Thomas McGregor Greer and the No.1 Tractor

Thomas McGregor Greer and the No.1 Tractor
Leslie Hutchison. Co.Tyrone. N. Ireland.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to visit the Massey Ferguson museum, may well have admired the 1936 Type A, on display there.

Most of us know by now, that these tractors were manufactured by David Brown of Yorkshire. The example on display is of particular significance, as it was the first one built, and thus carries the serial number 1. From the Harry Ferguson sales records for Northern Ireland (a copy of which exists at Greenmount Agricultural College, Antrim), we know that this tractor and its implements arrived in Belfast on the 21 st April, 1936 . They were used throughout the year for demonstration and show purposes.

One of these early demonstrations was held at Andersonstown and attended by a number of prominent figures. An account of this appeared in The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, Tuesday 26th May, 1936. On 12th January, 1937, No. 1 tractor plough and general cultivator were sold to Mr. Thomas McGregor Greer, Tullylagen Manor, near Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, whose association with Harry Ferguson went back to the early years of this century.

Thomas McGregor Greer was the only son of Thomas Greer, M.P., F.R.G.S. of Grove House, Regents Park, London and Sea Park, Carrick fergus , Northern Ireland. In 1898 he inherited the lease of Tullylagen Manor. When asked his occupation for the parish records he replied, “Gentleman.”

Greer’s many varierd interests included wood-carving, photography, gardening and last but not least the motor-car. He became the first man to drive a car, a De Dion Bouton, through the famous wide main street of Cookstown. Subsequently Greer purchased another car. From local legend· I believe this was a Vauxhall, a make at that time gaining a reputation for fast, well built cars. However, Greer’s later acquistion would not perform to his satisfaction and attempts to remedy the situation failed. Greer had heard about a young machanic called Harry Ferguson, who was supposed to ‘have a way with engines’ . So the young Ferguson was summoned to Tullylagen. His success with engines impressed Greer to such an extent that Ferguson was asked to service all cars at Tullylagen from then on.

When Harry was required to stay overnight he slept above the harness room. In winter the only heat was from the iron chimney pipe which passed vertically through the room from the stove below. The well-being of the harness was probably the prime consideration!

When Ferguson started his own garage, Greer was a major financial backer. As a local observed at the time, “when Harry Ferguson came to Tullylagen he slept in the farm buildings, before he left he was sleeping in the Manor House!”

Greer also shared Ferguson’s enthusiasm for mechanized farming. A field at Tullylagen (well away from public gaze), was made available to Ferguson for testing the various designs. During these tests, Ferguson used the services of a neighbouring farmer, called Joe Warnock. Driving a tractor was not a totally new experience for Joe, as he had been taught to drive a car by Greer’s chauffeur. These lessons took place in the farm yard using the De Dion when the master was away.

When demonstrations were given to the public. Joe Warnock would drive the tractor while Ferguson addressed the spectators. Should a mechanical failure occur, Ferguson would automatically blame the operator, not the machine! No matter what Harry Ferguson said Joe Warnock would never answer back. The reason being that Ferguson paid him a bonus to take such blame, thus sparing the machine and Harry, any public embarrassment.

To return to 1937 and Tullylagen, the farm manager at the time was called Jim Scott. Years later he recalled the tractor and plough’s arrival on the estate. “It was an understood arrangement between Harry Ferguson and Mr. Greer, that the very first production tractor and plough would be sold to no-one else other than Thomas McGregor Greer. Mr. Greer wanted to secure his place in history as the owner of the first tractor and plough built for the hydraulic system”. Jim Scott further recalled that Greer did not like steel wheels so pneumatics were very soon fitted. Also he was concerned that there was no protection for the driver from the rear wheels. This probably explains those unique mudguards which are still present on No. 1 to this day.

No. 1 Model A Tractor at M-F Museum. Photograph courtesy of Massey Ferguson.

As rumours of impending war began, the tractor was used to haul trailers filled with stones and rocks to certain locations on the surrounding roads. Here they were unloaded and concealed behind the hedgerows, the idea being that should the enemy invade, Greer’s men would use these to build roadblocks and thereby hinder the progress of enemy vehicles.

On 9th June, 1941 Thomas McGregor Greer died at Tullylagen Manor. At his own request his coffin was placed on a haycart, covered with red carpet and pulled by an Austin car sent from Harry Ferguson’s garage in Belfast. Jim Scott was the driver. The funeral cortege made its way to the nearby Desertcreat Parish Church. Harry Ferguson who was in the U.S.A. at the time was represented by Mr. Joe Thompson, who along with Hugh Reid was to form in 1959, Thompson-Reid Ltd.

After World War II the tractor and plough were sold. A friend of Joe Warnock’s, Mr. Lynch, purchased the tractor and it spent the next few years in the Coalisland area. It was subsequently sold back to Harry Ferguson who, I believe, part¬-exchanged it for a reconditioned Ford/Ferguson.
As regards the No 1 plough this was advertised in a local newspaper, The Mid-Ulster Mail, during the spring of 1947. The buyer was Mr. William Gibson who farmed near the village of Coagh. The price paid was £25, for which he also got the original top-link into the bargain. The plough was collected the followinig day by his son, Sandy. It was with Sandy Gibson’s help that I acquired the plough during March 1980. Other than requiring a few IIlinor repairs it is in much the same condition as it was in 1936.

At present Tullylagen Manor is undergoing a major restoration programme. Soon the house and the farmyard will look as they did in McGregor Greer’s day including the room where Harry Ferguson slept. The new owner, Mr. Raymond Turkington, intends to see that it is preserved.

Leslie Hutchison. Co.Tyrone. N. Ireland. First published Club Journal V.2 N.3 Autumn 1988