Tri-tractor brought back to life

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Bob GarnantCountryman
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It was the 1970s in WA, an era when a million acres of land per year was being cleared in the Wheatbelt from Geraldton to Esperance. Lupin rotation was also being introduced alongside the beginning of the no-tillage revolution.

Meanwhile, the Clarke family were celebrating their Goomalling football club's 1970 grand final wins in both the A and B grade.

Roy and Faye Clarke had four sons that competed that year for top honours.

Back at the farm, Roy was in the midst of another practical invention.

With the help of his eldest son, Ian, Roy was burning the midnight oil in the shed with hopes of building a more powerful tractor unit.

It was a little more ambitious than his roll-away chook nest, which he patented and marketed to many local farming families.

The idea was to combine three tractors into one unit, giving extra torque to work the 8000 acre (3237.5 hectare) cropping program.

Not knowing whether the triple tractor would prove that three would be better than one, Roy and his family were proud to roll out the first tri-McCormick and give it a test run in the autumn of 1976.

It was one of three tri-tractors made by the Clarke family, who after finding they did the job, were content on keeping them productive well into the late 1980s.

The initial sight of the triple tractor unit pulling six 14-disc ploughs was the talk of the local town and _Countryman _ featured the Clarke set-up on the front cover of its July 1, 1976 edition.

The photo, by Joe Wheeler, squeezed the 50-yard length of the plough set-up and its 42-foot width into the paper's boundaries.

The story, by journalist George Boylen, said it had proved itself during its first cropping.

And the story went on to say how ploughing had been done at five miles an hour (8km/h) and a program that usually took longer than most others in the district was completed among the earliest.

With plenty of capable drivers in the family, including Ian's siblings, Kim, Bruce and Ross, and sister Lisa, Roy was keen to build a fleet of his 330 horsepower units.

The first of the Clarke tri-tractors was followed by two more, and each accumulated thousands of hours into the 1980s in which the Clarkes were cropping up to 20,000 acres.

Three decades later, the original Clarke tri-tractor has a new home at the Tractor Museum of WA at Whiteman Park, thanks to the efforts of the many volunteers who put the shine back into what was a terrific home-made effort of Roy Clarke.

The 12-month restoration was undertaken by several members of the Tracmach Association of WA.

Their interest in unusual tractors led to a visit in August 2009 to see Roy's tri-McCormick where it was found, dumped in the scrub for the past 10 years.

Roy and Ian were pleased to donate the tractor to the group, because it would be on display to the general public at Whiteman Park.

Earlier this year, the restored tractor was unveiled at the Tractor Museum where Roy's wife, Faye, said her late husband was very humble in his approach to building the tri-tractor.

"It was his best-kept secret," Faye said.

Ian recalled how his father celebrated after his tri-tractor proved itself with implements attached.

"You bewdy!, is how he validated his accomplishment in an affordable tractor that would match workloads with the current four-wheel drives of the time," Ian said.

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