The Murdoch family’s collection

Posted by Chris Graham on 8th June 2020

The Murdoch family’s collection of tractors and machinery is dominated by early Massey Fergusons, as Bob Weir discovers.

The Murdoch family’s collection

The Murdoch family’s collection: A section of Willie and Henry’s classic tractors in their secure shed; SW 9752 was the first tractor in the collection.

Mention ‘Ayrshire’, and the name of Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns, immediately comes to mind. Burns was born in the county, and the area is steeped in folklore and tradition. Farming is also big business there, with usually a mixture of cereals and livestock. Willie Murdoch has lived in the area all his life, and is a big fan of Ferguson and Massey Ferguson tractors.

Farming tradition
“I come from a farming background and my elder brother, Henry, has owned a farm since the early 1960s,” he explained. “The farm is about 300 acres, and Henry makes silage and, these days, rents out the cattle sheds. He also does some contract combine work. Henry thought he would have to sell the farm at one stage, but I believe his grandson, Fraser, will eventually take it over.

The Murdoch family’s collection

Willie (left) and Henry with some of their collection of tractors.

“My parents also ran a farm, and my father always liked to use Ferguson tractors. They were very popular back in the 1950s, and were used on the farm when I was growing up. I remember he had a four-cylinder diesel FE 35, and that tractor had a reputation for being temperamental. Ever since those days, I’ve always preferred the later, three-cylinder Perkins versions.”

A messy job
Willie can also remember his first regular employment after he left school, when he worked for James Tweedie Ltd, the Massey Ferguson dealer in Ayr. He recalls: “Back in the 1970s, farmers didn’t bother to clean their tractors when they sent them in for repair. This often meant they were covered in dirt and manure, which wasn’t very pleasant.

“I remember our sales manager, the late John Dykes, bought a steam cleaner and warned customers if they didn’t clean their tractors before bringing them in, a charge would be added to their bill.”

Willie eventually moved on in 1982, and tried his hand at driving dozers for a plant hire company, where he worked on projects like the new Cumnock by-pass. He added: “I stayed with one company for several years, and the job took me all over Scotland. There were plenty of construction projects going on, and no shortage of work. I then tried my hand operating plant for open-cast mining, which had become big business once the deep mines closed. More importantly, the work was local, and I carried on until my retirement.”

The Murdoch family’s collection

Willie on the MF 35 at a recent Ferguson working day.

The collection
During this period, Willie and Henry were putting together a small collection of tractors and machinery. “The first tractor we got was back in the 1970s,” explained Willie. “Henry had been looking for a TE-F20 and got a tip-off about a scraper tractor from a local dealer. He had no problems starting it, but the engine was a bit smoky. He ended up bringing it home, and it sat in the shed for several years.

“We then decided it was time to restore that machine, and it’s still in the collection today. SW 9752 is a local machine and was registered in what was then known as ‘the Stewartry of Kircudbright’. The tax disc on the tractor was bought at Kircudbright post office, and the district is now part of the administrative area of Dumfries and Galloway. We’ve taken the tractor to a few shows, and it’s great fun to drive.

“Our tractors usually find us, and the Massey Ferguson 135 Orchard/Vineyard model is a typical example. We believe it was originally new to a fruit grower in Blairgowrie, before moving to a holding in Aberdeenshire. Keith, my son, and his business partner Stuart, were working on a milking parlour at the farm in 2005, and spotted the Massey. Stuart came to an arrangement with the owner, and brought the tractor back to Ayrshire.

The Murdoch family’s collection

The MF 135 Orchard/Vineyard model was particularly suitable for Scotland’s soft-fruit industry.

“I was attending a wedding reception in July 2009 when I bumped into Stuart, and he asked me if I’d be interested in buying the 135. One thing led to another, and I ended up buying it unseen. It was then stored in a barn for four years before I started the restoration. The condition of the tractor was a bit rough, but I did most of the work myself, and soon sorted things out.”

The Orchard/Vineyard version of the 135 is an interesting machine because it differs from the standard MF 135 in a few respects. The tractor had the useful capability of operating between 30in and 60in track widths and, unlike the standard MF 135s, the front grille was painted in black.

Professional intervention
The brothers also restored most of their T20 P3, although the engine was overhauled by a professional mechanic. “Henry acquired the P3 in 2012,” Willie recalls. “It was advertised in one of the specialist magazines. There were lots of problems with the engine, and we were both very busy at the time.

An early Ferguson T20, equipped with the Perkins P3. The TE-F replaced this version.

“Consequently, it sat around for a few years until Henry came to an arrangement with the local Massey dealer. It was agreed that, if he left the tractor with the garage over the winter months, they would sort out the engine between working on other jobs. When they eventually stripped the unit down, they discovered that the cylinder block was cracked.

“When we got the Fergie back, Henry’s son-in-law, Ian Graham, took care of the welding and fixed the brakes and rear axle. I then sand-blasted the body and the tractor was primed. Ian has his own workshop and sprayed on the new coat of paint. Most of the parts on both the T20s are original items.”

A rear view of the TE-F fitted with its Rosselli Grizzly sawing machine.

Resto secret
All the family were brought up working with tools, and have learned to operate as a team. This is reflected in the quality of the tractor restorations, which are up to a very high standard.

“We’ve discovered, over the years, that one key to a successful restoration is to have a reliable source of spare parts,” Willie explained. “Although we’ve used several suppliers in the past, we currently favour Exeter-based Sparex as well as the local Agriline dealer.

“We’ve also learned to sort out any mechanical issues, before tackling the bodywork. This way we don’t waste any time on what could turn to be a lost cause. Every restoration has to justify its costs, and we don’t like throwing money at a tractor.”

Ford 3000 found
Although the brother’s tractors are mostly Ferguson and Massey Ferguson, I also noticed a very tidy Ford 3000. “The Ford is also a local tractor,” Willie explained. “Once again I came across it by chance. I used to drive the MF 135 Orchard around some of the local lanes. I got chatting with one farmer in November 2014, and he suggested I could be interested in one of his old tractors.

Post-1968, Ford 3000 tractors were part of the company’s 6Y (Force) range, and were produced until 1975.

“This turned out to be the Ford 3000, which the farmer had bought new, back in 1968. I went around to have a look at it and, with everything seeming to be OK, we came to an arrangement. It’s been with us now for a couple of years.

The Ford 3000 is displayed with a Ransomes T64 plough.

“The 3000 was in reasonable condition and drives just fine. The only things that needed replacing were the mudguards, which were a bit twisted. I’d been told the tractor had worked a haybob for many years, before ending up as a scraper. This accounted for the damage to the mudguards. There was also a roll bar fitted, which we removed. The replacement mudguards were also sourced locally.”

The Ford 3000 is still in its working clothes; its diesel engine could develop 47hp.

A great MF 35X
Their Massey Ferguson 35X is also a local machine. Willie was approached by the family of the previous owner who’d sadly died. The MF 35X was a great tractor when it first came out, and this machine certainly lives up to the Massey’s reputation. The only tractor Willie has actually bought on his own initiative is an FE 35 Grey/Gold, which is currently in bits and is his latest restoration project.

The Massey Ferguson 35X and its Massey mower.

Along the way, Willie has also collected several period implements. “It never ceases to surprise me how many old implements are lying around in the back of people’s sheds,” he explained. “A lot of the owners are extremely happy for you to take them off their hands. Most of the implements only need a bit of a make-over, and they’re as good as new.”

MF 65 museum piece!
Henry also owns a 1961 MF 65 MkII, which he acquired from Wester Kittochside Farm at the Museum of Rural Life, in East Kilbride. The site is owned by National Museums Scotland, and is a popular tourist attraction. Apart from its collection of farming machinery, it also features a historic working farm.

A pair of Massey stalwarts: an MF 65 and MF 35X; the MF 65 used to belong to the Museum of Rural Life.

Henry is one of the volunteers at the museum tasked with keeping the tractors and machinery in tip-top condition. The tractor was bought for the museum by another volunteer, Willie Bilsland, who has worked on Massey Fergusons since he left school.

Willie explained: “Willie Bilsland continued to look after the tractor for many years, but the museum eventually lost interest in the Massey and it ended up sitting outside in all weathers. Henry then made the museum manager an offer to put the tractor into temporary storage.

“As I recall, the Massey had a few issues that included a seized differential lock but, given its age, the tractor was basically sound. Henry stored it in a shed out of the weather, where it stayed untouched for three years. He would start it occasionally to turn the engine over, but we didn’t get around to giving it a makeover.

“Things came to a head a couple of years ago, when Henry enquired about the long-term future of the tractor and ended up making the museum an offer. That was accepted, and the Massey has been with the family ever since. The MF 65 is a good machine, and was very popular in its day.”

For the future
Both Willie and Henry are now in their seventies, and are fairly laid back about future acquisitions. “We’re not actively looking to buy any more tractors, but who knows?” Willie said. “If the right machine comes along at the right price, we could be interested. I’ve also got the Grey/Gold that needs restoring, which should take several months. If you’ve got a collection of tractors, there’s always something that needs your attention.”

This Massey Ferguson 590 is still used around Henry’s farm.

In the meantime, Willie is also looking to add to his implements collection. “I’m a big fan of old implements, and they don’t take up a lot of space,” he said. “I also think they complement a tractor, especially if you take it to shows. We are both members of the Ayrshire Vintage Tractor & Machinery Club (AVTMC) and the Ferguson Club. Henry and I have both enjoyed working on the tractors, and intend to keep them for the foreseeable future.”

The Murdoch family’s collection

Part of the brothers’ collection of implements.


Willie Murdoch’s suppliers:

Sparex Limited
Exeter Airport
Devon EX5 2LJ
tel: 01392 368892

Agriline Products Ltd
Unit 15, Harris Business Park
Stanley Prior
Worcs. B60 4DJ
tel: 01527 579919


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