Tractor aficionados can see the restored 1919 Fordson tractor at the Lawrence Museum.
Tractor aficionados can see the restored 1919 Fordson tractor at the Lawrence Museum.

A new heartbeat after 50 years

WHEN Geoff Bert first saw the old Fordson tractor, he was filled with ambition to restore the 1919 machine to its original working condition. "I'll give it a heartbeat again,” he said.

It was the first tractor in Lawrence and was bought in 1921 by a Mr Charlie Childs from a Grafton, NSW, Dealership.

Charlie Childs modified a single furrow plough to triple furrow and provided tractor ploughing field days to demonstrate the superior efficiency of the tractor over the horse. Charlie and the Fordson took on contract work and could plough one acre in an hour.

But it had lain idle for many years, and was donated to the Lawrence Museum located between Grafton and Maclean on Clarence River, Northern NSW, by John Harrison who was bequeathed the tractor by Charlie Childs.

The dilapidated machine was brought to Lawrence Museum in March 2018. When Geoff began the tough task of dismantling the tractor, he discovered a few problems. The engine had been full of water for many years, perhaps the result of a flood, so it was completely seized. The pistons were worn and a con rod was bent. Possibly as a result of the tractor providing power to Child's Sawmill for many years.

But spare parts for a 1919 tractor were not easy to find. Geoff talked to as many people as he could to find anyone who might know of the whereabouts of another similar tractor or parts.

A few weeks later, he discovered farmers, Stuart & Trish MacAlpine from Bogan Downs, Coolibah, around 300kms north west of Dubbo, had a similar engine. But how could we transport the engine to Lawrence? Many transport companies were contacted, ABC Dubbo presented a live interview on radio to seek possible transport from Dubbo to Grafton. All to no avail.

Then Geoff had a chance conversation with Tony from Mid North Coast Motor Inn. Tony was the coach driver and had brought a group of visitors to the Museum, he spotted the tractor and Geoff explained the problems with spare parts. Within a few days, Tony had made some calls and we had transport from Dubbo to Macksville. At this point Stuart generously offered to drive the engine to Dubbo, a mere round trip of 600kms. Peter Ogden of Ogden's Coaches, Dubbo lifted the engine onto a pallet, and transported it to Macksville, where it was gladly collected by Geoff Bert.

All of this time, no one had any idea if the engine would contain the parts needed. It also had been standing in a paddock for thirty years. It took a week to free up the engine. But what a joy for Geoff to find all pistons as new and straight con rods, when cleaned up.

Geoff set to rebuild the engine with a passion. The engine's crankshaft was linished and refitted back into the block, and adjusted with shims. All of the valves were reground and refitted back into the block as well as the camshaft.

Lawrence Museum volunteers helped with the painting, and lifting, and the tractor was restored.

But Geoff still had to give the tractor a 'heartbeat' again. After a few sleepless nights, the day came and the community gathered at the museum for the occasion.

It was very quiet as Geoff took the crank handle, he cranked, and cranked, finally a puff of smoke, some adjustments were made, and at last as he cranked, the engine roared, to great applause from the crowd.

Geoff was beaming as he watched the tractor. "I could've started it beforehand, 'he said,' but I wanted to be honest and let everyone see the real thing.'

Geoff's passion for restoration came from his first car. "My grandfather gave me 1928 Willys Whippet, when I was about 12. It had no pistons or rings and he said if I could get it going, it would be mine. And I did just that. I was just born to be a mechanic.

You can see the restored 1919 Fordson tractor at the Lawrence Museum, Lawrence, situated between Grafton and Maclean on the Clarence River.The Lawrence Museum is located the former 2NR Broadcasting Station building and lies under the tall radio transmitting mast which has been a landmark in Lawrence since 1936 and sits above the Bluff Point Ferry on the Clarence River.

Opening hours are Tuesday from 9am-1pm, weekends from 1pm-4pm. Phone (02) 6647 7588.

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