Tom, tractors and a world of opportunity

TOM BOLTON was 10 when he rebuilt his first tractor.

He had his dad’s help with that one but did not need it for the 50 more, plus tools and trailers, that he bought, tickled up and sold on before he left school, last year, at the age of 16.

Now, at 17, he is heading for the end of his first year of trading as TB Agriculture Ltd with an international contacts book in his back pocket and on track for a turnover of around £100,000.

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His father lent him £400 to buy the first machine, an old ‘Fergie’, which sold for £760 – and which would easily fetch double that now.

The teenager has done the rest on his own.

He grew up in rural surroundings near Harrogate, and his parents, Stephen and Helen, got him into Nidderdale High, at Pateley Bridge, because they thought it would be sympathetic to his interest in agriculture.

“Tom and school were just made to rub each other up the wrong way,” says the older Mr Bolton, who runs a business selling insulating covers for rabbit hutches, Scratch & Newton.

The Pateley Bridge school allowed a few boys to spend a day a week at Askham Bryan College, where Tom got a BTEC diploma in agriculture – generally reckoned to be equivalent to three A-levels. At the same time, he picked up GCSE passes in art, woodwork and design & technology.

His part-time experience in tractor dealing had included several sales to exporters and taught him it was worth knowing what would sell abroad.

And he came to the Yorkshire Post’s attention when a businessman reported meeting him on a trade mission to Czechoslovakia just before Christmas.

His father went with him, but Tom held his own meetings and came back with a commission to scout for a dealer there.

“They have always made a poor man’s tractor of their own, called a Zetor,” he says. “Now they have some money, everybody wants one – for the same reasons vintage tractors are popular here – and they are buying back old Zetors from all over the place.

“Most of the Polish agents over here are looking out for those, because they know they can sell them. But there is also a demand for big tractors, because the old family plots have been amalgamated into holdings of 1,500 acres and more. Over here, average horsepower is 130. Over there, 200 is small. And the big machines are cheaper here.”

He has also sold to Poland, France, Holland, Ireland and even Africa.

“I sold this Ford 6610 to a Kenyan and he told me they liked little light pre-60s machines, because their soil is so fragile. And they want them without cabs or roll-bars so they will fit in containers,” he recalls.

“I try to learn something from every deal.”

Tom runs a workshop and sales yard at his parents’ home, at Killinghall, but demand for tractors tends to be seasonal and he got himself a winter job, with house provided, looking after nearly 1,400 ewes and 150 cattle on a farm near Tadcaster.

“All I ever wanted to do was get out of school and get to work,” he says. “I never saw the point of lessons like maths. But when we did VAT sums, I could shout out the answers as soon as the teacher wrote the questions on the board. I always knew the VAT because before I was VAT-registered, it was a cost I had to take into account.”

He buys at the big sales held by Cheffins of Cambridge, and York Auctions, and through ebay and the small ads. The secret of success, he says, is to know when to stop renovating.

“The difference between sound and pristine can be 200-300 hours, to put £400-£500 on a £2,000 tractor,” he says. “There are people who will do that, but I try not to.”

Tom Bolton, 07850 594289, email [email protected]/