Farm Ireland

Monday 19 February 2018

A passion for ploughing: The Gamble family's prowess in the field spans three generations

Three generations of the Gamble family of ploughmen, (from left) William, Marc and Nigel, pictured on the family farm in Antrim
Three generations of the Gamble family of ploughmen, (from left) William, Marc and Nigel, pictured on the family farm in Antrim

Chris McCullough

Strong connections between the sod and man in Ireland have been very visible for centuries through the traditional art of ploughing.

However, as tractor technology becomes more advanced some could argue that this 'art' is being lost due to the more automated approach rather than human manual skill.

Three generations of the Gamble family from Ballyrobert in Antrim are all involved in vintage ploughing and have even turned the furrows in unison at events.

Passionate ploughmen William Gamble and his son Nigel have more recently been joined by third generation Marc, who has also developed a huge interest in the practice.

The trio have amassed over 100 years of ploughing experience between them and participated at competition events all over Ireland and the UK.

All three men are members of both the Ballynure Vintage Tractor Ploughing Society and Ballyboley Ploughing Society.

Nigel Gamble ploughs with this 1940 Fordson N tractor.
Nigel Gamble ploughs with this 1940 Fordson N tractor.

Not only do they have a wealth of experience in ploughing, but have also accumulated an eclectic mix of tractors, each with its own story to tell.

The most experienced ploughman of the three is naturally William who has been ploughing since he was 11 years old in 1948.

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Back then, in his youth William learned to plough on a Ferguson Continental tractor while working for a local farmer, as his family was not involved in farming.

"I pretty much got the real passion for ploughing on that farm," said William. "No one at home was interested in ploughing but the farm I worked on bought a new Ferguson Continental and I taught myself on that tractor with an old single furrow plough.

"In fact, before that, when I was very young, there was an old horse plough at my grandfather's place.

"I was so keen to find out what it did that I took it into his garden myself and tried to push it around. I soon found out ploughing took a bit more power than what I had to offer back then."

Through the years that followed, William kept his hand in at the ploughing but it wasn't until 1974 that he took up competition ploughing as his passion for the art excelled.

Although working full-time as a lorry driver operating a tipper unit for a local quarry, William still found the time to master his skills of ploughing, which he has handed down to his son and grandson.

William said: "I drove a tipper lorry for James Boyd Quarries in Mallusk for 38 years before retiring over 10 years ago. During that time, I kept up the ploughing and started collecting tractors as well.

"I did most of my ploughing on a 1940 Fordson N full wing tractor and competed in two world ploughing championships at Carlow in 1996 and Limavady in 1991.

"I plough in the vintage class and actually came second in Limavady and fifth at the Carlow world event.

"I have also competed at many international matches and, of course, quite a few club matches over the years.

"More recently, my son Nigel has ploughed with the Fordson N and I moved on to a 1948 Case D tractor.

"I first drove that same Case some 60 years ago and chased it all that time before finally being able to buy it for myself at a farm auction just four years ago," he said.

The first tractor that William ever bought is an orange 1938 Fordson N full wing that he purchased in 1973, just a year before going into competitive ploughing.

William said: "It was a good tractor and still is. Nigel actually painted that tractor in the hayshed many years ago and the results came out quite well." Other tractors in the Gamble collection include a 1978 Massey Ferguson 185 which they use for hauling wood and operating a circular saw to cut up the wood for the winter time.

There is also a nice 1964 Ford 3000 that belongs to Nigel's daughter Emma and a 1973 Massey Ferguson 135, also in good condition.

Also in the shed is a Fordson Major and a quite rare French built Massey Ferguson 155 that the Gambles reckon dates back to around 1970.

For William, ploughing has changed dramatically over the years, with particular reference to how winners are adjudged.

"Ploughing used to be judged on merit," said William, "with a good judge knowing a decent furrow by its depth, angle and straight line.

"However, today's ploughing is judged with a point system which detracts away from judging just by the eye.

"I plough with a Lister Cockshutt two furrow trail plough behind the Case D. I can recall back in the 70s trailing this plough home behind my Ford Cortina car along the roads from a ploughing match in Mallusk to home, which is only a few miles, but with that plough on behind, it felt much further," he said.

His son Nigel started ploughing when he was 15 years old and also on a Ferguson Continental tractor. Nigel started off, under his father's expert guidance, with a one furrow plough and progressed on to a two furrow implement when he gained more confidence.

Nigel currently works as a HGV driver transporting cars cross channel between Northern Ireland and the mainland UK and is also a diesel fitter by trade.

"I used to travel everywhere with Dad as a child around all the ploughing matches," said Nigel. "After watching Dad for years, I couldn't wait to get started on a plough.

"When I was 15 I ploughed my first furrow using a Ferguson Continental tractor and a single furrow plough - then I was hooked.

"Later on, I moved on to ploughing with a Fordson N, just like Dad did. These days I plough when I can, when I am not so busy with work."

‘The Massey 35 is a superb little tractor to work with’

At only 21 years of age, Marc Gamble is already well known in ploughing circles with his name engraved on numerous cups and plaques.

His preferred tractor mount is his 1959 Massey Ferguson 35 attached to a Ransomes three furrow plough.

Marc started ploughing when he was 12 and hasn’t looked back since, competing in various parts of the UK and Ireland.

“I certainly am following on from my Dad and Grandad with this passion for ploughing,” he said.

“I have been successful winning quite a few of my classes and have competed in two all-Ireland matches.

“The Massey Ferguson 35 is a superb little tractor to plough with as it is steady with very reactive hydraulics which you need for operating a plough. In fact, I learned to drive on a MF 35 tractor too.

“I simply adore ploughing and all the events it takes me too. I competed in Carlow in 2016 at the all-Ireland match, which was very important for me as my Grandad had also ploughed there some 20 years prior to that,” he said.

Marc was diagnosed with diabetes two years ago and has organised a tractor road run to raise funds for the charity Diabetes UK.

Marc said: “It’s just a little road run organised by me and family to raise funds for the charity.

“Last year, tractor owners came out in force to support us with 60 tractors turning up for the run. In total we raised over £1,000 which was well above our expectations.”

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