Neville John William Day 7 March 1922 - 26 November 1990
Helping with the pruning and tree felling
Dad's mixed arable and livestock Fenland smallholding included around ten acres of first class apple orchards.
Comprising apple varieties Bramley, Cox and Worcester, along with a local Victorean era variety called Emneth, which I liked but no one else did. Indeed as children we each ate so many apples we would regularly make ourselves sick. No one discouraged us though, but I digress.
These apple trees required an inordinate amount of work to keep them economically viable. Control of predatory insect infestation, grass and weed cutting, removal of invasive parasites and pruning; the removal of copious unwanted saplings.
These saplings grew astonishingly quickly and unless removed would simultaneously increase crop quantities, whilst at the same time reducing individual crop sizes to non saleable.
Saplings were loaded into heaps between the rows of trees and thence onto a couple of old lorry chassis, stripped of everything, including wheels, and dragged around the orchards, sledge like, by our little grey Fergie tractor. The lorry chassis being ideal for the job, having virtually zero load height and also able to pass under low, overhanging boughs, even when fully loaded. We also had a converted ex RAF World War II bomb trolley, sharing some of the qualities of low load height but reserved for the heavier stuff.
Eventually all the waste cuttings were brought to a purposely left bare large open space in the centre of the orchards and burned in one giant bonfire. The cuttings were useless for any practical use and being wet with sap would only burn when sufficient critical mass of heat had been generated in the sheer house like size of the bonfire. Today's green nutters, under educated and other pseudo environmentalists would have apoplexy!
Saturday morning and so no school saw Dad, with me sat on the Fergie's driving seat, pulling each old decapitated Bramley over, ready for further dismembering, including their now raised roots. All these trunks, boughs and roots would be sawn, chopped and split to keep the farmhouse self sufficient in wood for heating and cooking year through. As much as double that amount again being left over for adding to other farmers' donations, given and carted freely to the village's poorer retirees or incapacitated. There were no unemployed or single parent families in those days. In the absence of 'Social Security' such had yet to be discovered and encouraged.
Dad would climb each Bramley trunk and attach a chain as high as he could for maximum leverage. Chain being preferable to easier to handle rope but which if unexpectedly snapping under the load, a rope whiplash could seriously injure or even almost decapitate anyone too close. Such as the tractor driver!
Problem on this morning was that tie bars had not been attached to Fergie's hydraulic three point linkage set at the rear of the tractor. Thus the tow bar kept lifting during each tow and which meant, as Dad put it "Might knacker the hydraulics!" Off Dad set on foot back to the farmyard to pick up the tie bars. Leaving me behind sat on the tractor seat and warmed by its engine. Leaving me behind, along with the thought that I could help.
Why attach the chain to the lower tow bar when it would be far simpler to pull the pin on the top link and re-attach it, along with the bitter end of the chain? Thought I. Figuring I could have another two trees over before Dad even got back. He'll be so pleased. Save having to fit the tie bars too.
Things appeared to be going swimmingly. Bottom cog of first gear, low ratio selected, gently release clutch and near maximum hand throttle for extra wheel spin, hence excitement.
Even more exciting than expected when Fergie's bonnet suddenly appeared over my head, along with the rest of the tractor still attached to it. At this point I pondered it might be a good time to abandon ship and so got off. Less then half a second after I hit the ground the tractor was totally inverted. Before roll bars had become obligatory and only rarely fitted. Anyway exempt for orchard work. As a bonus though, with its vertical exhaust stack now embedded a metre into the soft soil underneath it, the engine had instantly stalled. Had it not done so the absence of oil in its now inverted sump would have resulted in destruction of the engine within seconds.
Things thus went quiet. Save for my sobbing and which I make no excuses for as I was only eleven years old at the time.
Dad upon returning had other ideas. Relieved at hearing me sob and surprised not to find me dead under the Fergie he picked me up in his arms, hugged me and told me to stop crying like a baby. "We've got work to do." Was all he said and I remember it like it was yesterday. I frequently remember this like it was yesterday!
Austin A70 to the house of one of our dependable farmhands called Gordon Barnes. A 6'6" giant of a man, with a heart to match, and gentle with it. Gordon would carve and hand paint wooden toys for us as kids for birthdays and for Christmas.
Dad asked Gordon that if he hadn't anything more important on right now would he mind being dropped off at Blighty's house to ask to borrow his Fordson Major, along with Blighty himself, to come along to help recover our Fergie, and which naturally all did so without hesitation.
Lots of driving in of stakes around wheels and clanking of chains, shouting and swearing, Fergie was returned to upright. No serious damage.
Exhaust stack cleared of earth, leaked diesel, battery electrolyte and engine oil replenished, she fired up again. Eventually.
All Fergies, even brand new ones of the time, only ever started 'eventually'. I know, I still own Fergie's production number
Now in her 65th year and still going strong.
The bonfire lit and as usual come dusk each were given a couple or more enormous King Edward potatoes to throw into the dying, white ash embers. Then Gordon and Blighty, along with their families, all sat around, laughing (about me!), beyond midnight, poking baked potatoes with sticks, rolling them out, waiting for them to cool enough to wipe off the ash, slice open, add butter and munch with a few bottles of Forester's Brown Ale. Along with a few more bottles of Forester's Brown Ale. A somewhat muddy but still happy Fergie joining the bonfire lit scene. Pure Heaven!
Black Drove Fen, as he rarely did anyway. Instead he produced a sheet of foolscap paper and a pencil and taught me a bit of geometry. About triangulation and leverage and where not to apply a load to a tractor. If one wished to carry on living that is.
How could any child fail to love a man, a Father, like this? Think about it.
I became quite good at geometry and physics after that. Thanks to Dad I still am! Though still with the occasional nightmare of what might have happened.
From memory. A few more of Dad's Fenland friends and neighbours
For armchair warriors claiming the event in this story couldn't happen.
Chris Latham-Smith 2022.
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