Farm Ireland

Saturday 16 December 2017

'My babies': the expert at restoring vintage farm machinery from a scrap yard

George Farrar with some of the vintage tractors he has restored to their former glory
George Farrar with some of the vintage tractors he has restored to their former glory

Claire McCormack

He calls them his "babies".

Leaping up onto his classy, bright red, David Brown 25D tractor, vintage expert George Farrar says "money couldn't buy this happiness".

The 70-year-old machine - the same age as its sprightly owner - was originally bought by George's father, Samuel, in 1963.

It was the first diesel tractor the Farrar family, from Abbeyshrule, Co Longford, had for threshing crops on small tillage and grazing farms in the area.

Although it was bought for economical reasons at the time, rapid advances in machinery soon eclipsed the classic tractor which was left to brace the outdoor elements for decades.

But, after months of careful restoration, George brought his father's tractor back to life and now describes it as "a family treasure".

"Vintage machines all have their own special stories and I love learning their unique histories.

"They were reliable machines and they are standing the test of time in ways that modern machinery will never achieve," said George, known countrywide for his exceptional skills at restoring time-honoured farm machinery.

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Today, he says a new market for old vintage mowers is emerging nationwide - particularly finger bar mowers that have a certain knack for topping crops under fences.

As the grandson of two blacksmiths, George says his fascination with machinery was ignited at an early age.

"I was reared on tractors and mowers so it's in my blood. I always loved tractors, Fordson, Allis-Chalmers, Bamford, David Brown, machinery was always around our house. I couldn't wait to get out of school to get driving tractors," he said.

At 14, George, the only person in Ireland that restores haybobs, started out honing his skills at his uncle's engineering works in Rathowen.

"It was about 10 mile away, I cycled over and back for £3 a week. I was repairing machinery, making gates, any farm repairs," he said.

After learning the ropes from his late uncle John, George landed a job as a welder at Providers Steel Fabrication in Longford at just 17.

"I started working on bigger machines, ploughs, mowers and hay making machinery. We were busy all the time," he said.

But, after a few short years, the talented and innovative craftsman, decided he wanted to be his own boss. In 1969, George and his brother, also named John, set up Farrar Brothers Body Builders at home in Abbeyshrule - near the birthplace of renowned novelist, playwright and poet Oliver Goldsmith.

"We started building tipping trailers and body trucks for transporting cattle. We had people coming from all over the country, we had a cattle body in every county at one stage. It was big business," he said.

However, his love for bringing vintage machines back to life was never far from his mind. He started officially collecting in 1984, when he bought a Fordson tractor.

The father of three wasn't alone in his hobby. Farmers all over the Midlands were getting enthusiastic about vintage and so, George, and a few like-minded friends established Lakeland Vintage Club in 1984, which still holds annual shows in the region to this day,

"Our shows put Abbeyshrule on the map. People came from all over the country. There was a great buzz about vintage.

"I was going all around the country buying them and doing them up, I was even importing them from England," he said.

"Back in the '80s fellas would come into our workshop at night to restore tractors, we had great craic. We all shared our experience with one another, each machine had its own history, there was a great social side to it," said George who is also known for his ploughmanship having competed in the All-Ireland competitions at the National Ploughing Championships for almost a decade.

He also developed a keen interest in vintage planes having worked part-time as a flight instructor at Abbeyshrule Aerodome airport for 30 years. He trained many pilots who went on to captain Boeing Aer Lingus jets. Country music star Mick Foster was also one of his exemplary students.

Economic crash

As the economic crash started to grip the rural area located between the River Inny and the Royal Canal, George and his brother decided to close their body building venture in 2007.

He says the vintage market took an immediate hit. However, he refused to give up.

Looking out the window of his Scandinavian style cabin, in the heart of the village George beams with pride as he points to his colourful collection.

"I've eight tractors and three mowers done up and 10 that I'm working on. Two tractors are both 70 year old and come from Ballymahon. They were within 200 yards of each other all their lives.

"I have a Fordson from Galway, built in 1949 and a McCormick Deering from the 1930s that we rescued from under briars and nettles last year," he said.

More than 50 years after learning how to repair old mowers, George, who has passed his trademark skills onto his nephew Clement, has noticed a surprising market revival.

"We sold 16 finger bar mowers last year. Farmers are using them for topping under electric fences where the ordinary topper won't work.

"Others are buying to expand their collection and see them in action," he said.

George says vintage machines are invaluable to families.

"There is a lot of sentimental value especially if a machine has been in a family for generations. Families must have the foresight to recognise that. For me, having my father's tractor means part of him is still here."

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