ASK around farming circles and the croppers are considered to have it the easiest.
Air conditioned cabins, auto-steer and a seat as comfortable as any lounge-room chair – once the maintenance is done, there’s not too much that will force you to break a sweat.
On the other hand, the livestock sector is a different kettle of fish – shearers sweating it out in hot sheds, drenching or drafting in dusty yards.
There’s a lot of hard yakka in the stock game.
Wind back the clock some 70 or 80 years, however, and it was a different story.
Cropping was a back-breaking caper.
It required people to lump ridiculously heavy bags of wheat to the top of stacks, sit exposed to the elements, towing a five furrow plough or a harvester with a front about as wide as the modern-day rider mower deck.
It was long, laborious work.
Yet the machines that allowed people to do this were held in the highest esteem by the farmers of the day, for as slow as it may have seemed to modern eyes it was in turn a quantum leap from horse-drawn agriculture.
A Wimmera museum tells the story of the advance of machinery better than most.
Woods’ Farming and Heritage Museum at Rupanyup has an extensive collection of vintage tractors and other cropping machinery that provides a fascinating insight into how farmers went about their job in the first half of the 20th century.
Michael Woods said the museum was originally set-up on his family farm south of Rupanyup.
It later shifted into the township where it is manned by volunteers and open every weekend.
Pride of place is a collection of some 80 vintage tractors, primarily Fordsons, Mr Woods has collected from across the country.
“I got started collecting and have kept travelling around to get them, we’ve got a good collection from just this side of Ceduna in South Australia and from down in Gippsland. They’ve come in from everywhere,” Mr Woods said.
One of the star exhibits is a 1918 Fordson, packing what in its day would have been a whopping 24 horsepower.
“The Fordsons were always popular in the Rupanyup area,” Mr Woods said.
“They were a bit more affordable than some of the other options, so that’s why I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for them.”
The collection is not exclusively Fordsons, however, with an interesting array of International and Massey Ferguson tractors as well.
Mr Woods points out an old combine used for sowing.
“With this type of combine on our place, it would barely hold a bag of wheat in the box. You could get one lap around a 60 acre (24 hectare) paddock but not quite around again so you had to have the bags on the back to refill again,” he said.
The machinery is not pensioned off just yet.
Of the tractors, Mr Woods said at least 80 per cent were operational. There are a mix of petrol, kerosene and diesel engines.
“In the early days there was a bit of distrust of diesel as it was new,” he said.
Each year he goes out and plants something.
He is waiting for the right moment to take off barley crops.
But Mr Woods says he is not planning on retiring on the proceeds – all up the harvester will run over around a hectare of crop.
The secret tales of vintage machinery
THE developer of Woods’ Farming Museum in Rupanyup, Michael Woods, is a treasure trove of little known lore about vintage machinery.
He can tell you where it came from and what it was used for.
For farmers who believe the appearance of the tractor does not matter and it is the horsepower that is all important, he has an important cautionary tale regarding Fordson’s colour scheme and the Second World War.
Fordson had factories in both Cork, Ireland and Dagenham, England, and was rolling off smart blue tractors with red insignia.
However, this was not to the taste of the Ford bosses back in Detroit.
They came travelled over to visit the factories and insisted the British brighten things up a bit, coming up with a rakish orange design that could be seen from space – as the saying goes.
The only problem was, they really could be seen from afar.
This was not an advantage in wartime England, when the Germans were trying to hit any essential services.
And what could be more essential than growing food?
The orange tractors stood out clearly on the docks and were duly targeted by the Luftwaffe, capping off a less than successful relaunch.
Mr Woods also talks about the tracked McCormick Deering machines of the 1930s.
Today tracks are back in vogue, because of their ability to minimise soil compaction, but back then they just offered a rough and ready ride.
However, machinery was not widely available in Australia in that era, so farmers snapped them up when they could, grinning and bearing the bumpy ride.
Mr Woods also recounted some of the stories of getting the machinery.
“I’ve been round clearing sales and the like and others have approached me with stuff that has been sitting in the sheds,” he said.
“We had to pull a wall down to get one item out, while another old harvester was pulled up near the hen house.
“When we cleaned it up there were buckets and buckets of poultry manure.”
Some of the machinery was down to good old-fashioned country ingenuity.
Mr Woods has a series of hand-made windmills in the display, which were lovingly crafted by a returning First World War veteran.
“We think he took to making the windmills as therapy, but the detail is incredible,” Mr Woods said.
“He has made individual hinges out of what we think are jam lids, while the wood is all fossicked, with a lot of packing cases.
“As far as we know the windmills are all functional still, but we’re not game to risk such delicate work.”