert. Also on board were some other pieces of Ferguson equip­ment, a Lincoln 200amp mounted PTO driven electric arc welder, a hydrovane, 60cuft compressor, a winch, forklift, a blade terracer and a post hole digger, perhaps used to bore holes in the ice to erect flag poles! Each tractor was also fitted with an automatic pick up hitch for low level towing of sledges. At first the tractors cooling systems were charged with neat glycol anti-freeze but when that ran out kerosene, was substituted which according to Jim Bates worked perfectly.

The luxury of asolid fuel AGA in the galley of Shackleton Base.

The tractors and equipment were off leaded and eventually driven over to Scott Base, where Jim Bates and one of his team, Murray Ellis, built a large garage workshop. It was here that further modifications were made, including the fitment of simple roll over bars and a rudimentary cab to protect the drivers somewhat from the harsh weather. The front axles were strengthened by welding a length of angle steel between the lower part nf the swivel tube and the rear end of the radius arm. All the Fergusons and the two Weasels were fitted with short range two way radios to aid communication between drivers. Also the tractors heavy duty batteries were moved closer to the engines in an attempt to maintain efficiency. A heat shield was fitted above the exhaust manifold just below the petrol tank to provide some insulation because they had found that when the engines were revving flat out the petrol in the tank started to boil!!! The caboose they were towing which was the radio shack and sleeping quarters was heated by having a large radiator which in turn was heated by passing the tractors exhaust through it before being discharged outside, making sure there were no internal leaks!

Ferguson tractor and the radio ‘Caboose’ enroute to the South Pole.

Hillary and his team set out from Scott Base 011 the 14th October 1957 using three Fergusons and one of the American army Weasels to establish food and fuel dumps along their route. A few days into the trip the Weasel broke down but the team were able to repair it. This began to happen more frequently and these problems had escalated so Hillary decided to abandon it and carryon with just the three Fergusons.

It should be mentioned here that coinciding with Hillary’s trip Vivian (Bunny) Fuchs and his team had set out from Shackleton base on the North West of the Polar Plateau with two Sno-Cats named Rock-n-Roll and Able, two Weasels named Rumble and Wrack & Ruin, a Muskeg tractor called Hoppalong bearing an emblem of a kangaroo and bringing up the rear another Sno-Cat named County of Kent.

Hillary and his team finally reached the South Pole station at 12.30 on the 4th January 1958 and they were met by the two commanders of the American base, Dr Hawk and Major Margesson. Hillary wrote “on the circle of drums and flag poles that make the South Pole we were greeted by a battery of cameras and friendly faces”.

Sir Vivian Fuchs’ Sno-cat Rock-n-Roll in trouble.

Bunny Fuchs and his team arrived mid-day on 20th January 1958. Edmund Hillary recalls how all these vehicles were parked up next to our three Fergusons. “I have to admit that there was quite a contrast in the vehicles. Edmund Hillary and his team were tbe first people to drive to the South Pole and this was achieved with three Ferguson tractors.

On his arrival at the South Pole, Hillary sent an appreciative telegram to Banner Lane, Coventry “Despite quite unsuitable conditions of soft snow and high altitudes our Fergusons performed magnificently and it was their extreme reliability that made our trip to the South Pole possible, thank you for your good wishes – Hillary”.

A summary of major modifications in addition to the fitment of full tyre tracks.

  • Fitment of Epicyclic reduction gear box.
  • All electrical leads covered with silicone rubber.
  • Heavy duty starter motor.
  • 110amp hour batteries.
  • Strengthened front axle.
  • Crude cab with short range radio.
  • Tractors painted red to make them highly Visible.
  • Silicon rubber tyres all round.


Memorial to tractors built at Banner Lane

6th July 2014 – MF Memorial to tractors built at Banner Lane, Coventry unveiled at Bannerbrook Park.

MF Banner Brook Memorial

Andy Peters, of Persimmon Homes South Midlands, Coventry Lord Mayor Hazel Noonan and Richard Markwell, of Massey Ferguson

The new work is the gift of Massey Ferguson and its parent company AGCO. Crafted in bronze and granite, it was unveiled at a special ceremony on Sunday 6 July at Bannerbrook Park in Tile Hill, the site of the former factory.

“This new artwork celebrates the production of over 3.3 million Ferguson and Massey Ferguson tractors at Banner Lane from 1946-2003,” explains Richard Markwell, Vice-President and Managing Director, Massey Ferguson, Europe, Africa, Middle East. “We are extremely proud of the legacy of the Banner Lane factory and the pioneering work of Harry Ferguson, which initially took us to the site. The creation of this prestigious new piece is a tribute to all those who worked there over a 60-year period. They helped drive the spirit and camaraderie of one of the world’s most famous farm machinery brands and laid the foundations for its ever-growing success today.”

Banner Lane was the largest tractor factory in the western world and, in further recognition of the Massey Ferguson legacy at the site, it is planned for a road to be named Ferguson Close while a new bridle path – Massey Ferguson Way – is scheduled to open in 2015.

AGCO fully vacated the Banner Lane site in 2006 and established its European Office facility at Abbey Park Stoneleigh, some eight miles away, where it employs 500 people.

July 6 had been chosen for the unveiling of the Massey Ferguson artwork as this marks the date that the first tractor, a Ferguson TE 20, left the assembly line 68 years ago.

Jemma Pearson was the Sculptor of the artwork.

Jemma is opening her studio to the public 26th to 28 July. The main attraction will be the clay original of the 7ft bronze plaque. As the clay sculpture dries out very quickly it will not last forever, but Jemma has been watering it nearly daily for 6 months! The net result is that it is still in one piece and shows all the detail in the same scale as the bronze piece. Anyone interested would be very welcome to come and see it during these three days.

The Studio is in Clun in South Shropshire and the address is: The Studio, Caradoc, Church Street, Clun, Shropshire, SY7 8JW.

Banner Lane – a brief history – by Duncan Russell

Banner Lane – a brief history – by Duncan Russell

Banner Lane, means much to many people, not only those who worked there but to the many owners and enthusiasts of Ferguson and Massey Ferguson tractors throughout the world.But Banner Lane is no more; the site is now a housing developmentcalled Bannerbrook Park which has been planned and developed by house builder Persimmon, eventually some 1000 new homes will have been built on the site, together with a school, shops and an entire infrastructure.

Gone completely is the factory that had stood on the site since the late 1930’s when the site was developed as a Shadow Factory as part of the Government’s plan to rearm the forces, particularly the RAF in the run up to the Second World War. The Banner Lane site had once been farmland on the outskirts of the industrial city of Coventry, home to many manufacturers, including the Standard Motor Company who would administer Banner Lane on behalf of the Government during the war period.

The last Massey Ferguson tractor rolled off the production line on Christmas Eve in 2002 ending over six decades of manufacturing, including 56 years of tractor production.

Banner Lane

The facade of Banner Lane Factory, familiar to so many.

As the demand for military aircraft and aero engines increased at the beginning of the Second World War, a number of Government financed shadow factories were built all over the UK. One of the largest was the Banner Lane site just west of Coventry. The site covered 80 acres in total,with a floor area of over 1 million square feet and had cost £1.7 million to build and prepare for production. This was quite a figure when the cost of a small car was around £130. The Standard Motor Company agreed to manage the site for a fee of £40,000 per annum. The Banner Lane plant manufactured the huge Bristol Hercules aero engine, as fitted to the Wellington bomber and several other aircraft. The Bristol engine was a massive 39 litre, twin row, 14 cylinder radial engine, producing between 1290 and 1735 horsepower depending on application. During the war years some 20,000 engines were produced.

With the end of the war in 1945 the plant was quickly shut down and the Standard Motor Company negotiated a lease for the factory for £36,000 per annum. The Standard Motor Company was keen to take on the factory as Sir John Black, Standards Chairman, had been in discussions with Harry Ferguson to produce the new Ferguson tractor in the UK. Thus in September 1945 the deal was struck for Standard to build tractors for Ferguson, Standard being paid a fee for each tractor produced. Standard then signed a ten year lease for Banner Lane and agreed a plan to produce up to 200 tractors per day.

At the height of production Banner Lane employed more than 6,000 people and in ten years produced over 500,000 Ferguson TE tractors for export all over the world.

The Standard/Ferguson agreement continued through various squabbles and disagreements until the summer of 1959 when Standard severed all connections with Massey Ferguson and tractor production.During this time Harry Ferguson Ltd had sold out to Massey Harris to become Massey Harris Ferguson and then Massey Ferguson. Massey Ferguson hadtaken the lease of Banner Lane factory from Standard Motor Company in 1956.

Massey Ferguson developed the Banner Lane site and at one stage it was reported to be the biggest AGCO manufacturing facility in the World and was headquarters of AGCO’s European, Middle and Far East operations. The famous tower block was officially opened in September 1966 and had office space for around 500 people.

As with all things change was inevitable and new Massey Ferguson tractors were gradually being built elsewhere, particularly at Beauvais in France. When production was being further rationalised and it was proposed that either Banner Lane or Beauvais would be closed, the French plant proved the more difficult to close due to Government and worker pressure and Banner Lane was to be no more.

The last tractor number 3,307,996 was driven off the production line on Christmas Eve 2002 and the factory site was earmarked for housing. The huge task of decommissioning started before the demolition and clearance of the site, the last part of the demolition and the most spectacular, took place on 8th July 2012 when the 16 storey Tower Block was downed using high explosive.

There are many proposal’s on how the mark the site of the once great factory, a factory that produced so much for the British economy with much of its production being exported. The suggestions range from naming various roads around Bannerbrook Park and naming the school. But, there needs to be a permanent memorial to the tractors produced there, something that continues to remind future generations that at thissite was produced the tractor that revolutionised mechanised farming throughout the world.

Banner Lane “Tower” demolished – 8th July

The tower building on Banner Lane in Coventry which was latterly the HQ for AGCO Europe (Massey Ferguson) for many years was demolished on 8th July at 1000hrs.

AGCO_CoventryAGCO 2006

The Coventry Council are looking into ways to commemorate Banner Lane and any ideas are welcome by them. There is also an e-petition at Thomas is interested in hearing ideas of how the site should be marked for posterity. Please can you let your Ferguson rep or the Committee know your thoughts for a Ferguson Club mark; alternatively Councillor Thomas can be emailed with ideas here

Harry Ferguson – First flight in Ireland

1909 – 2009/10 Centenary of First Flight in Ireland

It was during 1909 that Harry Ferguson designed and built his aeroplane in Ireland. After many unsuccessful attempts due to poor weather, it was on the last day of 1909 – 31st December – that he completed his first successful flight. Harry was aged 25 years old at the time.

So Harry Ferguson made the first flight in Ireland.

The pictures below show Harry Ferguson with his Mk1 and 2 aircraft designs (one a taildragger, the other a tricycle undercarriage) – the passenger in the aircraft is one Rita Marr who travelled from Liverpool to fly with HF in Northern Ireland, date is not recorded.


Old Prototype steering system for Ferguson tractors.

Old Prototype steering system for Ferguson tractors.

A bit of interest!

A member whose grandfather was a Nuffield, Ferguson dealer was given an item which bolts onto the grey Ferguson tractors, and steers it, whilst the farmers deals with the cattle in field etc. It was a prototype and he was given it whilst selling these tractors.

Here are some pictures:-