Grey Fergies in for the long haul

ACROSS orchards throughout northern Victoria is a sight which has been a common one since the end of World War II — an army of little grey tractors hauling bins up and down the lines of fruit trees.

These little grey tractors — the TE20 Grey Fergie — last ran off the production line in 1956.

But they are still in great demand by fruit growers for their reliability and simplicity of use.

Daryl Gorman, from Aussie Ag Supplies in Shepparton, deals in spare parts and maintenance for the tractors and sees them everywhere in the region.

‘‘One orchard has 58 of them another one’s got 52, one has 42 and another’s got 96 of them,’’ he said.

Not bad for a tractor that hasn’t been built for 63 years.

Powered by a four-cylinder petrol engine, the Grey Fergie has survived a shift in the fruit industry.

‘‘The orchard game has changed so much,’’ Mr Gorman said.

‘‘It’s gone away from SPC and it’s all fresh fruit now.

‘‘Years ago they would drop the fruit bins in a row and have the pickers fill them and pick up the bins later.

‘‘Now they give the fruit pickers a tractor, load four or six bins on, take them into a row, fill the bins and take them to the packing shed where a forklift takes the bins off, puts on empty bins and out they go again.’’

Even with no new units being built, Mr Gorman still receives requests for them.

‘‘I get people ringing me saying ‘if you get hold of a good one, please ring me,’’ he said.

‘‘I get calls from Canberra, the Dandenongs, Swan Hill, they come from everywhere for the Grey Fergie.’’

So why is it so popular?

‘‘They are very reliable and a very simple design,’’ he said.

His wife Bernadette agrees.

‘‘They’re bulletproof to use, they have a four-speed gearbox and no electronics in them so they’re not breaking down all the time,’’ she said.

‘‘We have one client looking for 20 of them.

‘‘The parts are all available. You can still get them out of England. It’s amazing you can still get all that gear.’’

Aussie Ag Supplies carries everything new for ongoing maintenance of the tractors.

‘‘We’ve got complete engine rebuild kits, fan belts, clutches,’’ Mr Gorman said.

‘‘It still uses the original Zenith Carburettor and you can still buy complete parts for them from England. Everything is available.’’

The Ferguson TE20, to give the tractor its official name, was made in England immediately after the war and painted grey because it was the cheapest colour to produce following World War II.

It was named after engineer Harry Ferguson who invented the hydraulic three-point hitch system which remains the international standard for tractors of all makes and sizes to this day.

Mr Gorman can remember the arrival of the little Grey Fergie in Australia.

‘‘After World War II, I remember as a kid at the start of the 1950s all the Italians were using Clydesdale horses to plant their tomatoes,’’ Mr Gorman said.

‘‘Then along came the Grey Fergie and then all of a sudden they tipped their horses out. They sold in their thousands.’’

It was a period of huge development in the Goulburn Valley with fruit trees being planted and between them would be tomatoes or beans or peas.

‘‘They didn’t leave too many bare spots,’’ Mr Gorman said.

‘‘The Grey Fergie was the first linkage tractor available to suit fruit growers’ needs in Australia.

‘‘They sold for £550 but today a good one would set you back $4500.

‘‘They were really made out of good quality steel and were a good design for the period.

‘‘It’s a very basic starting procedure. We fit in an alternator, pull the generator out and put in a quick start push button on them.

‘‘There’s not a lot that can go wrong.

‘‘They don’t cause a lot of grief, I can tell you.’’

Mr Gorman said the Grey Fergie was an economical piece of machinery.

‘‘You don’t buy a tractor for $3000,’’ he said.

‘‘They tried a small Kubota tractor but they’re about $8000 and the engine is diesel so if there are problems they are very expensive to do up.

‘‘So they haven’t really found a competitor that’s better ( than the Grey Fergie)’’.

Mr Gorman estimates that about two million Grey Fergies were made.

‘‘In 1951, 8000 Grey Fergies were sold in Australia,’’ he said.

‘‘In Victoria now, there would be 10,000 Grey Fergies which is a huge number.’’

Harry Ferguson eventually merged with Massey-Harris becoming Massey Ferguson.

‘‘The Grey Fergie was replaced by the Ferguson 35 and then came the Ferguson 135 and the engines went from petrol to diesel,’’ Mr Gorman said.

But despite all the technological development, the Grey Fergie seems to have survived longer than anyone could have predicted.

‘‘It’s just a great little tractor loved by a lot of people,’’ Mr Gorman said.