The Reekie-Ferguson T20 Tractor Conversion

The Reekie-Ferguson Tractor by J.R. French MBE

The Reekie-Ferguson Tractor by J.R. French MBE

My association with the Reekie conversion, T20 Ferguson Tractor, goes back many years. I live about four miles from where this remarkable tractor was converted, and coupled with living in the heart of the raspberry growing area of Angus in the East of Scotland, I feel that I should pass on the history and background associated with the tractor and the contribution it made to the Ferguson story.

Mr John Reekie returned from the war in Burma and set up an engineering business in Arbroath, Angus, Scotland and also took on distributorship of the Ferguson T20 tractors.

The areas around Angus, East Perthshire and North Fife were ideal conditions for growing soft fruit and all the large canners (Smedleys, Chivers etc.) grew or bought in the fruit mainly raspberries.

Sam Smedley, a man of considerable wealth and knowledge in the fruit and vegetable industry came to see John with his son, Graham.

After observing the performance of the T20 on his own farms he asked if it would be possible to reduce the width of the tractor to fit the width of the raspberry canes and equally, reduce the width of a rotavator to suit, i.e. not more the 40″wide.

Reekie-Ferguson in a natural setting, “Among the Berries”

John, always keen to accept a challenge, said he would have a go but would give no guarantee as it obviously meant shortening the half-shafts which he knew would be tricky as they were specially hardened, making them difficult to cut and re-weld.

Considerable trouble was also encountered with the front end, but eventually, a tractor was ready to be put through its paces.

The modified tractor performed well and a modified rotovator was attached proving the ideal unit for this specific task in the raspberry field, able to replace the horse and the somewhat clumsy Bristol Crawlers that were found to be unreliable.

The Unmistakable Lines of a T20, with a hint of Reekie

Notice the wheel sizes, and the Reekie Berry Drill Plough.

An order was placed for a further six machines but, very quickly the message got around the district and another large raspberry grower, Mr McIntyre came to see him. John had to tell him that he had to make these six up urgently for Smedley and could not consider supplying him for six months. Mr McIntyre then offered him TWICE the price to get one quickly, which John had to refuse.

Such was the success of the conversion now called by the locals “Berry Tractors” that many, sporting a distinctive blue line around the bonnet and a “Reekie” badge placed above the Ferguson badge, could be seen working among the “Berries” in Tayside.

In all twenty-eight items on the tractor had to be converted, or modified, at a cost of approximately £250.

I suppose one could say, that the watershed was when Banner Lane received a request from a sugar cane company in the West Indies, where six had been exported. The request being for a replacement half-shaft of a particular size, Banner Lane were mystified.

It was not long before the message got to Harry Ferguson himself who obviously did not like his tractor being abused in this way.

John realised that he was in a tricky position as he did not wish to lose the valuable Ferguson agency he had acquired. Ferguson said that such modification would render the tractor unstable and he should stop the modification immediately. This was a specific instruction from Bob Reekie, the Works Director.

A “Reekie” alongside the TEL model,

Trevor Knox and Eric Davidson came up to the Highland Show to see the Reekie tractor alongside the Ferguson’s on Reekie’s stand and reported back to Harry on their return. This resulted in a visit from Harry himself with an offer of cash (not disclosed, but I understand inadequate) to take over the manufacture, but not before over 200 had been produced by Reekie.

On seeing the tractor himself, Harry Ferguson was somewhat upset at seeing the “Reekie” name plate, and instructed John to change it.  Hence some conversions have the name plate that reads “Modified by Reekie”. However not all the conversions, had a badge fitted.

It is worth pointing out at this stage, that neither Jack Olding or Levington (later L.O. Tractors) did conversions although, they were Ferguson distributors in the area.  If they received an order for a Berry Tractor, they bought it from J Reekie of Arbroath.

A Ferguson SKE tool frame, modified by Reekie, Notice the side-arms for brushing aside the Berry Canes.

Such was the impression the Reekie conversion had on Harry Ferguson that he directed designers and engineers to produce a vineyard model to add to the range of Ferguson tractors and in 1952 the models TEK, TEL and TEM entered the market.

These models had 24 ” rear wheels and 15″ front whereas, the Reekie retained the 28″ rear and 19″ front wheels.

It seems the heyday of Reekie conversions ran from 1948 to 1951 and with the production of Ferguson Vineyard models in 1952 it helps to explain why the TEF diesel Reekie conversion are quite a rare sight.

Several years ago I spoke to a gentleman whose job it was, to cut and re-weld the half-shafts and he informed me that the shafts were more prone to break.

When the Reekie conversion rear wheels were set out at maximum width, the break always occurring either side of the re-weld, proving John’s point.

The Reekie engineering works, also produced and converted implements to compliment the Reekie tractor for berry work. The majority of implements were for tillage work, where a standard Ferguson SKE tool frame was cut down to suit the width of the fruit drills.

Many local blacksmiths also built ingenious implements for the tractor and I possess one of these one off items, being a Ferguson tool frame fitted with a 3′ hoe blade, for the purpose of slicing off raspberry runners that sprout up between the drills.

An example of a locally made “One of!” implement, used as mentioned in the text, to slice off young berry runners.

About six Reekie tractors were exported to France and as late as 1991, John Reekie was delighted to see one of his conversions working among the grapes.

An illustrated pamphlet was available from Reekie introducing the tractor and other implements associated with “Berry work”.

‘The majority of these Reekie conversions I have bought and pass on to fellow Ferguson enthusiasts, have been in remarkably good condition, a credit to Harry Ferguson, but also to John Reekie.

You may have come across these berry tractors in various guises, be it Continental engined P3 conversion, TE-D, TE-A, TE-F, some having been fitted with a reduction gearbox.

The Triple Conversion: Ferguson converted by Reekie, Fitted with P3, Fiited with Howard reduction gear box.

I would like to conclude by saying, and as a compliment to Mr J.M.Reekie, that if Henry Ford took the drudgery out of farming with his famous Fordson Model F, Harry Ferguson revolutionised the tractor with his three point linkage invention. It is fair to say John Reekie revolutionised raspberry growing work, helping to put many a pound in the fruit farmer’s pouch, with his “Reekie-Ferguson” Berry tractor.

Published in Journal 26, Summer 1997