Rural contractor Ross Gower of Otorohanga describes the 304-acre property he grew up on as a “floating swamp”. His father Don Gower, and uncle Gerald Gower broke in the land – and in 1950, they bought a brand new Nuffield Universal M4 tractor to help them.
Today Ross is the proud guardian of the M4. “The land was flat and wet, with bulrushes growing everywhere.”
In its day the Nuffield M4 was one of the biggest, heaviest and most powerful tractors available. “It was a great all-rounder with a 38hp engine, which was big for 1950,” says Ross.
It was used for general farm work, and cutting out bulrushes with a Hooper 5-a-side Giant Discs trailing behind. “We used big Darvill strakes on the back wheels, to give better traction on the swampy ground.”
Ross remembers driving the Nuffield when he was still at primary school. He worked all the hours of daylight in low gear and full throttle, dragging a heavy flail mower behind.
“It was a constant battle keeping the rushes down, and digging out stumps with chains and the tractor.”
The serious 1958 flood in Otorohanga devastated the farming community and flooded the farm. In the late-1960s, the Mangawhero Stream was straightened and deepened, and Ross says “the farm drained immediately, like a miracle”.
Consequently, the Nuffield was retired from 1968, and parked up on the family farm until the 1974, when Ross’ contracting business started doing hay. “My wife Lorraine used it for tedding and sweeping hay.”
The tractor was fully retired in 1980 – and Ross has maintained it ever since and is proud that it is still mainly in its original state, with the original faded Poppy Orange paintwork.
“It had the last genuine head gasket in the country, but most parts available now are replicas.”
Ross is a keen member of the Otorohanga Vintage Machinery Club, and the Nuffield regularly accompanies him on treks, maintaining a steady 29km/hr on the flat.
“It’s been to places like Marokopa Beach, and a 500km round trip to Whangamomona.”
The Nuffield also visits a local resthome, where Ross’s father, Don, now in his nineties, resides.
“His eyes light up with joy when he sees his old Nuffield again.”
That’s one of the reasons why Ross looks after the machine and will never sell it – he knows how special it was to his father, and how it quite literally shaped his family’s land.
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