Huge and historic collection of vintage tractors to go under the hammer

Paul Rackham's huge collection of vintage tractors is to be auctioned off, over 200 vehicles ranging

Paul Rackham's huge collection of vintage tractors is to be auctioned off, over 200 vehicles ranging from First World War models to the mid 70s. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

This vast and valuable fleet of farm machines embodies the engineering legacy of our region's major industry – and the unending drive of its owner.

But after spending 20 years amassing one of the world's foremost collections of vintage and classic tractors, entrepreneur and recycling pioneer Paul Rackham said he has no regrets about selling off his labour of love to the highest bidders.

The landmark auction at Camp farm in Roudham, near Thetford, is expected to bring interest from around the globe when 175 machines go under the hammer on September 26.

And that's not just because of the quantity of lots available – although it is one of the largest private collections in the UK.

Auctioneers say the appeal is in the unique quality, provenance and diversity on offer, spanning more than 30 different manufacturers and covering a period ranging from the First World War to the 1970s.

Among the famous British and US manufacturers' names like John Deere, Ford and Allis Chalmers, there are some less familiar such as Peterbro, Weeks Dungey and British Wallis – many meticulously restored to a higher standard than when they first rolled off the production lines.

Mr Rackham, 79, said the guiding principal which built his collection was to find and acquire the best, the earliest or the rarest models, applying the same ethos which had built his business empire, namely: 'The most important thing is hard work and common sense – and the relentless pursuit of victory.'

Most Read

He said: 'My family do not share the same passion as I do in collecting tractors and the time has come in life when decisions have to be made.

'The shed is full and there is no more room, so it is time to close one chapter and open another one. The hunger is still there, and I am not ready for gardening yet. I have not decided what I will be doing next – but I will be doing something, you can be sure of that.

'I got a kick out of putting this collection together, from getting out there and finding these tractors and getting them all restored.

'But there will be no tears shed when they are sold. I have got no doubt it is the right decision. I am not getting any younger and I need a new challenge.'

Mr Rackham said the collection began with the purchase of one tractor: an International Farmall BM, made in 1951, and bought for £250.

Other highlights include a 1922 Weeks-Dungey New Simplex, thought to be the only remaining model its kind, two 1954 BMB Presidents which spent their working lives at Old Trafford cricket ground, and a 1917 Fordson Model F, introduced at the request of the British government to help meet the desperate need to increase food production during the First World War.

But the collector's favourites include a 1948 Caterpillar D7, the same model used by his company on landfill sites as he built up his company, Waste Recycling Group.

'It is one of my favourites, because we worked on them over the years and they were good old sloggers,' he said. 'This one worked on agricultural contracting and it has got 42,000 hours on it, so you can see how reliable they were.'

The sale is being jointly handled by specialist vintage auctioneers Cheffins and agricultural machinery auctioneers Clarke and Simpson.

Oliver Godfrey, a rural chartered surveyor who specialises in auctioning modern agricultural machinery for Cambridge-based Cheffins, said: 'This is a once-in-a-lifetime sale. In terms of the quality and quantity on offer, it is unheard of.

'It is not just the monetary value, it is the historical value. What Mr Rackham has done is preserve these machines for future generations. I think it is the thrill of the chase. His passion is obtaining it, restoring it, and preserving it. You often find that with collectors, that once they have done it, that's it, and they will move on to something else.'

Mr Godfrey pointed out a few of the more significant auction lots, including an 'incredibly rare' British Wallis from 1925, which originally retailed at £300 and now has an estimate of about £40,000.

'A lot of these didn't make it through the war effort,' he said. 'A lot were scrapped for iron, so it is very important to preserve these ones which have survived.

'The nice thing about the collection is you can see a progression through the ages, from the linkages, pneumatic tyres, the move from petrol to diesel. It gives you a snapshot of the history of agriculture.'

James Durrant, a rural chartered surveyor with Clarke and Simpson, based at Framlingham in Suffolk, said: 'The total cost of restoring this collection is staggering. You are nearly into seven figures for the restorations alone.'

'This is a sale that none of us will ever see again. It is 20 years in the making.'

Wartime provenance

The undoubted flagship of the Paul Rackham collection is a Holt 75 built in 1918 – the sole surviving example operated by the British Army during the First World War.

During the conflict, the American-made tractors were delivered to the British, French and Russian governments for use as gun tractors and hauling supply trains as they sought to overcome the logistical problems of moving heavy equipment in the Flanders mud.

This particular machine is believed to have spent its military service controlling barrage balloons at Dover.

Mr Rackham said it took 12 months to bring the ageing machine back to its former glory – complete with gas lamps, and working 75-horsepower four-cylinder engine – with the cost of the purchase and the restoration work amounting to almost £140,000.

'It is a bit special,' he said. 'It is the only one remaining with that provenance of having done service in the First World War – not in combat, but in supporting the supply trains at Dover. I always thought it would look good with a howitzer gun behind it, as you always see them in those old photos pulling guns. I have got a howitzer which is being restored and whoever buys this will have first refusal on the gun.'

Auctioneers think the Holt 75 could fetch a sum 'pushing six figures' – but Mr Rackham said, on a good day, the bidding could go even further.

'I really wouldn't know how to value it, but we could be talking about £250,000 if we get two people here who really want it,' he said.

About the collector

Paul Rackham, the son of a thatcher, was born in Peasenhall in Suffolk in 1936.

After studying at the Norfolk School of Agriculture, he started a livestock enterprise and then worked for an earth-moving contractor, working on the new M1 motorway in 1958 and Luton airport.

By the age of 25 he had established a number of his own successful companies which were sold for a considerable profit in 1966.

He rebuilt his business after the collapse of a multi-million pound property deal in 1973, realising that recycling was going to be a major growth industry. In 1983 he launched two new companies: Waste Recycling Ltd and Anti-Waste Ltd, which were brought together in 1994 under the umbrella of Waste Recycling Group plc (WRG) and floated on the London stock market with a market capital of £8m. WRG grew into the UK's largest waste management company before it was sold in 2003 to Terra Firma for £531m.

Mr Rackham now runs a mixed farm at Bridgham, with 1,800 acres of arable land and 600-strong beef herd.