Phil Yeldham garages his beloved 1955 Fordson New Diesel Major E1A, while his car languishes on the drive outside. Sarah Waspe meets the man to find out why.
Justifying his position on the parking arrangements, owner Phil Yeldham quipped: “Who keeps a car in a garage, anyway? The Fordson New Diesel Major E1A fits in the garage nicely, and I’ve got room to work on it.” He has spent several weeks working on it recently as he has been furloughed and has been treating it like his day job.
Phil is currently employed as an HGV driver, but is a former young farmer and mechanic. He used to work at Winston Hall Farm in Suffolk on Saturdays, when he was still at school. It was here that he developed an awareness of this very tractor.
“I did a couple of harvests at the farm, carting corn and stacking bales, and that tractor was always in the background at the time – we’re talking the late 1980s. I would’ve walked past it as it spent most of its working life driving a mill in a barn there, with a belt on an oat roller. I took little notice of it at the time as it was old. It was in a pretty good condition then.
“My dad, Paul, bought the E1A in 1994 from Bill James’ farm sale at Winston Hall Farm, together with a six-tonne Weeks trailer and a set of trailed seed harrows. It was a job lot and I think he paid about £600 for the three items. He wasn’t looking for a particular tractor, just some harrows to use on the field at home.
“The trailer has long since dissolved, but the harrows still work. My parents had horses, and they used the tractor regularly for emptying the muck from the trailer, up until four years ago. It always sat outside, hooked-up to the trailer, withstanding all weathers. Nevertheless, it never failed to start, even with four inches of snow on the bonnet!”
The E1A had been sitting in the back field at Stonham for ages, languishing with rust, and the engine had seized in around 1996. But, with his mechanical background, Phil was able to free-off the engine in 1997, when his interest in the tractor manifested itself and he decided to take on the Fordson as a project of his own. He used to drive the tractor at his parents’ in any case.
This is a Suffolk-registered tractor, but the badge on the side has rusted and is missing. Phil believes that Potters of Framlingham could have originally supplied it. This classic model Fordson was built between 1951 and 1958, and replaced the E27N, which had been launched in 1945. The E1A was a heavier and larger tractor, and boasted a six-speed gearbox and 40hp engine, in petrol, diesel, or vaporising oil variants.
The highly-prized diesel version was exported on a global scale, and enjoyed considerable success in the US. The Dagenham plant exceeded a daily production rate of one machine every four minutes, to satisfy demand. It is widely thought to be one of the greatest tractors of all time.
Phil’s has all its original tinwork, and he replaced the front axle in 2005 with one from an E27N; the only one he could get at the time. “I wasn’t worried about originality then, and it fitted fine. Parts are cheap,” he commented. He has sourced a lot of his parts from Agriline. “I’ve put a new bonnet on it, but have kept the front grille and Fordson badge as they were as they are original.” The badge is slightly dented, and the grille has some damage on one side. It also always starts despite the gearbox making ‘funny noises’, and the oil pressure being low. Phil hasn’t known it to have a new clutch since he first saw it in the late 1980s.
“Most recently, I’ve been working on the tracking, as this was out on the front tyres. I needed to move a bolt on the front axle. I’d only put some new tyres on there in the last couple of years. The steering is now much better, too.”
“I’ve been busy painting the tractor with a roller and a brush. I’ve also sprayed the bonnet, nose cone and tank. The nose cone is original. I had some blue paint from Sparex that had been in my Mum’s barn since 2004. I had some orange paint over there too, and I’ve still got three more tins of the blue paint left!
“It started off as a small restoration and it has led to me spending weeks on it. I’ve done it for my own gratification. It needs new wings on it, but they’ll be another £250, and I don’t want to spend that at the moment,” he confessed. He has put new headlights on it and, in 2004, he even added some sidelights to the mudguards – from a 1980s SK-cabbed Mercedes truck. This was when he did the wiring loom. “Original lights were very expensive, back then.”
He also ordered some rear lights from the internet, which were reduced from £40 to £15, but arrived broken. They were kindly replaced by a full lamp. He has even painted the exhaust. The water gauge is from an MGB GT. The roll bar has been removed for the moment, as it doesn’t fit in the garage.
Phil’s enthusiasm for the restoration meant that he even found himself tinkering away, grinding the valves underneath the bonnet of the E1A in the week running up to his wedding, in 2004. He then took part in Power of the Past in Wantisden in Suffolk, pulling some spring tines. This wasn’t a successful event as the tractor broke down a lot, had a blocked fuel tank, Phil got covered with diesel and it was a wet day into the bargain. This contrasted sharply with the beautiful, sunny honeymoon he’d just enjoyed in the Maldives.
Then, in 2019, it pulled a period plough for the first time; a Ransomes PM3. This went off without a hitch, although Phil said there was a lot of black smoke, possibly because he was able to give it some proper work for a change. He also took it to the Blue Force event at Stonham, for the second time that year.
There is a second Fordson New Diesel Major E1A at his parents’ property which dates from 1957, but Phil sees this is as a project that will involve its restoration and selling on. Perhaps there’s no room left in the garage!
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