Went to the opticians today.. She said I needed glasses for driving. I said “You sure? My eyes are fine when I drive!” “You must have noticed things were out of focus?” she said. “How”, I asked, “My eyes are always shut when I drive… Driving scares the hell outta me!”
I still can’t believe the situation. I read the solicitors letter twice when it arrived last week and then I read it again. My Grandfather has left me his farm! My Father has long been disappointed in me – I didn’t go into a financial institution like he wanted. Instead, I’ve worked for the electricity company fixing faults in the network and hauling cables. Then I took a redundancy offer and spent the last couple of years house-flipping with a mate. I’ve always enjoyed getting my hands dirty! Now I’m standing here in an overgrown yard at half-Seven in the morning with my brother, Jon, looking at a pile of junk…Barn contents on Boundary Farm
…Jon is another of Father’s disappointments – he runs a successful car mechanic’s business just outside Bridgenorth. He’s here to help me get the old farm machinery working so I can assess it and decide what to keep and what to sell. He’s brought a battery booster kit and a load of tools with him. Now we’re waiting for the Junkman to turn up – I’ve hired him to remove the rubbish which he says he will do for £100.
He showed up around five-to-eight with a his son and a labourer. Initially he glumly surveyed the mix of general rubbish and the carcasses of long-dead farming machines. “There’s more than I thought you said?” – angling to get more money for the clearance. “There’s a lot of scrap metal there,” I pointed out “So you should make good on your time.” He shook his head again and fished out a phone to call in a couple more labourers who were waiting with the truck in the lane outside. Once started, it took the seven of us couple of hours to shift out most of the junk. The old muck-spreader still rolled, albeit with a particularly shrill squeak from one of the bearings. Most of the other stuff could easily be carried by two people. There were some metal beams in the side lean-to. The Junkman’s face broke into a smile – “Now those are really good!” he said. In the end we were left with just the tractor carcass behind the working Fendt tractor. Jon hooked up the battery booster to the Fendt and punched the button. It turned over immediately and settled into a reassuring rumble. We used it to drag the wreck out of the barn and then, with a set of rollers that the junkman had brought, slowly pulled it round to the road. It took a lot of manoeuvring to drag it onto his trailer but once it was tied down we had finally finished and said our farewells as he went on his way.
Jon and I looked around the barn and the yard and made a list of the equipment left on site……”You could keep the Fendt.” he said. “I don’t know, it needs a lot of work. I think I want to start with a new tractor.” The Bizon harvester was a horror story hidden away at the back of the barn. “He can’t have still been using that can he?” “I don’t think so.” Jon looked at the engine, “Might start…” he said, after checking the oil levels, and went off to get the battery booster again. We cranked the engine four.. five.. six times and each time it showed not sign of firing then on the seventh it coughed once. We tried again and it burst into unsteady life filling the barn with a cloud of black fumes. We both stepped back outside for air and waited for the fog to clear. After a few minutes Jon went back, climbed to the driving seat and slowly reversed the Bizon out into the light – I swear it blinked at the sunshine!
In the end I decided that only the Strautmann trailer and the Kuhn subsoiler were worth keeping. The Capello corn-header for the harvester gave a ‘should I, shouldn’t I?’ moment but in the end I decided that should go too. Leaving the Bizon’s engine running, Jon took his leave of me and headed off to Bridgenorth. I climbed onto the Bizon and set off for a meeting with the local New Holland dealer…Driving the Bizon to the dealer past Boundary Farm’s only field
My meeting with the dealer – Graeme – was an interesting one. I’m not sure whether he wanted to laugh or cry when he saw the Bizon. “Don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those – probably belongs in a museum – you sure you don’t want to donate it to the Severn Valley Railway or something?” On the basis that I was doing a trade-in for a new tractor and a small harvester he decided to make me a reasonable offer. I left him to take the harvester away to his storage area while I walked back to the farm and collected the Fendt with the Einboch seeder. Graeme was much happier with the Fendt – “You sure you want to sell? – Nice tractors these – But not as good as ours of course!” he hurriedly finished. I told him of the Capello and he offered to send a couple of his team round to collect it later in the day. Then we settled down to discuss my needs and what I could get with my limited finances.
The tractor was quite easy – “I’d suggest the T6.155 – power should be plenty and it’s a nicely balanced compact machine with take-off’s front and rear.” The harvester was harder and a secondhand TX32 was the only one that I could truly afford. I expressed my concern about the size of my field for the harvester. “Well, we can’t do anything about the hopper capacity.” he said, “But I think I can help you with the header. Normally these come with a 4m width but I happen to have a 6.1m cutter and trailer that will fit. You’ll be taking a bigger bite each row but, of course, you’ll have to empty into a trailer more often. You do have a trailer?” I assured him that I did have a trailer – “But I will probably need to get a larger one quite soon.” I added. We shook hands on our deal and I took the Harvester home, then walked back to collect the tractor and header…New Holland T6.155 with harvester header and Graeme’s New Holland dealership in the background
…As I rolled down the road I pondered on the future – would I settle into farming or fold under the strain? Only time would tell.
I expected to hear from Sophie the next morning about visiting Holzman’s farm to take a look around but the call never came. Over the next couple of weeks I picked up jobs as they were offered by the local farmers. I even had a fertilizing job for Sophie but she didn’t say anything about the farm and I felt it best to let sleeping dogs lie. Time dragged on and I forgot all about it. If I was disappointed initially, I quickly put it behind me. Anna left the subject alone too – allowing it to fade into the background of our lives although she must have known how much I wanted to look at the opportunity that was on offer.
Five weeks had passed when the phone rang late on a Saturday evening – It was Sophie. Initially I assumed that she had an urgent job that needed doing on Sunday, farming is often urgent jobs that either have been waiting for a gap in other work or are dictated by changes in the weather. But Sopihe launched into an apology – “I’m sorry Nick.. I meant to tell you but I kept putting it off.. Didn’t want to disappoint you.” I probably mumbled a confused “that’s all right” type of response, I don’t recall, but Sophie had more to tell. “We were a bit premature, Tim hasn’t put the farm on the market yet. But he is selling and he would be happy to go down the road of a private sale if you’re still interested?” I took a moment to catch my breath.. I heard Anna ask in the background “Are you OK?” – apparently I’d gone a little pale. “I’m still interested!” I gasped. “Great – Tim’s given me the keys so I can show you around tomorrow morning! I’ve got a couple of things to sort out first thing. Could we meet at the bottom of the lane at 10:30?” I agreed and hung up the phone.
It was just Sophie and I that morning – Anna had the lunchtime shift at the Horseshoes so she decided not to come – “I’ll only confuse matters anyhow.” she said and gave me a peck on the cheek. As we walked up the lane, avoiding some puddles from overnight rain, Sophie began to give me some background to the farm. Old man Holzman appeared after the war. He married a local girl and bought a vacant farm – it’s owner having been posted missing in action early in the North African campaign. It was rumoured that Holzman was a German prisoner of war who had decided to settle in England after hostilities ceased but it had never been confirmed. Over time any mistrust in this newcomer had given way to normal farming cooperation as Holzman had proved himself willing to help out the other farms. Sophie couldn’t confirm that there was any truth in the PoW rumour but she thought it was most likely gossip driven by the german sounding name.
Tim was the couple’s second son. The elder boy wasn’t interested in farming and left to pursue an engineering career. Tim had stayed on and took over the farm when his father could no longer manage it. It was a sad story really, Ma Holzman died quite young and Old Man Holzman lost interest in life after her passing. Working hard on the farm, Tim Holzman had never married. “And that,” said Sophie, “brings us to the present.” “Tim’s been running down the farm for a few years now. He’s not a well man and can’t manage it any more.” “The big C.” she said in response to my unspoken question as we reached the farmyard.
My tour was a simple one – there was not a lot to see. “Tim’s already auctioned off most of the machinery – I believe he still has a tractor for old times sake but thats in his garage at the farmhouse.” “All that’s left for sale are the buildings and three fields.” As Sophie walked me round I began to get an idea of what a curates egg the place was. “Here’s the old shelter – good place for a tractor and there’s a basic workshop.”……”Old man Holzman once tried keeping sheep – he built this way back to keep them……but he lost the sheep during a foot and mouth outbreak and never replaced the flock.” “And this is the jewel in the crown – a nice new barn with lots of storage space!”……”Tim added it ten years back when things were looking good.”
I had to ask, “How come there’s a crop?” “Tim’s been paying other farmers to do the work on his land for him – I think Mark prepared the field and sowed the crop.” “I’ve helped out myself in the past as well as buying a couple of fields when he was in a bit of a hole.” “Anyway, that’s the farm and its assets.” “What do you think?” I looked around the empty yard and the abandoned sheep facility. The big modern barn was a huge plus along with the workshop in the old shelter. The grass looked ready to harvest but the Wheat was going to need some looking after to get a full return from the crop. If I bought this farm I was going to have to find a way to make money with very little and I was probably going to have to lease equipment early on. “I think I need to run it past Anna!” “OK,” said Sophie, “But don’t take too long – Tim’s going to have to put it on the general market soon and if it goes to auction there will be a lot of crows circling to pick the bones.”