Agricultural reality show looks for machines and engines with X-Factor

Declan Haughian with Thresher Enthusiasts Richard Newell and Bertie Graham.
Declan Haughian with Thresher Enthusiasts Richard Newell and Bertie Graham.

The mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea, but not before encountering a major mustering of vintage farm machinery this weekend.

‘Oh Mary, this London’s a wonderful sight’, penned Percy French, and Annalong’s Marine Park will be similarly inspiring during the Mourne Vintage Club Festival this Saturday, an event that’s also billed as the Fordson Tractor and Ford Car Day.

This is the centenary year of the famous Fordson Tractor, first manufactured by Henry Ford and Son in the USA in 1917.

As well as marking the anniversary with a throng of Fordsons and other makes of tractors “there’ll be combine harvesters, threshing mills and stationary balers” Club Vice-Chairman Declan Haughian told me, listing the long tally of mechanised co-stars in Saturday’s line-up.

Last weekend Declan gave Roamer a sneak preview of the remarkable world of vintage agricultural machinery - farming history in motion!

“There’ll be steam engines, classic cars, motorbikes and a wide range of agricultural machinery,” local roofing contractor Declan specified, summarising the festival with a vital ingredient - “it’s all old-time.”

Started in 1995, with a break for a year or two, the Mourne Vintage Club boasts 55 members, some owning immaculately restored vintage vehicles and renovated farm machinery.

With the Mournes as resplendent neighbours, Declan and wife Pauline live in a traditionally thatched home, surrounded with garages for ten vintage tractors and five old threshers, one co-operatively owned.

“They’ll all be at the show,” he promised, excepting two old iron balers that Declan is renovating and a brightly-decorated, traditional-style, wooden gypsy caravan that he built from scratch.

Sonny, the handsome, sleek-muscled Irish Cob that pulls the caravan listened inquisitively over the dry-stone wall as we chatted.

“We’re expecting 130 to 150 vehicles and machines at the festival,” said Declan, “with visitors’ donations going to Northern Ireland’s Air Ambulance service.”

There are several enthusiastic local vintage clubs whose members regularly exhibit their machinery, promoting agricultural history whilst donating to charity.

Declan’s mobile phone interrupted our conversation.

“How’s that wee tractor of yours going?” he said to caller-Gerard, organiser of another vintage event.

“Do you want one of my tractors for tonight?” offered Declan.

They all help each other with their exhibitions and festivals. Each thresher and tractor has a date, name and ‘family lineage’ which Declan knows intimately.

One of his Aberdeen-manufactured Garvie and Sons threshers was bought in Belfast in 1949 by Sam McConnell, a Silent Valley quarry owner.

The quarrying business burgeoned “and they got too busy” said Declan, so the thresher was “sold on to Stanley Hamilton, a threshing contractor around the Mourne area.”

Like other contractors “Stanley would have gone around the local farms with it,” Declan added, “and he’d have been very busy from September to December.”

I wondered how Declan locates old threshers.

“Whenever I get them they’re just lying in sheds,” he admitted, with a poignant sigh “there’s not many around now. They’re becoming extinct.”

One ‘mill’ - another name for a thresher - has family connections.

“The Hamilton mill used to come to our family farm in Longstone,” he reminisced.

“I used to watch it working when I was too young to get on it,” he continued, “and seven years ago I heard it was for sale. It needed a lot of restoration, with enormous help from club members. I’ve really got the bug for threshers.”

“And you’re not getting any more!” quipped Pauline unequivocally.

Declan was exhibiting at a vintage show at Seaforde last weekend.

As fellow-enthusiasts arrived to help him assemble a convoy of his beloved machines, the yard and road around the Haughian homestead more and more resembled an agricultural version of Piccadilly Circus…at rush hour!

There were five tractors - four vintage and one modern - two of them hitched to threshers, with a trailer on stand-by to transport an un-hitched thresher.

Almost drowned out by the deep-throb and well-oiled rumble of lovingly-maintained, old-fashioned horsepower, Declan’s enthusiast-friends’ colloquial conversations were awash with mechanical specifications and vintage slang.

“Is there a thin draw-bar at the back?”

“She drives like a wee bird.”

“We might be able to fix the ball into the pin.”

“She ticks over like a mouse chewing gum!”

“No word of a lie-in in this house?” queried Pauline, stirred from her Saturday morning doze by the vintage dawn-chorus.

But she’s almost as keen as her husband.

“I travel Ireland and go to all the different shows,” Declan explained.

“I choose the ones I want to go to,” said Pauline.

Old threshers are the legacy of a history that goes back as far as the Bible, and further.

There was ‘the threshing floor of Atad’ in Genesis, where Joseph and his brothers lamented the death of their father Jacob, and “you shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” commanded Deuteronomy.

The threshers in Annalong this Saturday are more technology than theology!

“The straw goes in at the top,” Declan told me, “into the concave, which beats off the corn…which is blown by the fan into the riddle, where the chaff is blown out to the side. Then the corn is taken by an elevator for cleaning by a fan and finally it’s graded into sacks.”

“It’s all about keeping everyone involved in heritage,” Declan added.

There’ll be a parade of vintage machinery through Annalong to the Festival in the Marine Park at 11am on Saturday. Details at www.facebook.com/LowerMourneThreshingDay