When you retire after 56 years working on the same farm it says two things. You are in a job you love, and you have a good employer.

Robert McLuckie hung up his tractor keys at the end of October, having worked for the Robertson family, of West Edge Farm, near Loanhead, on the outskirst of Edinburgh, for 54 of those 56 years.

Robert had no background in farming, he came from a family of miners, but a couple of days out of school driving a tractor was enough to get him hooked.

As was the way back then, the 16-year-old Robert was passing the farm on his motorbike on a day off work (he worked as a porter) and saw them lifting tatties and thought that it looked like something he would like to do. So, in he went and asked for a job. The answer from the farm’s owner RD (Bobby) Adam was, there’s no job on the tractors but I’ve a need for a pig laddie. He started the following Monday. That was the first week in October in 1964.

First day at West Edge, and he was sent off to lend a hand emptying a trailer of tatties, then down to the field to empty tattie baskets, then he got the chance to drive a tractor back up to the farm. “I had no licence, nothing, and here I am on an old Grey Fergie. Then after the tatties finished I was on to dung spreading. I really never went near the pigs at all.”

When Robert started the only way to learn was to watch what was happening and copy it. Head tractor man Peter Somerville was the man to keep an eye on. He showed Robert what to do from 7.30am to 5pm.

The current owner of the farm, the Robertson family came in September 1966, which didn’t make much difference to Robert’s daily regime. But it did cement the next 54 years working with the same family.  He worked initially for Bobby Robertson, and he now works for his son, Alistair.

At that time, the farm was one of the biggest turnip growers in the Lothians, growing 60-80 acres in year. Robert mentioned that back then, all the turnips were hand cut, no machines to take the strain. In a normal year they were storing 1000 tonnes of turnips in the shed, but they only had a 2.5 tonne trailer.

Robert laughs: “You could eat all you wanted, you never put any weight on. Once the turnips were sown, there was singling, shawing, bagging them, weighing them, and storing them. And there was the barley to deal with too.”

As the years progressed technology moved on and the combines started to appear. They had a chap working at the farm who knew a bit about combining, he did it for a year, then it was over to the safe pair of hands that was Robert.

“I just got flung into it. In the main I was ploughing, sowing, and drilling,” he says.

Alistair comments: “Nowadays these new tractors come with GPS to keep your ploughing straight, but Robert never needed it, he just had the eye for it.”

When Robert and Alistair look back they have a laugh about how basic the tractors and combines were that they used.

“When I started,” says Robert, “there was an open cabin. I had to go to work with a hat on and goggles and a mask for the dust. You would wear the goggles against the wind, and when you turned around you could take them off for a bit. I remember once we were cutting a 15 acre field for a neighbour.”

Alistair takes up the story: “There was some sort of weed all over the field which had little balls on it, and when the combine went over them, it shot green dust up all over the place. The combine came back to the farm dark green, and Robert was the same colour.” They both have a laugh at the memory of the green combine driver.

They also have a chat about the combine back in the late 70s that came with a new, fangled, air conditioning system. That being a large water bottle stored on the roof, which then had an electric motor through the bottom of it with a spinner. The water got pumped onto the spinner which had sponges attached, which then fired out a fine mist to the driver. That was all well and good until you went down a hill and the bucket up top would overflow and the water would come pouring down into the cabin.

Particularly in arable farming, technology has advanced in huge strides. In the early days in the old JDs or Fords, it was all handles and pulling, and nowadays it all happens at the push of a button.

Combining time remains Robert’s favourite time of the year. Alistair jokes with him it was because he had the time to sit in the combine and learn the words to the latest songs that Robert was performing when he was in a band. Singing them over and over till he knew them by heart. They could hear him coming.

He says, in reality, he just enjoyed it all, when he started there was 12 men working on the farm which was 150 acres, and now there is three men covering 1500 acres (the pigs and turnips finished at the end of the 1970s). He has seen a lot of changes and had to adapt to them all, both willingly and successfully.

Being a jack of all trades had held Robert in good stead on the farm. Fencing, building walls and dykes were his forte. Alistair Robertson’s grandfather, Tam Milne taught Robert about building dykes.

“He was a nightmare man to please,” says Robert. “You put a stone down on the wall and before it had settled he would have me turn it three or four times before it was right for him.” The lesson paid off as the dykes around the farm are perfect.

Looking to the future of arable work he thinks that technology is already so advanced he can’t see where it will go. There are already self-steering combines, which Robert thinks takes the skill out of the work. However, he does see that you wouldn’t be so tired at the end of the day as you don’t have to invest the same level of concentration into the job.

Robert adds: “You never finish learning about ploughing, you do something different every day to keep the job level and straight.”

He would still encourage youngsters into this line of work though. But he thinks that kids looking for experience find it difficult. Employers want experience but how do you get it before you start the job. The days of turning up and asking for a Saturday job seem to be lost. Although it’s a less manual job these days with the cabins on a combine a welcoming place with soundproofing, radios, fridges and GPS at your fingertips.

Alistair pays tribute to his longest serving member of staff: “Robert has worked with 13 combines and 16 different tractors and never once were they hashed or abused, they were immaculate.”

He winks: “Apart from that time when he got stuck in a hole. If there was ever a tricky field to be ploughed, we would send Robert in first. I think it was a JD 6820, one of the fields had a big slope, and there was a huge stone in the field. We went down the day before and moved the stone, and filled it in. Robert didn’t know this, so off he went straight onto the soft ground and down he went.” They both have a laugh at the memory of having to get the forklift out to lift the plough off to get the tractor out the hole. But that was a one off.

After 56 years working hard, what is getting him out of bed now. “I still wake up at the same time, I can’t help it. I’m up at 5.45am, and see my wife Yvonne off to work, then I have time to do some of my hobbies. I do a bit of woodwork, and gardening and I play the guitar and I’m currently learning the mandolin.”

He has spent this year teaching Alistair’s son Neil the tricks of the trade, as Neil is taking over Robert’s rather large shoes.

Neil spent the summer learning how to combine, service and maintain the machines, and Robert laughs when he says: “I’ve taught him all I ken, and he still kens nothing!”

I’m sure Robert will be on hand to keep Neil right when needed.

Robert has so far received a long service medal for 30, 40 and 50 years from RHASS, presented at Dalkeith Show. The Robertson family organised a surprise leaving party for Robert at the beginning of November, inviting all his friends from the farm, and the neighbours he knows so well. And as a special surprise, the Scottish sales manager from Claas presented him with a model Claas Matador combine.

Robert continues: “My father used to say, “You can do anything you want, but you’re not going down the pit.” I was always content here. It’s been a good life for me, I’ve no complaints. I never looked for another job and it’s no done me any harm, onyway,” he smiles.

As a final word on the subject of working in the same job for 56 years, Robert adds: “If you go out in the morning and by the time you come home you’ve not learned anything, then something is wrong.”