I bought my first vintage tractor in 1964 for £25, a wartime Allis Chalmers Model B, and gave it to my wife as a birthday present! It remains in the collection. I had little idea that my combined interests in farming and engineering would eventually lead me to acquire one of the country's finest collections of vintage tractors and machinery.
A by-product was to use it as a training ground for the Lancer Boss lift truck designers, who were able to see how tractors evolved over more than fifty years, in their turn nderstanding that companies which were prepared to design to suit new techniques would succeed. It started in earnest after we moved from Toddington Park to Toddington Manor, when I bought twenty Internationals, many needing a great deal of work.
The help of the Mid-Beds branch of the Vintage Tractor Club was enlisted under their organiser, Max Cherry, who for a time took over the running of the collection. Even today they are actively involved on Open Days and a number of Toddington tractors can be seen at shows throughout the country.
By 1994 the collection had expanded to about one hundred and fifty tractors, having been collected from auctions and private sales in Europe and North America. Some of the names are familiar today, ranging from the oldest 1911 Case Prairie tractor, weighing eleven tons, to a number of First World War American imports, including an Overtime, which was the first John Deere, a Fordson F, Titans and Moguls from the International Tractor Company. The Second World War models included lease-lend Olivers, John Deeres, Massey-Harris, Case and Internationals.
A recent addition to the collection is the 1959 John Deere 730 the last of the two-cylinder diesels, amazing when you realise International started in the early 1930's with four cylinders, and semi-diesels date back to the turn of the century.
In 1994 because of lack of display space and economic reasons it was decided to reduce the collection to about fifty tractors (my wife says it was to justify sneaking off to the sales again!). Record prices were achieved including £36,500 for a 1927 Nicholson Shepherd Red River Special, to £14,500 for a 1919 International Junior. A few machines were sold as well, but regrettably not the horse-drawn reaper, for which a record £1,000 was bid. Unfortunately it was bought back in by the trainee auctioneer as instructed because the price had not been expected to exceed £20!
Today the collection has clear objectives.Whilst there are one or two old friends left, including the original Allis B and a Field Marshall, it has now been decided to concentrate on the ancestors of the four leading makes of today - John Deere, Ford, Case International and Massey-Ferguson.
The newest date from the 50's, going back to 1911. Because we had them at home during the Second World War there are many John Deeres dating from the Waterloo Boy which was rebadged 'Overtime' by the UK importer. Whilst seven additions were bought in 1996 the emphasis is now on working machinery including a trailer combine and a rack saw bench which can be seen working on some Open Days.
The collection helps to revive vivid memories for our older visitors and intrigues the younger ones, who may find it hard to believe how things have developed in a mere man's lifetime.
We hope you enjoy seeing this collection and will visit again in the future to see how the restoration work is going.
Sir Neville Bowman-Shaw