A fine collection of Roadless Fordson tractors

Posted by Chris Graham on 4th June 2024

Bob Weir meets Colin Owen and his superb collection of very desirable, go-anywhere Roadless Fordson tractors.

Roadless Fordson tractors

Roadless Fordson tractors: A fine line-up of Welsh heavyweights.

Roadless stopped trading in 1983, but the company’s tractors now fetch premium prices. Back in the day these heavy-duty machines added some grunt to the tried and trusted Fordson brand and are still capable of doing a day’s work. They can also be seen pulling their weight on working fields during the summer show season.

Colin lives near Wrexham and has been acquiring Fordson Roadless machinery for many years. He has now built up a substantial collection. The autumnal weather had been particularly wet and windy in north Wales, but Colin agreed to show me three tractors from his stable, along with his first Fordson Major that he has owned since he was seventeen.

“I come from a rural and farming background and my parents owned a smallholding,” he explained. “My father was actually a builder to trade, and I followed in his footsteps. I specialised in shopfitting until I retired, and my son has since taken over the business. Although I occasionally help out, I now have the time to look after my tractors.”

Roadless Fordson tractors

The steep slope behind Colin’s Dexta shows how useful Roadless tractors are in the Welsh hills.

Colin’s job took him all over the country, but he also found the time to build up his tractor collection. He has been a big fan of Ford and Fordson all his life, and most of his tractors owe their allegiance to the Blue Oval.

“I bought a property fifteen years ago, which I mostly use in my spare time,” he said. “It’s where I keep my machinery and I’ve also put together a small joinery shop. I also do a bit of farming and the tractors sometimes lend a hand.”

The farming connection is important to Colin, becomes it reminds him of his boyhood days. “Our neighbours were involved in farming, and although my family wasn’t full time we used to keep some sheep,” he recalls. “Although I never got fully involved, farming has always been in my blood.”

North Wales is a land of rivers, woods and rolling hills, and Colin can still remember the local tractors when he was growing up.

Roadless Fordson tractors

The Roadless Dexta was built from 1958 until 1961, only 67 Roadless Dexta’s are believed to have been made.

“Our neighbour on one side had this grey Fergie, and the neighbour on the other used Fordson Majors,” he said. “I’ve been fond of the Major ever since. My uncle also had a Major, and I used to visit from an early age. There was something about the tractor I found fascinating. I’d learned to drive a Fergie as my first tractor but getting behind the Fordson was a big step up, especially for an eight-year-old!”

Colin’s interest in Roadless machinery also came from the Fordson connection. “Typically, of North Wales there was a lot of steep ground where we lived, and ordinary tractors had their work cut out,” he recalls. “The countryside is tailor-made for crawlers and four-wheel-drive, and tractors like the Fordson Roadless fitted the bill.”

By the time he was seventeen, Colin was ready to buy his first tractor. Although he was not quite ready for Roadless, he was determined to acquire a Major.

“The tractor cost £175, which was a lot of money back then,” he said. “I funded it by cutting up logs and selling them round our village. I also earned enough cash for my first chainsaw. As I recall the Major’s engine was seized, but I managed to get it going again. I’ve left the tinwork in the same condition as when I bought it, and the tractor still does the occasional bit of work.”

Roadless Fordson tractors

This photograph shows the difference in bulk between the Dexta and Ploughmaster.

Colin then had to concentrate on making a living and started collecting Fordson tractors in earnest about twenty years ago.

“One of the first Fordson Roadless I acquired was the Ploughmaster 6/4,” he recalls. “I remember the tractor because when I first clapped eyes on the machine, it needed a new coat of paint. The previous owner had started its restoration and had got around to priming the tractor in red oxide. Fortunately for me he was starting to lose interest in the project and when I showed up, he decided to move it on.”

According to Colin he had originally gone to Lincolnshire in 2003 to see the owner about another tractor, a standard Dexta.

Roadless Fordson tractors

The Ploughmaster 6/4 was only in production for a short time and survivors are rare.

“I’d heard about the owner through word of mouth,” he said. “I knew he owned several tractors, including this Fordson Dexta. I’d already come to an arrangement to buy the Dexta and had driven over in my lorry to take delivery. While I was there I spotted the Ploughmaster standing in the corner covered in sheets. I ended up taking both tractors home to North Wales. Ironically, I’ve since moved that particular Dexta on.”

Like many enthusiasts Colin likes to know a little history about his tractors. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, and owners are left with a lot of grey areas.

“I don’t know a lot about the history of the 6/4, but I believe it spent some time out in Germany,” he said. “It was then bought by the farmer in Lincolnshire. In any event it needed a full nut and bolt restoration.”

The Roadless Super Dexta was built between 1963 and 1964, in small numbers.

The Ploughmaster 6/4 was introduced at the Smithfield show in 1962. The tractor was based on the Fordson E1A skid unit and the 6-cylinder Ford 590E engine similar to the unit used in the Fordson / Thames Trader lorry. The machine cost £1,785 new and around 200 were built up to October 1964. The model was replaced in December 1964 with the Ploughmaster 65, based on the new Ford Pre-Force 5000 6X. A 2-WD version was also built for export only, and this was called the Ploughmaster 6/2.

“I try and do as much of the restoration work as practicable,” Colin explained. “Fortunately, since I’ve stepped back from the business I’ve now got more time. The building also has plenty of storage space. As we’ve seen from the recent wet weather keeping old tractors out of the rain is important, as it reduces the risk of rust.”   

Colin also has two Roadless Dextas, which he bought from the same owner in 2017. The recently painted tractor is an early model and the Super Dexta is still in its working clothes.

Ford delivered the engines direct from their factory at Dagenham to the Roadless plant at Hounslow.

“The owner lived nearby, and I was approached by his wife,” Colin recalls. “I believe the owner was indisposed at the time. Apparently she’d heard about my Roadless collection and was looking for a buyer for her husband’s tractors.”

Opportunities to buy a Roadless tractor are not to be taken lightly, and Colin was happy to oblige.

“There is an interesting story about the Super Dexta” he said. “I was told that the tractor had originally belonged to a Scottish laird, or landowner. I was told he’d had an accident and was partly paralyzed. Undaunted, the laird had customized the tractor by putting twin wheels on both front and back and adding a special box to house his wheelchair. This all happened some time ago, of course, I believe Roadless helped with the conversion.

The 6/4’s hydraulics are all in working order.

“By all accounts, the laird used the tractor regularly on his estate despite the injury. He still enjoyed shooting crows and grouse with the help of his gamekeeper. At some point in time, the tractor was eventually sold to the previous owner. Unfortunately, the history of the painted Roadless Dexta is another one of those grey areas.”

Colin enjoys taking his Roadless tractors to rallies and is a big fan of working fields. He is also partial to the odd ploughing match.

“Roadless tractors are made for ploughing, especially in heavy soil,” he said. “Competition can be quite stiff around here, but I don’t take things too seriously.”

OK, not Roadless, but Colin’s first ever tractor. He wouldn’t part with it for the world.

Working fields are also becoming more popular and tractors like the Roadless are in their element.

“We had some good fun at the recent Shrewsbury Steam Fair at Onslow Park,” Colin said. “We usually plough at Onslow, and I often take my Doe conversion. The Doe is acting a bit temperamental at the moment and the clutch stuck at the last minute, which is always the way. This is why I took the Ploughmaster instead. On this occasion we did a spot of cultivating, and the weather stayed fair.”   

The four tractors on display are just an example of Colin’s superb collection, and he has several more (including the Doe!) tucked away in his shed. Yet despite the prestige of the Roadless badge, his favourite is still his first Major.

Colin and the Ploughmaster at the 2023 Shrewsbury Steam Fair.

“I bought that tractor at a young age, and it brings back many happy memories,” he said. “I still occasionally use it for things like topping and wouldn’t part with it for the world.”

This feature comes from the latest issue of Ford & Fordson Tractors, and you can get a money-saving subscription to this magazine simply by clicking HERE


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