15 years ago | Chamberlains Farm, Shevington Moor | 27th May 2008
It’s brilliant what pub conversations can lead to, isn’t it? Fifteen years ago, I had a three year-old son and a Thursday night routine which involved going to the Hesketh Arms (now sadly no longer a pub) for last orders. A chance conversation one night led to a call out of the blue, months later, and an incredibly gracious invitation…
Thursday nights used to be quite the set piece in our house. Most weeks, we had guests round. I’d put Charlie to bed while Helen would cook tea for everyone. When he was asleep, around 8pm, we’d eat and talk. By 10:30, I used to slope off to the pub for last orders. By that time, various friends had made it there after touring a few other hostelries and there was usually a game of pool or darts in full flow.
One night, I was talking to one of them, a former pub-football-team team-mate from a farming family, asking him how things were going. He told me he’d just ordered a new tractor. I knew very well that it would be a John Deere – he was always very clear about his family’s affiliation with the brand. As I had a young son who loved tractors – when he was two, the first evidence we had that he wasn’t colour-blind was his ability to tell a Massey Ferguson [red] from a John Deere [green] – this was something I was keen to learn more about.
I learned a few things. Chiefly, that new tractors are not cheap. Which is a euphemism for ‘eye-waveringly expensive’. But, for your many tens of thousands of pounds, you do get regular updates throughout the build process, from the factory in Mannheim, Germany. “Yeah, this week, I got an email telling me they’d just built the gearbox” my friend informed me.
This became something of a running gag. “What have they built this week?”, I’d ask on subsequent Thursday nights, eliciting an update on the finer points of the developing ‘6930’ model. Eventually, the answer was “They’re delivering it in the next week or two”. It occurred to me that, to a tractor-mad three year-old there can’t be many things that are cooler than the chance to see – or maybe even sit in – a brand new tractor. “Would it be okay if I bring Charlie up to the farm when it arrives?”, I asked. “Sure, no problem!” was the reply.
That’s not what happened. One random Tuesday night, I got a phone call around tea time. The tractor had been delivered, to the dealership, and my friend was driving it home. He was wondering if we were at home as he was planning to pop in, on the way. “Yes, of course!”, I replied, with mounting excitement, looking hastily for my digital camera.
Ten minutes later, he arrived in his gleaming new John Deere and Charlie was awestruck. “Of course he can sit in it”, was the reply when I asked if it was okay to get a few photos. “You can have a drive if you want”, he then added. I wasn’t going to pass up this generous offer. The three of us squeezed into the two seats of the cab and I started up the 6.8-litre engine. A minute of brief explanation of the controls later (largely similar to those of a car), I engaged that freshly-built gearbox and we moved gingerly away.
I should point out we weren’t on a public road. Our driveway is basically a 250-metre loop road. In a car, it’s not particularly narrow – you barely notice the width. In a nearly-nine-foot-wide tractor, it suddenly felt like a footpath. With overhanging branches brushing the top of the cab, I carefully guided this brand-new 5.6-tonne monster to the end of the drive, using the ‘T’-junction section to effect a three-point turn in order to drive back. Throughout, Charlie’s face was a picture!
It was a great experience and I’m so grateful for the opportunity – I really wasn’t expecting it. Not many people would ask you if you wanted a go in their brand new car on the day they collected it, let alone this expensive, unfamiliar piece of working machinery.
The whole episode had one other happy outcome. A year later, we decided to drive around Europe (for the first time) for our family holiday. On the outward leg, we stopped at Paris and had a day at Disneyland. Coming home, two weeks later, we decided to spend a day in Mannheim – at the John Deere Visitor Centre. Guess which day our young tractor fan enjoyed more….
You must be logged in to post a comment.