There was a time when Great Smeaton Vintage Working Day was as much a fixture as North Yorkshire County Show. Held at Thorpe Farm in the village between Northallerton and Darlington from 1990 until the mid-2000s it grew to include steam engines, vintage farm machinery, shire horses and a village produce day, attracting 2,000-plus visitors and raising considerable funds for charity.
Vintage tractor enthusiast, farmer and champion ploughman Les Walker, the man behind the day, sadly passed away in January after a long battle with cancer and much of his cherished collection will be sold on the farm next month where his son Barry farms today with wife Jennifer and their son Thomas and daughter Lucy. Les’ daughter Janice and Barry will be hosting the day.
“There will be mixed emotions when the engines start up,” says Barry. “We all remember those vintage working days and I’m sure that a lot of those who come will recall the fun we all had. The best memory for me was the smell of the steam engines, of the coal and seeing the horses ploughing. Horses used to be brought from Norfolk to take part. It really was something special that dad created with our mum Olwyn, known to all as Tot, and David Walker from Croft.
“I was 11 when dad bought his first vintage tractor. It was a Standard Fordson. He bought all the different makes of tractor he’d used during his lifetime, including one from Australia, and one of the things I learned was how to paint them up.”
Les’ passion for tractors was matched by his love of ploughing and the ploughs will be part of the collection sold.
“Dad was a champion ploughman and had a long career in ploughing matches,” says Janice. “He won the North Yorkshire Under 21 Ploughing Championship when he was 19 and went on to win hundreds of trophies and rosettes.
“There was nothing he liked better than to see the job done right and he was his own worst critic. He would sometimes come home shaking his head saying hat he could have done better. He had all the Ransome ploughs, Ransome Robins, Fergies and an International 3-furrow.”
Barry’s son Thomas keeps up the family’s ploughing tradition that Barry has also followed, and with good reason.
“Years ago I won a few ploughing matches with Great Smeaton YFC and Tommy managed to get second place recently in the reversible class at Amotherby YFC Ploughing Match using a 5-furrow Kverneland. We share dad’s passion. It is also a key part of our agricultural contracting side of the farm as it is today.
“Thomas will be the fifth generation to farm here. My granddad Laurie Walker took the opportunity to buy Thorpe Farm from Hornby Grange Estate. Our owned land runs to 160 acres with 90 acres here and a further 70 that we bought at Appleton Wiske three years ago. We also rent a further 100 acres.
“We grow 75 acres of winter wheat with the variety Grafton that has performed well each of the last three years, winter barley that did really well last year and grass to make horse haylage and hay. It’s predominantly clay land and other than keeping 45 cattle on B&B for another farmer that’s our on-farm enterprise. I began agricultural contracting many years ago and Tommy tends to look after that side now as well as silage work for Martin Metcalfe at Silverhill.
“Baling makes up around 30 per cent of our contracting work but ploughing, power harrowing and combination drilling is the larger part of the work for us, which is why we always pride ourselves on our ploughing. We also undertake slurry work and leading muck during winter.”
Les might never have purchased a single vintage tractor had it not been for the Superman-heroics of his father Laurie when out with his Standard Fordson, as Barry explained: “I’ll never forget the story dad told of coming back from Ripon with his dad after buying a trailer. On the way back home the trailer detached itself from the tractor when the drawer bar came out.
“This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem except it happened on a railway line crossing, the trailer straddling the line with my dad on it and with a train on its way. Granddad managed to shove the trailer off the track by hand otherwise it could have wiped them out.
“As dad started amassing his collection he bought a Diesel Super Major. That’s one we’re keeping as it was the first tractor I used when spreading muck. It has so much sentimental value and I drove dad to his funeral using it with a really nice vintage trailer.”
Massey Ferguson and Ferguson tractors make up most of the collection and there will be plenty to interest from collectors and those involved in vintage tractor runs that take place during the summer.
Barry enjoys vintage tractors but he hasn’t time to keep them all looking good and needs the space that they take up. Les, knowing this, left the collection to Janice for her to disperse.
“We’re keeping five tractors and selling 19,” says Janice. “The tractors that are staying all have considerable sentimental value, but we hope that those who buy the others will get as much enjoyment out of them as dad did.”
The sale will take place at Thorpe Farm on Saturday, May 27.