THEY say necessity is the mother of invention – well that's certainly the case for the story of the re-incarnation of a fairly unique tractor which was thought to be the first four-wheel-drive tractor on the island of Islay.

Donald Fletcher, of Persabus Farm, Port Askaig, had it in his mind to restore his farm's four-wheel-drive 'wee grey' Ferguson for some time and a couple of years ago began assembling the various parts of it which were 'lying around the farm'. However, the coming of Covid-19 lockdown at the end of March meant that his and wife, Rosemary's successful holiday accommodation and pottery, with coffee shop had to close down – thankfully, now re-opened for business. But that hiatus left him with a bit of time on his hands.

The Scottish Farmer:

And so began a more structured approach to restoring 'Auld Lizzie' as his father, the late Arra (Archie) Fletcher had called her when she arrived in Islay in 1956.

Donald took up the story: "Our four-wheel-drive conversion arrived on Islay in 1956. Wee Hughie McLean, the former Hamilton Brothers Highlands and Islands expert salesman, thought the back end of the tractor might have been from a 1948 model, but as far as we are aware it arrived on Islay as a brand new Reekie conversion to four-wheel-drive.

"It was the first four-wheel-drive tractor on Islay and arrived by steamer. Initially, my father had been advised it would be arriving by 'tomorrow's boat'.

"He was then sent a letter informing him that 'tomorrow's boat' was fully booked and that the tractor would instead be shipped on the Loch Frisa, leaving the Kingston Dock, in Glasgow, on Monday, October 15, 1956. It would have been lifted by the boat's jib, slung in a net, and onto the pier."

The Scottish Farmer:

The Fletchers' tractor arrived with a Perkins agricultural driver's club insurance for the sum of £100. It read: 'In the event of a fatal accident or an accident resulting in permanent total disablement sustained by any member in good standing whilst striving or servicing any agricultural tractor powered by a Perkins diesel engine, the club will pay the sum of £100 subject to the terms and conditions stated on the application for membership form.'

The tractor was used for general farm work like ploughing, cropping and feeding livestock etc and was able to plough when others couldn't because of the four-wheel-drive element. Donald added: "My earliest memory of 'Auld Lizzie' was buck-raking corn stooks up to the corn stacks.

"I started ploughing at the age of seven on her and I would be out with a two-furrow plough doing my best to keep the furrows straight. Once my father discovered I loved tractor work, he was very happy to allow me to get on with it, even if it did mean me skipping school – much to my mother's dismay.

"The start of the restoration process began a couple of years ago, after lots of nagging from my wife, who pointed out that it was no use leaving what looked like a rusty old relic for the children to deal with. I was the only one who had any understanding of the mechanics of the tractor, having worked on her for many years and a memory of how the tractor had looked in her hey day.

The Scottish Farmer:

"The tractor had lain on the farm, in various bits, untouched, for almost 50 years. Even in that state, people would still occasionally call by to see her and try to get a deal to purchase her. My wife, on more than one occasion, nearly sold her!

"But, when lockdown came, with all of the accommodation, the pottery and the cafe on the farm closed, I had the perfect opportunity to really get stuck in to the restoration work as things were a lot quieter and there was more time than usual.

"In total, though, the restoration took a couple of years as it has been something I have tinkered away at gradually between other projects and work. Some bits were challenging, especially sourcing parts, to try and maintain as much originality as possible.

The Scottish Farmer:

"Also, working with rusty components that had been left for many years untouched, meant getting everything oiled, cleaned and working once more. I tackled the engine first and thereafter worked from the back of the tractor through to the front.

"The younger clan helped out, with some of the body work under the guidance of Gregor Fletcher, from Fletcherfabworks, who took over restoring and painting the bonnet, seat and wings, when he was over for a holiday.

"But, the biggest challenge was getting the engine running once more. It had to be stripped down, cleaned and carefully reassembled. We also still have a lot of the original implements which we are now restoring.

"I haven't ever seen another Perkins P3 four-wheel-drive conversion, but this was my tractor when I was a boy, so it was a pleasure to restore her to her former glory. Having all but completed the restoration work, my next project is a Fordson Major that came to Persabus in 1972."

Lockdown also meant that the entire family were back home from various parts of the world and were able to witness Auld Lizzie once more making it back out onto the road, with Donald driving her out of the shed and into the fields once again providing quite an emotive moment for all of the family and the cause of some celebration.

The Scottish Farmer:

Donald added: "I insisted that all of the family each took their turn to do a lap of honour in the field. After a few shaky starts there were huge smiles all round. It is after all part of their heritage and it's been a link through three generations. Auld Lizzie is, really, part of our family."

What an expert says ...

“In recent years, several of the UK’s leading collectors of Ferguson equipment – all people with literally hundreds of tractors, implements and accessories – have sold up, mainly due to retirement, but I can’t remember seeing a four-wheel drive Ferguson TE-20 in their dispersal sales,” said Rory Day, editor of Classic Tractor magazine.

“That tells you an awful lot about the rarity of the Ferguson TE-20s that were converted to four-wheel-drive in the 1950s. For many Ferguson collectors, especially those who know their stuff, a genuine 1950s four-wheel-drive TE-20, not a modern day conversion, is the Holy Grail and that also makes them incredibly valuable.

“When Selene, a pioneer of four-wheel-drive from Nichelino, near Turin, Italy, developed a conversion kit for the TE-20 in 1953, mainstream farm tractors with driven front wheels simply did not exist,” he added. “The benefits of four-wheel drive had not been recognised and farmers of the time were also very price conscious and not prepared to pay extra for something that was as yet unproven.

“Some of the very early four-wheel drive Ferguson TE-20s sold in the UK were converted by Selene in Italy, who also fitted the tractors with Perkins P3 diesel engines. Several of these converted Fergusons were imported into Scotland by Reekie Engineering, of Arbroath, during the mid-1950s.

"If you are lucky enough to own one of these four-wheel drive TE-20s, rest assured you will be the envy of many Fergie fans,” said Mr Day.