Back in the driving seat despite health battle

The seventh tractor run proved a big success.
The seventh tractor run proved a big success.
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From brain surgery to leading a vintage tractor run in one month, farmer John Sleight has had a turbulent few weeks.

When he starting planning his annual tractor run earlier this year John expected it would be plain sailing. He didn’t expect to have to fit it in around hospital visits, treatment for cancer and brain surgery.

In what has been a difficult year so far, John, from Etton, near Beverley, was determined to make this year’s run the best ever, and, thanks to match funding from Barclays bank he raised more than £4,000.

John was diagnosed with prostate cancer in February, a mild form which doctors are confident can be treated. When he began treatment a few weeks ago he had a hormone injection into his stomach and almost immediately started having terrible side-effects.

John said: “Within fifteen minutes of the injection I started with an awful headache, sickness and my vision was blurred – I could hardly see out of my left eye.”

After being admitted back into hospital he underwent CT and MRI scans during the night, which showed an undiagnosed tumour on his pituitary gland. The following day an operation was carried out to remove the tumour.

“Having the treatment for the prostate cancer meant that they found a tumour I didn’t know I had.”

John had previously had another tumour removed from his pituitary gland, in spring 1994.

“I was scared and nervous about the operation but when I saw that it was the same surgeon that did the operation 20 years ago, I felt better. We had every faith in him then, and even more so now.”

John’s family say they are pleased with how quickly he has recovered and how enthused he is about getting back to work.

His wife Margaret, said: “He was only in hospital five days after the operation and then came home. Within a few hours he was out walking around the farm, and he helped to clip sheep four days later.”

John and Margaret have farmed in Etton since 1990. They farm 200 acres of arable along with a flock of 50 commercial ewes, which they lamb in March.

Last Sunday’s tractor run marked exactly one month to the day since John had his operation, so it was a very special day for the family.

John’s daughter Jenny said: “There were times we thought about cancelling the run, but dad was always determined to go ahead.

“Once he came out of hospital we weren’t sure that he would get the all-clear to drive in time to do the run, but he did, and seeing him leading all the other tractors out was really moving.”

As a vintage tractor enthusiast, John is a well-known face on the tractor run scene. Each year he and wife Margaret travel to runs and fairs around the country where he can show off his beautifully restored 1964 Nuffield 10/60 which he originally found at a neighbour’s farm among nettles. John also has two other vintage tractors; a pair of grey Fergies. One is a 1947 TE20 with a P3 Conversion and the other is a 1952 TEA Diesel with a cab on. Over the years John, along with daughters Catherine and Jennifer and son-in-law Stephen have driven all three in various events.

In 2008 John decided to organise his own charity road run. It is co-ordinated each year by the East Riding Young Farmers Club and a fundraising committee of John’s family and friends. To date, seven runs have raised more than £12,500 for various charities.

This year the committee has been joined by Caroline Sawyer and John Colley. As Caroline and John both work for Barclays Bank, the bank has match-funded the overall total from the day.

John said: “We’re always looking for ways to raise more money. We get wet years and dry years, and this year we were lucky to have some sunshine – a rare thing at the moment. Nearly 90 tractors came along on Sunday, from vintage ones to modern ones and we’re always pleased with the support we get.

“Along the route there are always people waving and smiling. Sunny years or wet years, they’re always out lining the route.”

The annual tractor run is a wonderful spectacle that starts from Laburnum Farm in Etton and follows a route that passes through South Dalton, Middleton-on-the-Wolds, North Dalton, Huggate, Warter, Londesborough, Market Weighton and Goodmanham before it reaches its final destination at the Light Dragoon, back in Etton village, for light refreshments.

Anyone who saw John aboard his pristine Nuffield last weekend, leading the tractors around the East Riding countryside, would have found it hard to believe that just a month ago he was in the hands of surgeons on the operating table.

For many people in similar situations recovery would have involved plenty of time resting and recuperating, but for John Sleight his love of vintage tractors and enthusiasm for fundraising meant he was never going to allow the setback to make him miss the special event he masterminded himself.

Asked how he was feeling during the event, John’s reply from behind the wheel of his tractor was simple: “There’s no place I’d rather be.”