The County Tractors brand was the focus of a well-attended event at the National Show Centre, beside Dublin airport, at the weekend. Almost 400 County tractor enthusiasts joined together, and some brought their tractors, to provide an impressive backdrop for the evening of reminiscing and rejoicing the former British tractor brand.
The event was organised by the Irish County Tractors Club with support from enthusiastic members from across Ireland. The display of tractors was breath taking. The tractors on show ranged from off-farm models, some of which are paying their way on a daily basis to some superbly restored models that are true showpieces.
Mark Osborne, the current owner of the County Tractors brand was the special guest at the event. He is as passionate as ever about the County Tractor brand as ever, some forty years after his family was a major farming user of County tractors.
He told the audience that Irish County Tractor owners have been so important in the resurgence of the brand. He said that their enthusiasm and support for the brand had helped to keep County Tractors afloat since its liquidation in the 1983. Mark Osborne also told the gathering that there remains good demand for parts for County Tractors and that his companies was now in a position to provide new parts where needed from their location at Wytchwood, Shelley Lane, Romsey, Hampshire, England.
The County Tractors business was started as County Commercials back in 1928 by brothers Ernest Tapp and Percy Tapp. They were originally truck manufacturers, converting trucks from two to three axles, on an early Ford truck chassis. They named the company as County as each of the trucks produced by them at that time, were named after an English county.
Tractor production was started almost by accident after the company was requested to produce a crawler tractor for the British Government in 1948. This first tractor was based on a Fordson E27N tractor and the first order of 50 tractors was delivered to British farms in 1949.
Wheeled tractor production at County did not start until 1954 when the County Four-Drive, a wheeled tractor with a crawler tractor drive system, was produced. The company produced crawler tractors up until 1965.
After 1983 the County tractor brand went through a troubled times, firstly taken over by David Gittins to be followed by the Benson Group, where the County operations were moved from the original site in Aldershot in Hampshire to Wales. Tractor dealer and contractor Mark Osborne of A.T. Osborne bought the County parts operation in December 2005, having attempted to buy the business back in 1983.
Osbornes had been a County dealer back in 1981, the first non-Ford dealer appointed as a County specialist. The parts operations stock and all the records and drawings were then moved from Wolverhampton to Ower, back in Hampshire.
Over the company’s 35 years in tractor production, County produced some 35,000 tractors, 75% of which were exported from Britain. The Irish market was then a relatively small one for County and the tractors were mainly sold through Ford tractor dealers.
Within that group of Irish Ford tractor dealers a small few specialised in the County brand. The first public showing of the County brand on its own was at the 1965 Spring Show when Autocars of Fenian Street, Dublin, then a Ford tractor dealer, also showed the County Super Four tractor, based on the Fordson Major.
Cahir House Garages, from Cahir, Tipperary soon became more prominent County dealers from the early 1970’s having also imported the Selene four-wheel-drive system for conversion in Tipperary. Cahir House Garages, run by the Burke family, dominated the County scene in Ireland up until County ceased trading. Cahir House Garages supplied a lot of County Tractors to the likes of ESB and the Department of Forestry, (now Coillte a semi-state body) which banc then was responsible for the planting of forests throughout Ireland.
County tractors were seen more in forests in Ireland than in farms during the height of the tractor production in the 1970’s and 80’s. Many of today’s County enthusiasts have a history in the forestry business.
At the Irish County Tractors Club event, a number of contractors and famers told of their experiences with the iconic brand. Down contractor, John Dan O’Hare and his son Brian, span a generation of County followers. John Dan was an early County fan and pulled a silage harvester with a County before graduating to the self-propelled world. He remarked how the tractor’s equal size four-wheel-drive system allowed them to harvest grass in conditions where their previous tractors could not travel.
Brian O’Hare remembers his first sighting of the County in the fleet and how today, driving these tractors, of which they have three, remains one of sheer joy.
Louth farmer John McCroghan spoke of his first County which they bought secondhand as they could not wait for the delivery of a new Ford tractor from then local dealer McGee’s of Ardee. They bought the tractor which served them well from 1974 for many years from a Wexford based dealership Byrnes of Ballinaboola, who like McGee’s are no longer in the farm machinery business.
The County tractor owners are all passionate about their blue machines and none more than Limerick contractor Pat Hughes. Pat brought his County 1174 Forward Control model to the event and told how he became attractive to the brand.
Longford County owners included David Wilson and John Harte, and John told the gathering that his County is in daily use, ploughing and tilling from his Ballymahon base. While David started collecting County tractors for the sheer pleasure of them and just enjoys the opportunity to drive and admire these great machines.
Other County users who spoke on the night included Colin Dohery and Mickey McPartlan, as well as John Agnew, Steven Lennon, and Declan Stewart, showing how the passion for County Tractor runs across the length and breathe of the country.
As the crowds dispersed, there was a great feeling of satisfaction of honouring a great tractor range, with huge acknowledgement for Francie McBride, chairman of the Irish County Tractors Club, for spearheading such a wonderful commemorative event.