Bessie was born in 1948, in Coventry, UK. She has a 2 litre petrol engine that can also run on TVO (Tractor Vapourising Oil), which is a mix of petrol and paraffin, and she is just one of the many innovations that her Father-designer, Harry Ferguson, came up with during the course of his life. Bessie’s full title is ‘Ferguson TE20’ and she has many cousins that had different engines, configurations, and which were made in several international locations. One distant, American cousin, that looks a little different but has the same gene line, is the Ferguson Ford 9N. Anyway, enough of Bessie’s family, because this is all about her.
Her life story has some gaps in it, in fact, right up to 1995, I don’t have any records of ownership etc. However, what I do know, is that in the 47 years up to 1995, she had worked hard and was not in great condition when she was found by the man who I bought her off. It is fortunate that she was found by this particular hero in the story, because he is an agricultural engineer and has a passion for old tractors and machinery. Bessie was completely restored, refreshed, fed the best oils, greases and fuel, and was well treated by someone who knew how far, and hard to push her, whilst doing it with a huge amount of mechanical sympathy and intelligence. They lived happily together until January 2009, when she and I met for the first time. It was love at first sight, and we soon headed off to introduce her to the rest of my family, who fortunately saw what I saw in her, and welcomed her with open arms. 2009 was a good year as we explored what each of us could do from ploughing matches to general work and the occasional charity tractor event. All good.
In 2010, a move for the family to Switzerland with my work meant that we had a question to resolve. Do we a) sell Bessie? b) leave her in her shed until whenever we return? or c) take her with us? The Swiss house we would be living in for a period of time was an old farm house, and did have some space for Bessie to stretch her tyres occasionally, look at the mountains and breathe in mountain-fresh air. She would also have to cope with a drier atmosphere and with a temperature range from -30C to + 35C. Also, as there is no left or right hand drive on a tractor, it is simple to drive on either side of the road. The killer question was; How do we get her to Switzerland? Our youngest son, aged 17, said he would drive Bessie from North Yorkshire to Switzerland in his summer holiday, play music gigs along the way and try to raise some cash for charity. It would take 3 weeks at a steady 15mph. Things developed a bit when he met a young, Swiss film maker, who thought it would be great to capture it all on film, and so they created the documentary called; Bessie Blues: A Journey at the Pace of a Ferguson (2011). Bessie made the journey with no major issues apart from some altitude sickness going over a mountain pass at 1500 metres (4500 feet approx’). A quick adjustment of the big brass, carburettor airscrew soon got her breathing properly again. You can find the documentary on IMDb.com and the link is at the end of this post.
Bessie lived happily in Switzerland, adapted to her new surroundings and altitude well and even embraced her new Swiss registration number. She played a critical rescue one late afternoon in 2012, when she raced (possibly a speed exaggeration here) out to another village to collect one of her stablemates. I had recently found a 1975 Yamaha RD250B, and with some light mechanical and cosmetic restoration, had got the bike back of the road. Unfortunately, the bike drank its petrol with some foreign bodies from inside the fuel tank one day and the carburettors got blocked. Bessie picked up the Yamaha and returned it safely home for a session with the bike Doctor (me again).
In 2013, it was time for Bessie to return to her familiar North Yorkshire home, although this time, she took a faster route by lorry, and apart from an altercation with a couple of French Border Police at the Swiss-French border who demanded we pay an import tax (🤬), she arrived back at home with no jet lag or sea sickness. On returning home, she gladly received her previous, 1948 registration number back again from the DVLA.
So, what has she been up to in the last 7 years then? She is now 72 years old, is well respected by the whole family, and life is fairly easy for her. She does get down to some hard labour sometimes, like shifting gravel or taking big stuff in her transport box to places. Critically, she gets regular maintenance from me and the man who brought her back to life in 1995. He’s an expert, knows every part of her and instinctively, knows whats going on inside her depending on how she sounds and behaves. She continues to get the best oils, greases and fuel, and is still happy to lead a procession of other old and new tractors, around North Yorkshire in some charity events. What is amazing, is that the only time that she has not ever started first time, was when her battery died suddenly. Bessie is always being waved at on the road by people in passing cars, and she has the ability to bring big smiles to people of all ages. She has recently had some new shoes. She has really big (back) feet and now has a new, stylish pair of black, sharp-treaded shoes to wear.
I’ve been pondering about some additional duties for her. You know, something to maybe challenge her, and to get her to think differently about her contribution to modern day tasks. I haven’t come up with much to be honest, because she has adapted to everything in the last 72 years that she has had to. I did wonder if she would be the coolest taxi ever to transport a Bultaco trials moto to its event, or even to be the ‘uplifter’ to get some mountain bikes and their riders up to the top of a hill so that they can ride down.
So what does the future hold for our 72 year old tractor? Assuming that Bessie continues to get the level of care that she deserves, I reckon the only thing that will ever stop her, is when the planet finally runs out of oil, grease and petrol. Maybe she’ll then have an electric implant to keep her going, who knows?
Link to the documentary. Viewing requires an IMDb account: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1974223/
All pictures by the author