WHEN I was a kid on the farm there was always an ‘old girl’.
It was not a term used in any derogatory sense, because mum was mum and nanna was nanna (and heaven help you if you used any other description).
The ‘old girl’ on our farm was a Lanz Bulldog, and the memories that flood back, particularly as a boy helping to start it at 5am with a blowtorch, in the freezing cold, provides me with some understanding of why people collect ‘old girls’.
For retired Katanning farmer Mal Beeck, his first memories were of a Farmall H, a row-crop variant, which was his dad’s first tractor in 1946.
“I remember driving it and towing a 16-run scarifier and a 16-run Shearer combine,” Mal said.
“And it was used to pull a 10 furrow mouldboard plough, which we would use to skim the soil to kill weeds.”
Fast forward to 2018 and last month, he became the proud owner of a Farmall F20, which he bought at the late Tony Pailthorpe’s auction at Benger, along with a Minneapolis 17-30 Type B, steel wheel tractor.
It took his collection to 56 models having started his new “career” as a collector in 1996.
“I came back from school at 18 and by 21 I had taken over the farm, which was called Bellware, west of the town,” Mal said.
“I didn’t really leave it until we sold it this year.
“In the past 10 years I’ve had a bit more time to muck around with restoring a few models and it has become a labour of love for me now.”
About 55 per cent of his collection are tractors manufactured before 1950, with a preference for pre-World War Two models.
As an enthusiastic member of the Katanning Machinery Restoration Group, Mal has 11 of his tractors in a display shed near the Recreation Centre, with the rest of his collection housed in a shed on his son’s Bellbrook property.
And with his enthusiastic wife Viv, he has been busy cataloguing the collection.
“When we totalled up how much Mal had spent it was quite a figure,” she said.
Mal recalls buying his first “collectable’ which he bought in 1996, a Chamberlain Super 90, because he had a “bit of a leaning towards it” as a WA-made tractor.
It was built by Chamberlain at Welshpool in 1963 with 803 units being built and sold.
“It was the Rolls Royce of tractors in its day,” Mal said.
“And it was the last orange model Chamberlain made.”
The Super 90 was so-called because the two stroke engine was super-charged to produce 67 kilowatts (90 horsepower) with a then massive, nearly four-tonne drawbar pull.
Of course, with every tractor there’s a story, which is the reason for this abridged version of a story that could easily become a book.
Mal’s oldest tractor is an Australian-made Jelbart, which rolled off the production line at Ballarat in 1919.
“It started out as a stationary engine in 1914,” Mal said.
“And it now looks like a stationary engine on wheels,” Viv said.
Another interesting model is a 1921 HL12 Lanz Bulldog, the first model built by Heinrich Lanz, in Mannheim, Germany.
Mal bought it after a “surfing session” on the internet and it has become a regular exhibit at tractor rallies throughout Australia.
Last year Mal and Viv “road-trained” it to the National Machinery Vintage Rally in Hamilton, Victoria.
“We put it on a truck and towed a caravan along with our dog Mimi,” Viv said.
“It took us ages to get there.”
Rallies and parades are regular outings for Mal and Viv, and they especially enjoy going to local shows such as events held at Brookton, Waroona, Dowerin, Albany, Mt Barker, Toodyay, Kojonup, Cranbrook, Katanning and the annual Lights of the Hill at Brunswick.
“We’ve driven tractors to Albany and make a day of it,” Mal said.
“And every year we drive through the forests of Donnelly River, near Manjimup, on an organised trek.
“I think there’s a trek on this year through the forests at Pemberton.”
At this year’s ‘Lights’ event, Mal exhibited a Field Marshall Mark 11, which is started with a shotgun cartridge and he also took along a Case 12-20 crossmotor series.
Mostly, Mal seeks vintage tractors in reasonable condition.
“I like to fix them up but I haven’t got the patience to start with only the shell,” he said.
“My friend Drew Hannah (a former mechanic at Farmer’s Centre 1978 Dumbleyung) helps me out when I need a hand to get things going.
“And I’ve got another friend who is an auto electrician so I’ve got somebody to get the lights in working order.
“I like old bodies that are in good condition that I know I can disassemble and fix them up.
“They might need a new panel or a few dings taken out and some paint, but generally I’ll get them into working order within three months.”
An example is the Jelbart.
“It was going when I got it but the crankcase split and got all sloppy and it took me a couple of times to get it right,” Mal said.
“And on one John Deere model, the radiator casting was rusted out and I had to get parts from the United States.
“A lot of the old girls need radiators re-conditioned or water pumps re-built so they don’t leak.
“And we’re forever replacing rings and magnetos.
“With the magnetos, you’ve got to get the sparking right and Drew is good at that.”
Other ‘gear’ required to dress up his models include shaping up rusted mudguards, which can included a bit of panel work, chiselling and hammering out rust.
And for that neutral look, Mal sometimes uses penetrol (rust-resistant paint).
‘Old girls’ he has dressed up include a Lanz Bulldog HR5 (circa 1934), a 1939 Australian-made, J-model McDonald, a rare 1934 Landini Velite, and a 1934 Steel Horse, a Hungarian tractor he sourced from Mukinbudin.
Then there’s the Chamberlain Crusader he has just finished restoring and, “Oh, that John Deere BO has a story”.
“It’s an orchard tractor and it was clagged so I tried to get it going one night,” Mal said.
“I pulled the plugs out to clean them and the petrol leaked through and came out of the chamber
“As I turned the flywheel, one of the wires was close enough to make contact and the spark created a fire which quickly spread to my clothes.
“I had to rush out of the shed and roll on the ground to put the fire out and I ended up at Fiona Stanley Hospital in Perth where I had skin grafts.”
Apart from that incident, Mal has managed to avoid any other dramas and he has become a proficient “web surfer”, though he does peruse magazines looking for old tractor models and word of mouth also is a good source, particularly among fellow Vintage Tractor & Machinery Association of WA (Tracmach) members.
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