Saturday, 20 August 2011

The money shot

My sister and her husband run a classic tractor-spares company up in Staffordshire. They were down to visit earlier this week, and on Monday I took them and their two children to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford to have a look around.

Considering the museum is about planes (admittedly with a few tanks thrown in for good measure), Duxford proved entertaining not only for the adults, but also for a boy in his early teens and his younger sister. There was enough for them to see and do as the adults went round looking at things, at least until they started to get tired.

What amused me was the way my sister and brother-in-law went off to examine almost every tractor they could see; they could even identify the models them from a distance. There is a lot to be said for being an expert, even in seemingly esoteric subjects.

Then, at the end of a long day, we saw a Spitfire having an engine test. What is more, a Fergie tractor was being used to tow the plane to and from the hanger.
My sister and her husband were in heaven. Two classics - the Ferguson tractor and the Spitfire - together. They did not know where to look.

The first vehicle I ever drove was a Fergie, and my parents have a photograph on their wall of me sitting behind the wheel, my feet barely long enough to reach the pedals. So I too was slightly awestruck.

Naturally enough, lots of photos were taken.I have seen lots of Spitfires in the air, and have even seen a large formation of them flying overhead whilst they were on their way to an airshow in Duxford. Yet for some reason this scene moved me - perhaps because it showed an unsung part of the Spitfire's wartime existence. We tend to think of them soaring gracefully through the air, the magical noise of the Merlin engine penetrating our bones. Yet those flights would never have happened without the thousands of men and women who did mundane but vital tasks on the ground.

At first the above picture might be seen as a classic wartime photo - a Spitfire and a Fergie with a yellow bonnet (apparently airfield vehicles were painted  in such a way so that planes flying overhead could see when they were blocking the runway). Yet it is false - the first Fergie was produced after the war in 1946, and the Spitfire in the picture - known as the Grace Spitfire - was originally a single-seater. Still, it is a wonderfully evocative picture.


Alan R said...

Memories indeed. I worked for MF for 34 yrs.
The first TE20 was indeed 1946. And i think they built something like 519,000 between 46 and 56.
TE 20 stood for tractor England and TO 20 series was tractor Overseas.
I could go on.

Alan Sloman said...

My father was one of the chaps on the ground who patched up the Spitfires & Hurricanes between sorties.
He loved the Hurricanes and was adamant that it was the Hurricane that should be the iconic fighter of the Battle of Britain...

I could go on...

David Cotton said...

Alan R:
Cheers for the tractor stats :-)

They show that the Fergie was a major British success story. It's a shame that it did not continue. JCB shows that we can do such engineering successfully, so why didn't we in so many other areas?

Alan S:
The Hurricane did indeed have many more kills than the Spittie, and deserves much more credit. However when you see both in flight or close-up, there is simply something about the Spitfire. It looks majestic.

Oh, and belated thanks to your dad. The pilots get all the kudos, but as I said in my post, they are the tip of a very important pyramid.

Alan R said...

Hi David,
I’m not sure that i can say MF was a British Success story. It was Canadian, American, Irish and English really.
And funnily enough (Alan S,) Harry Ferguson was the first person to build and fly an aircraft in Ireland and if it wasn’t for the war and post war opportunities MF may not have been such a success.

JCB on the other hand are pretty much English with some big influences on design from elsewhere.