Now and then

Kate MatthewsCountryman

It hasn't the power or performance of modern tractors, but this 90-year-old German-built Lanz holds a special place in the hearts of those involved in the Newdegate Machinery Field Days.

The 1921 hopper-cooled tractor, purchased by early pioneer Charlie Hill in 1922, was the first tractor in Newdegate.

Mr Hill spent three days driving the Lanz from Lake Grace to his farm in Magenta, more than 100km away.

The tractor is now the symbol of the field days and is a perfect fit for this year's vintage theme, showing just how far farming and technology have come in less than a century.

Local farmers Wally Newman and Rusty Lee, through the junior commerce group Jay Cees, restored the historical piece of memorabilia for the town's bi-centenary celebrations in 1972.

Last week, for the first time in 20 years, the cast iron tractor was started up and taken for a spin through the field days laneways, sidling up to a 425 horsepower Cat Challenger MT875C and a 425hp 4WD John Deere 9430.

"She's a gem and we were proud to fix her up," both men said.

To start the tractor, they had to pull the steering wheel out, put it into the flywheel and heat up the hot bowl at the front with a petrol blow torch for up to half an hour.

When it was hot enough, they cranked the flywheel and off it went.

In the Lanz's heyday, farmers would put a blanket over the tractor at night to keep the engine warm or would have their breakfast while they waited for the engine to heat up.

With the average farm back then was around 1000 acres, farmers worked on a three-year rotation, cropping about 300 acres a year.

The Lanz, pulling a mouldboard or disc plough about six to eight feet wide, could put in the same amount of country as a horse, which could average eight acres a day ploughing and 12 acres a day seeding.

While tractors have come a long way since, so too has Newdegate's field days which were founded by Wally, Rusty and others in 1973 after Lake King's event ceased four years earlier. What began with 12 exhibitors grew last week to more than 350, including 198 machinery exhibits.

Visitors travelled far and wide with more than 12,000 people passing through the gates.

Organisers said there were 500 more visitors and another 40 machinery exhibits this year, showing a return in confidence.

But there was also some caution with farmers in areas such as south of Lake King and east of Esperance saying a lack of rain had reduced yield potential.

Newdegate field days president Syd Walker said that, overall, exhibitors and visitors were positive.

"It was fantastic to see the Lanz in action in our vintage celebration to remind people how far farming and technology has come," he said.

Former Newdegate farmer and president of the Nungarin Heritage Museum, Bill Hewitt, officially opened the event, saying the biggest advance was the enormous horsepower of machinery that was available to farmers.

"There are so many technologies that have gone into present day engines," he said. "The advent of the computer controlling all sorts of parts of the engine performance was never envisaged 60 years ago.

"The amazing thing is we still have the piston reciprocating engine as the basis which was invented back in 1890 and it hasn't changed."

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