Ploughing her own furrow

Posted by Chris Graham on 9th October 2020

Sarah Waspe meets vintage enthusiast Sarah Tween, who has two ploughing awards under her belt, but has achieved so much more.

Ploughing her own furrow

Sarah Tween likes to wear vintage clothing while driving vintage tractors at shows, such as the Great Dorset Steam Fair.

Sarah Tween’s 1963 Massey Ferguson 35X has a special significance. She explained: “It was the first tractor bought for me by my late grandfather, Thomas, or Tommy, as we called him. The tractor was in an off-farm condition, with a front-end loader on it. But this was soon removed, which explains why the headlights remain where they are on the tractor. Overall, it took about three years – on and off – to restore the tractor back to original condition.”

Working life
It runs well but has had a few oil leaks. During the recent lockdown, Sarah has only been using it to deliver hay locally, much to the delight of children living nearby. It carries out some farm work, too, it’s manageable size means it can squeeze more easily through smaller gateways than the modern machinery on the farm near Stowmarket.

Former owner, Ken, sitting on the 135 at Euston in 2016, after he’d seen it restored for the first time.

It takes part in ploughing matches, shows and road runs. Sarah also drove the MF 35X on the Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run, in aid of Breast Cancer Research in 2014 and 2015. That’s an event she now describes as really sociable, as she knows so many of the other drivers, and it’s a cause she definitely wanted to be involved with.

The MF 35X also won Best Tractor and Implement at a Suffolk ploughing match, held near Bury St Edmunds, in 2014. Sarah became the Ferguson East Anglian Ladies Ploughing Champion in 2015. “The tractor is now used in memory of my late grandfather while I’m ploughing,” she told me.

Ploughing her own furrow

Sarah dedicates the tractor to the memory of her late grandfather.

Sarah likes to wear vintage clothing while driving vintage tractors. When she goes to the Great Dorset Steam Fair for five days with her partner, David, she takes a new dress and petticoats for each day, which almost take over the caravan. She won Best Massey Ferguson at that event in 2017, the same year that David won an award with his Fordson Super Dexta.

Massey Ferguson 135
The next tractor in Sarah’s collection is a 1968 Massey Ferguson 135; the model which replaced the MF 35X. Introduced in 1964, this highly successful model was the first in the MF 100 series, and benefitted from the same engine specification as the 35X, but boasted a 12.4% increase in power.

The Massey Ferguson 135 before David and Sarah undertook the restoration.

This addition was bought from a farm in North Lopham, Norfolk, in October 2015, where it had spent all its working life, bar the first few months. Sarah had gone to the farm to buy a straw chopper, but a tour around the place introduced her to the 135, which she thought was beautiful. However, the owner was adamant that it wouldn’t be leaving his premises. Sarah’s impression was that the owner was concerned that it would be going to someone who only wanted to make some money out of selling it on.

A subsequent phone call was made involving Sarah’s father, who also wanted to buy the tractor, which convinced the owner to let Sarah make an offer. She used most of her savings to purchase the 135, but the restoration took just seven months to complete, using original parts. All the panels were straight and didn’t need much work. David and Sarah did the restoration themselves, and Sarah explained that she does what she can to help, which usually involves lining-up the stickers on the tractor’s bonnet. They don’t paint their restoration projects, finding it easier to have someone else to do that.

Original parts
Everything on the 135 is original, apart from the cab. All the bonnet catches have been re-chromed, but the tractor still lacks a windscreen wiper motor. However, Sarah’s been told that one off a Land Rover will work just the same, so that’s a project yet to be completed. Sarah has made a photographic record of the restoration in the form of two books; one for herself and one for Ken, the former owner, from North Lopham.

Ploughing her own furrow

In just seven months, the MF 135 was restored with everything original, apart from the cab.

She says that she couldn’t have met a kinder person who she thinks is in his eighties. He hadn’t attended a tractor show for years, so she sent him a pass to meet up with her and the restored 135 at Euston Show, in 2016. “That was an amazing moment,” she told me.

Unexpected reward
Sarah won ‘Best Tractor entered by a person under the age of 25’ at the Newark Vintage Tractor & Heritage Show, in 2018. This prompted her to ring Ken with the good news. “I was a blubbering mess,” she admitted. “There are around 60 classes you can enter, and I’d forgotten which ones I had gone in for. To return to the tent on Sunday morning and find a rosette on the exhaust of my tractor was emotional.

“Winning with the tractors isn’t why we do the shows – we just love taking them out. But I’ve never been prouder than when my 135 won that day. All the hours of hard work and polishing had paid off. This was especially so as it wasn’t a local show for us, which made it even more wonderful.”

Ploughing her own furrow

Sarah was very proud to win the ‘Best Tractor Entered by a person under the age of 25’ award with the MF 135, at the 2018 Newark Vintage Tractor & Heritage Show.

The 135 has taken part in the Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run from 2016 to 2019. As Sarah had completed this road run with this tractor in more recent years, I wondered if the Lambourn cab had played a part in her decision to use it. “It makes a difference,” she confessed. “Though the rain can still blow in through the back of the cab, making me soggy.”

Ploughing her own furrow

The Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run is an event and cause that Sarah definitely wanted to be involved with.

Massey Ferguson FE 35
Sarah and David co-own a 1957 Massey Ferguson FE 35. This was purchased in 2017, in a non-running condition and red and grey colours. It was bought from a friend of a friend in Tivetshall St. Mary, Norfolk. Sarah says they have so little knowledge of this one’s history, as there’s no log book and no registration number, and they’ve had to go for an age-related registration number plate.

The Ferguson FE 35 was a non-runner and has undergone an extensive amount of work. It’s now ready for a repaint in grey and gold.

“We got a really good deal on it, and a box of bits that the owner had gathered together to start the restoration,” she explained. It’s undergone extensive repair work, including a complete engine rebuild, rebuild of the gearbox and hydraulics and reconstruction of the tinwork. The couple have had problems starting the tractor, which is common with this model. The tractor still has to be returned to its original grey/gold colour scheme, and Sarah said: “We’ve been asking around about the correct colour so that we can bring it back to its former glory,” she added.

Fordson E1A Major
There’s also a 1952 Fordson E1A Major, that’s owned by Sarah and her father. “This one was purchased by my late grandfather in 1954,” says Sarah. “The tractor was used on the family farm in Highwood, in Essex, then moved with them to Suffolk.

Ploughing her own furrow

This 1952 Fordson E1A Major and was purchased by Sarah’s grandfather in 1954, and was used on the family farm at Highwood, in Essex.

“The tractor was still regularly used on the farm in Suffolk, and my grandfather often used it for baling on the farm, with a Massey 20 baler. This was back when my dad was a young boy. The tractor was very well cared for all the time my grandfather owned it.”

Fordson modified
“The air breather on the Major originally should have been under the bonnet. This was altered during my grandfather’s ownership, due to the machine not being able to get enough air when it was working hard on the baler. Therefore, a hole was cut in the bonnet so that the air breather was above the bonnet. Unfortunately, the tractor was sold by the family in 2014 but, by asking the right questions and knowing the right people, we managed to rack it down again – it turned out to be only five miles away. Better still, the owner agreed that it should return to where it belonged, as part of the Tween family, and we purchased it in 2015 and brought it home.”

Massey-Harris 735 combine
Early in 2018, Sarah and David bought a Massey-Harris 735 combine, which they used in a practice run on the farm before taking it on harvest demonstrations, such as the one at the Weeting Steam Rally. They felt that this was necessary, particularly as it’s a petrol/paraffin, unlike all the other machines in their collection. It performed really well on a thick crop at home.

The Massey-Harris 735 combine, with David at the helm, finds work on the farm and in harvesting demonstrations.

Sarah said: “This combine was the smallest available in the Massey range, and was aimed at farmers working fewer than 200 acres. This particular 735 is a bagger model, which was very common at the time. The machine was also available in a tanker version, although many farms could only handle bags of grain rather than in bulk from a tanker version. The sacks, which can be seen on the bagging platform on the side, are known as coomb sacks.

“When filled with grain, a sack of wheat would typically weigh 18 stone, while a sack of barley would be 16 stone. The coomb sacks were then loaded on to trailers and taken back to the farm for storage, where they were all moved by hand.”

The couple have yet to restore the combine; it’s simply needed a few belts (difficult to find). It runs really well, but requires two new back tyres which are also difficult to source as they’re a ‘strange size’. However, Neil – the previous owner – was able to help with a couple of new ones for the front, so at least they’ve been changed.

Sarah would love to add to their collection, particularly to acquire an MF 65 and an MF 165. She says: “That would be cool – then we’d have a complete set!”


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