By Karen Carruth

What is it about vintage tractors that has crowds of people staring with admiration and a certain amount of envy at agricultural shows around Scotland?
I don’t get it, so I have to ask. Russell McNab is past president of the Ayrshire Vintage Tractor and Machinery Club – let’s condense that to the AVTMC – and he knows a thing or two about vintage tractors going by the 30 plus machines he owns and has lined up in his shed.
I visit Russell at his farmhouse near Stair, in Ayrshire, and we have a chat about what keeps him interested in these vintage workhorses.
“I think it has a lot to do with nostalgia,” he says. “Many of the people who love vintage machines learned to drive on them, particularly the Ferguson TE20, there’s definitely an element of thinking back to the good old days. The Standard Fordson is another such model which inspires nostalgia, particularly from those who drove them as Land Girls during World War II.”
Being involved with the AVTMC as a member and also as their newsletter editor and publisher, he is grateful for the wonderful social element which the club brings.
“The vintage tractor enthusiasts are mostly all lovely people, there is a lot of camaraderie among the members, everybody gets on, we are a bunch of like-minded folk getting together and talking about something we all enjoy.”
The camaraderie that Russell talks about is alive and well at the club’s meetings where they regularly attract 125 people, with more turning up when there is a particularly good speaker booked. There are members coming from as far afield as Glenluce, Glasgow, Largs and Strathaven to keep in touch with vintage matters.
Russell’s interest started when he finally retired. He was a farmer in Cumnock and when the farm succumbed to development, he and wife Isobel and family moved down to Stair, where he started his own building and joinery business. He spent a couple of years renovating their stunning farmhouse, and spent the next decade working at the business.
When he did retire, at his wife’s insistence, he knew that he had to do something to keep himself busy, and in this case he turned his attention to vintage tractors, machinery and carts.
Fast forward to the present and Russell has a magnificent collection of machines. He’s something of a David Brown fan, there is a large picture of a David Brown 990 on his kitchen wall. I ask whether most enthusiasts have their own manufacturer that they favour.
“Yes, people are usually a dyed in the wool fan of one manufacturer. Whether that’s Massey Ferguson or Fordson, even though I like David Browns I do have a mix of different machines.”
It seems if you want to pick up tractors or parts it can be very much through word of mouth. Someone will know someone who has an old machine they want rid of, and it will eventually get back to someone who will be interested. I’m sure there is loads of chat like this at the meetings.
Russell loves the process of taking an old tractor and bringing it back to life. He’s clearly a perfectionist, looking at the standard of workmanship his machines display. “I annoy myself sometimes,” he says, rubbing a speck of dust from a Fordson Super Dexta we are standing beside.
Getting the parts needed to start the process of rebuilding the tractors is a game of trying to find what you need at a price you are willing to pay. 
Russell talks about how it is fairly easy to find parts that would do the job, but what you really want are original parts. As with the tractors, those that are original and in good condition are a rare finds these days, obviously, as they aren’t being made any more. 
Then there are those which are in working order, or at least in a condition that can be brought back to life. Fully restored tractors can command a good price – but for every one restored, that means there are more of them – whereas original tractors tend to reduce in numbers as no more can be produced – hence their high value.
He is pretty handy himself with engineering parts or he gets the help of his good friend and fellow vintage enthusiast, John McNae, who has a workshop not far from Russell, and they both turn their hand to getting the machines back on the road if at all possible.
“You do need to have a basic knowledge about mechanics to get the best out of the machines. The tin work (body work) also takes knowledge and ability.” 
Russell has created his own body paint-shop in his shed and will happily tinker away with the machines for hours on end.
“What happens usually is that I will start one tractor, and find that the parts won’t be available for three to six months, so I start on something else in the meantime.” Russell’s machines are pristine in their finished state.
Cost wise, this can be a hobby for any purse. Russell tells me that you can pick up something for £200-£300, but at the other end of the scale he knows of a very low hours MF 135, 1970s model which sold for £32,000. 
Again, it is the original parts and features that the collectors are after, you can’t make original parts but you can always restore, and that’s where the price difference comes from.
Other enthusiasts are proud of their machines no matter what physical state they are in. They will turn up at the local ‘road runs’ with their machines which may be roadworthy but need a little TLC, and be as happy as you like just to be involved, and Russell says fair play to them. He is delighted they are supporting the road runs no matter what they bring.
As for agricultural shows, Russell has taken some of his machines to the shows, but he’s not really that interested in prizes for having best machine, etc, that’s not really why he takes them. He goes to enjoy the day, but he knows that for some other vintage tractor owners they really love taking home a red rosette, which is validation of the work they have put in.
The AVTMC run their own road runs twice a year, one around Easter and one in the autumn, usually August. The height of fun for a vintage tractor enthusiast, these get-togethers can attract more than 100 tractors. 
The run takes a lot of organisation, covering around 30 miles and it’s a day of catching up with friends, inspecting the latest additions to their collections and having a laugh with pals, and the chance to show off what you’ve been working on.
Russell says that his wife Isobel is part of the team of ladies who provide the catering for the drivers out on the road runs. She enjoys the chat with the teams who are out on the day. She regularly comes along to the AVTMC meetings with Russell, so there is some home support for when he brings home yet another rusty tractor to join the collection.
“Some of the guys involved spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get their latest purchase home without their wife knowing. 
‘I’ve heard of people dismantling their newly bought tractor, taking it home a part at a time and rebuilding it at home, somewhere that the wife won’t notice it... hopefully’
Russell says that Isobel does torment him about it, “but she loves it really,” he thinks. 
“In truth, she is a great support, and it’s nice to go with your wife to something that you both really enjoy. She even knows the real price for some of them and still lets me get on with it. She likes them when they have been restored, not when they are rust buckets, and if we go on a road run, which I often do to find out whether there are oil leaks or anything needing fixed, she complains about having to sit on the unrestored ones. She wants the nice shiny machines.”
I ask when a machine becomes vintage. Apparently, Russell tells me, that more than 50 years old is vintage, more than 30 years old is classic, or thereabouts.
The club hosts a rally in the summer, usually at Ayr Market, which attracts many owners of tractors, lorries and cars, all vying for the top trophy of best exhibit.
All these events are reported in the AVTMC newsletter, which was one sheet of A4 a decade ago when Russell took over as the editor and publisher, and can now be something in the region of 14 pages with colour photos. 
Russell reports on the club’s meetings, what was decided, who was speaking etc, and he attends as many events as he can and reports on them too. He is a well-known figure at the road runs and rallies with his camera and notebook.
He also gives the total for what the club has raised for charity, which so far is almost £100,000. He says: “It’s a great feeling handing over a cheque to someone you know is really going to benefit from it. We raise money on the rallies and road runs, take collections, ask for a small donation to enter the rally etc, all of which goes to charity.
“AVTMC has donated and restored a couple of vintage tractors over the years to be raffled for charity, a Fergie, which made around £12,500, and a pristine David Brown 780 which was raffled in aid of RSABI, which made £20,000 for the charity. The winner, who came from Aberdeenshire, was announced at AgriScot a couple of years ago. 
“My friend John McNae and I are always looking for cheap tractors to fix them up to a reasonable standard and sell them on, donating the money directly to charity.”
We have a wander around his shed. On the right are a row of beautifully restored David Brown tractors. The light reflecting off their surface, they look as new as the day they rolled out the manufacturer’s factory. On the other side of the shed are tractors in various stages of repair, with a local retired mechanic who comes to tinker at the machines taking one apart. 
In the back of the shed are some other makes that have been restored and even further back there are the ‘in the queue’ ones that haven’t been started yet. Tucked away at the back of the tractors are four box carts, which have also been restored beautifully.
He always wanted to restore a cart, and he shows me the Jack of Maybole box cart, which is lined up with three Pollock of Mauchline box carts. They have been lovingly restored to their original condition.
He is rightly proud of his machines, though modest about his workmanship and his level of knowledge, which is obviously sizeable. He loves talking about his machines and is a great supporter of the club, and the events it organises.
The club is thriving, with a newsletter print run of 350 a month, and yes the average age will be male, aged 50 plus, but Russell does note that there are quite a few younger enthusiasts that have been turning up to the meetings – including some young ladies!  A few teenagers have been showing an interest, which is encouraging.
Russell adds: “I think I am very fortunate to be involved in vintage tractors at this time. There are still rare machines to find, there are still parts to be found, but in another decade or so, I doubt we will have that. 
“The huge computerised machines of today don’t hold the same nostalgia for anyone. I can’t imagine someone getting excited about a circuit board from a current machine in 50 years’ time, not like they do about the wee Fergie or the old Fordsons, which people love, as it was the first ones that exploded onto the scene after horses left the farming scene.”

For more details on the Ayrshire Vintage Tractor and Machinery Club, you can e-mail