The Massey Ferguson 390 is a mighty tractor even by modern standards. It stands alongside the latest equipment without embarrassment. As the workhorse of the forestry department, it has added reinforcement that makes it even stronger and more imposing. Clad in a square box section steel framework that stiffens the tractor frame and protects the driver from falling lumber. This frame has mesh fitted to form a cage around the driver. Its appearance is formidable.
Even adapted as it is, its travails have seen it suffer serious abuse from the many uses it is put to. A ricochet from the flail recently smashed the large front window screen. Modern day tractors are clad in plastic and even minor collisions render them like Rod Hull’s Emu with a squashed beak and an expensive repair bill. The MF 380 shrugs off mighty oaks as mere flea bites and wins tugs-of-war with the largest of tree roots. Rarely have I seen it beaten. Even the huge blocks of concrete used to cement in the old park railings were lifted by the log winch. A slight abuse of its role, but successful nonetheless. The tractor’s bulk is added to by the attachments that can be fitted; log winch, flail, post thumper, topper, and woodchipper. Rough terrain and tasks had however taken their toll and it recently had a £3,500 refit so that its controls and engine were once more in proper running order. The Mighty Massey is an indispensable tool for forestry maintenance.
It was the chipper we used when we set about finishing what Jim and Simon had started the day before, clearing the area around Cobb’s Wood barn. The ‘Timberwolf’ attachment is fed brash which it reduces to fragments of wood and leaf. A useful mulch mixture familiar to gardeners and chipping accelerates the decomposition of ‘brash’. Together, tractor and ‘wolf’ can reduce huge piles of brash from woodland clearance or hedge laying work, to woodchip in seconds. As with all of the tractor’s attachments, their use can be extremely dangerous when their power is not respected and can only be operated by trained personnel. We piled the brash ready for chipping while Simon showed some dignitaries around the estate. Whilst waiting for his return and with some remaining undergrowth to clear, we turned our attention to that. Along the plot by the metal skip were two large areas of bramble. I like a blackberry and apple pie along with the next man and so with such delightful fruits, brambles can be forgiven for protecting themselves with ferocious thorns and sinewy branches that defy most cutting tools other than a chainsaw. We attacked the larger of the two plots with loppers and slashers. Being mostly old dead branches with a top covering of new bramble, a combination not unlike motor tyres of soft and hard, our progress was slow. The dead wood sneers at a sharp blade and the octopus tentacles of the bramble tangle and trap, its barbs only reluctantly letting go.
‘Let’s leave that lot for Simon’, we said and moved to the other patch nearer the skip surrounding an old telegraph pole. The blackberries here equally looked enticing and were seemingly being sampled by a few wasps. As we set about this smaller patch, the number of wasps grew alarmingly until putting two and two together; we retreated from that patch as well. Lunch time arrived and Simon, returning from his jaunt, took us off to reflect on our defeats and restore our spirits. Revived by tea and sandwich, we were once more ready for the fray. We explained to Simon how both patches had defeated us and the reasons why.
‘Hrmph’, he said, ‘Stand back’, and fired up the mighty MF. He charged at the dense wood and bramble patch. Snagged on the cage, the brambles were torn from their roots and the dead branches were crushed by the onslaught. Another couple of passes and the area was cleared. Impressive! He turned the mighty MF to the smaller patch and powered in as before. The old telegraph pole snapped like the proverbial matchstick and leaned at an angle only supported by the skip. The brambles like before were torn from their roots. As he reversed for a second pass, Simon started waving his hands about his head. Then leaping from the cab, flailing his hands and wailing like a demented banshee, he disappeared at speed behind the barn and off out of sight. He was of course followed by a substantial number of very irate wasps. Some minutes later he re-appeared ruefully rubbing his head and sat with us at a safe distance from the now extremely large number of wasps circling and looking for their aggressor.
’B*&%&*ds’ he said in his usual mild tone. The mighty MF sat there chugging away but now driverless and apathetic, defeated by small insects. Simon disappeared into the barn and re-appeared with his bee handling top on. I say bee handling suit in an abstract way as it had been repaired many times with duct tape, mostly to the visor. He more resembled a Grand Master of the Ku Klux Klan than a bee-keeper. Now fully protected, he returned to the Massey and extracted it from the brambles. Later the next day a pest control officer dealt with the colony. It had taken over the telegraph pole and formed a large colony over many years. The Massey was unharmed but Simon was rubbing his wasp stings for a number of days afterwards.