The pull of the car tractor in the '30s

Local historian David Kenyon takes a look at the car tractor which was used by farmers as an alternative to tractors during the 1930s and 1940s

Thursday, 28th June 2018, 12:32 pm
Updated Friday, 29th June 2018, 7:23 pm
Austin 12HP car tractor, Bottom Mill, Lowgill, 1947. Stephen Middleton and his daughter Marjory, are seated in their Auston car tractor. Stripped down motorcars, such as the one shown here, were quite popular with small farmers and were often used as a cheaper alternative to tractors.

This is the story of the car tractor. These were popular with local farmers during the 1930s and 1940s as a cheaper alternative to the Ferguson tractor.

Car tractors were often based on the Austin or Ford saloons. These early cars were built with substantial chassis and strong reliable engines.

Meadow land at Seathwaite Farm in the Lake District being ploughed during World War II with a Ford car tractor. The car would have been fitted with an extra gear box to lower the ratio.

Often the cars were fitted with an extra gear box to enable the car tractor to work at a slower speed.

To gain grip from the rear wheels, slots were cut across the width of the larger tyre. This was then fitted over the existing wheel tyre.

The tyre was then blown up hard. This allowed the wheels to get plenty of grip in wet fields.

A metal draw bar was fitted to the back of the car tractor. This was often used to pull old horse carts, which were used as trailers. The car tractor could be used for pulling the farmer’s hay making machinery. As the photograph shows, it could also be used to harvest the hay.

Diagram of how to put a timber body on to a Studebaker big-six passenger car. Drawings taken from an American publication entitled Modern Mechanics and Inventions magazine, June 1936.

During this time the Ingle family, who owned a car tractor, had a small farm on The Gars road in Wray. During the Second World War I remember Harold Ingle very well. He rented the parish field up Wray Moor Road, which is now called the Roeburndale West Road. He had a line of hen huts stretching the full length of the field. Harold Ingle had three children: Jenny the eldest, Eric and finally the youngest Freddie.

Freddie was always kind to us children. He would always give you a lift on his car tractor, as would his father. As small children we always judged the character of people by whether or not they could be bothered to stop and give us a lift.

At this time my family and I lived at Dick Hill, about a mile from Wray village. So a lift in wet weather was very much appreciated by five, six and seven-year-old children.

The Ingles had fields from the Pointer, down towards Butt Yeats at Hornby. Their car tractor had a lever on the steering wheel to advance and retard the ignition. Later cars had automatic ignition timing.

Gilbert Metcalfe and family carting hay with a car tractor, circa 1940. The field could have been at Aughton, near Halton.

Harold Ingle was the first person to have a cattle wagon in this area. It was probably only big enough for one cow and its calf. Before cattle trucks came in, farmers had to walk their stock to market on public roads. Mrs Kathleen Bassenden told me a nice story about Harold Ingle. Mrs Bassenden was talking to Miss Savage outside the post office when Harold stopped his car.

“Would you like to come and see how my dog works the sheep” he asked?

Although they could see no dog, and knowing he was always on the lookout for a housekeeper, they climbed into the car apprehensively.

When they arrived at his fields he opened the boot of the car and out jumped the dog.

Car tractor, built from an American Studebaker big six passenger car circa 1939.

It jumped over the wall into the field and rounded up the sheep for Harold’s inspection before jumping over the wall into the second field and rounding up the second flock of sheep.

Harold repeated his inspection before the dog jumped over the wall into the last field and after rounding up the sheep, the dog jumped over the wall and back to the car.

Harold opened the boot of his car and in jumped the dog for its return journey down to Wray.

The ladies had enjoyed seeing the skills of Harold’s sheepdog and they had managed to escape housekeeping duties.