Joe Parker: Norfolk farm machinery enthusiast and Starting Handle Club founder

A countryman with a fascination for working vintage farm machinery, Joe Parker, has died aged 85 at his North Norfolk home.

After years of supporting the Aylsham Agricultural Show Association with working displays and demonstrations, he was delighted to become its president in 2001.

His sense of fun and showmanship was always to the fore especially when he brought a vintage tractor into the grand ring for the show's finale – the children's tug-of-war. His broad grin as hundreds of youngsters pulled on a long rope for all their might, and, eventually, always won, was memorable.

He was a founder committee member of the Worstead Festival, which raised hundreds of thousands for the village and also the church. In 1974 the late Ben Burgess, who headed his family's agricultural engineering concern, invited eight vintage machinery enthusiasts to his office, then in King Street, Norwich. The Starting Handle Club was born and Joe was the natural choice as chairman, serving for 30 years until aged 79, he was elected life vice-president.

His first wife, Ruby, had been the club's secretary until her death in 1998. Members raised funds for good causes and charities at threshing days and working rallies.


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It flourished and attracted about 200 members across the region, as it staged displays at numerous events including the Royal Norfolk Show, where he was equally at home talking about old machinery to royalty, distinguished visitors or fellow enthusiasts.

John Purling, chief executive of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, and show manager Sarah de Chair, visited him at home near Worstead the day before his death on Friday last. 'He was a great supporter of the show and was always welling to help anyone,' said Mr Purling.

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Agricultural engineering was in his blood and his enthusiasm has helped to preserve the region's farming heritage.

Born at North Walsham, his family then lived on the Blickling estate, where he went to school. He served during the second world war and was demobbed from the Parachute Regiment as a staff sergeant.

After working as a farm mechanic at Witton, he joined North Walsham agricultural engineers, Gleave and Key, where he spent 18 years. As he knew every bit of steam engines and could drive a low loader, he helped enthusiast Wesley Key, of Strumpshaw, with his acquisitions. 'I was sent all over the place picking up old traction engines. You could buy them for a tenner in those days.'

Later, he became engineering manager, responsible for transport, at Ross (now Heinz) Foods at Westwick until he retired aged 65. Then he set up Maintenance Matters to restore vintage machinery. At one stage, he was restoring 20 tractors and 60 other engines at his former home in Briggate, near Worstead.

He forged a great friendship with Sir John White, of the Salle estate, who was restoring his Case tractor collection. Sir John, later Aylsham Show president, decided to get the parts direct from the USA without delay. Joe's lack of passport and visa was resolved in short order and for the first time since the war, he flew the Atlantic and in Club class, with tractor parts in the luggage.

He leaves a widow, Margaret. He had three children, Susan, Philip and Lynne, five grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

A funeral will be held at St Mary's Church, Worstead, on Saturday, October 22 at 2pm.

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