Massive David Brown Collection
David Brown runs through John Simpson like letters through a stick of rock. He ran the Yorkshire-built tractors for many years on his farm near Market Rasen in Lincolnshire and has been enthusiastically collecting and restoring them for over 35 years. His collection, which now contains almost 60 different models, is one of the best in the country. Rory Day went to take a look; pictures by Simon Hipperson.
David Browns have been a major part of John Simpson’s life for a remarkable 72 years. Tractors made by the Yorkshire-based company have been ever-present on his farm near Market Rasen, on the western edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds, since the arrival of a brand new VAK1 model in May 1940.
John, who was eight years old at the time, remembers the occasion well. “My father told me it was coming and I can safely say I didn’t get much done at school on the day it was due to be delivered,” he recalls. “I raced home to see the new tractor and I can remember thinking that it looked more like a car than a tractor, because the tinwork was so stylish.”
Replacing a Fordson N, the David Brown VAK1 spent eight years on the farm, proving to be a reliable and highly capable machine. It was the impressive performance of the VAK1 that persuaded John’s father to replace another of the farm’s Fordson Ns with another new David Brown, this time a Cropmaster model, in 1948. From that point on there was always a DB tractor in the fleet and very little else.
John’s mother and father began milking cows in 1936 and as the years passed dairying went on to play an increasingly important part of their business. By the mid-1960s, the family had updated their milking parlour to a 16-bay unit and were feeding silage to their cows down an indoor passageway. The installation of a modern 120-cow cubicle housing system during the early 1970s was another major step forward.
David Brown tractors provided most of the Simpsons’ motive power throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The family operated a 30D, missed the 900 that replaced it in DB’s range, but bought a new 950 in 1959, followed by two second-hand 990 Implematic models in the mid-1960s.
Initially, they dealt with Belton Bros & Drury, a David Brown dealer from Eastoft, near Scunthorpe, in North Lincolnshire, but later traded with Prescott Bros, a smaller dealer from Langworth, near Lincoln, and then with the David Brown’s own retail outlet at nearby Wragby.
The 1970s saw the arrival of not just more new David Browns on the farm, including a 1410 and a 995, but also John’s very first vintage tractor. The year was 1970 and the tractor was a 1930s International W-30, purchased locally from a small farmer who was still using it, albeit very occasionally. This was during the embryonic years of the tractor preservation movement, when the number of people who were seriously interested in collecting old tractors in each county could virtually be counted on one if not two hands.
Gripped by the collecting bug, John acquired several more vintage tractors, though it was to be another five years before he bought his first David Browns, a Cropmaster and a 25C, for preservation in the mid-1970s. Another relatively early David Brown arrival in the growing collection was a six-cylinder 50TD crawler that was acquired from Owmby by Spital, a small village near Lincoln, in the late 1970s.
As well as buying vintage David Browns, John continued to update his working fleet, buying two new 1490s together in the early 1980s, one of which is now part of his collection, and a two-wheel drive Case 1594 built in the former DB factory at Meltham. The 1594 was to be John’s last new tractor because in early 1988, aged 56, he decided that 40 years of milking cows was quite enough. It was time to pack up, rent out most of the land and semi-retire from full-time farming.
“If I’m being honest I never really enjoyed milking and was much more of an arable man,” admits John.
The cows, which by this time numbered 135 in milk plus another 120 or so followers, were sold by auction on the farm in March 1988. Ironically, quite by coincidence the sale took place on the very same month that the former David Brown factory at Meltham, which was latterly under Case-IH rule, produced its very last tractor.
Since he gave up milking cows, John has been able to devote most of his spare time to collecting and restoring old tractors. His impressive collection now extends to just over 60 wheeled and tracked David Browns and about the same number of mainly vintage tractors from other brands.
In terms of collecting David Browns, his initial focus was on the pre-1965 red models, but that changed in the early 1990s when he acquired his first white model, an 880 Selectamatic from 1966. “We rented a small pig farm just up the road and the 880 came with it,” explains John. “It was in poor condition so we overhauled the engine and tidied it up.”
The 880 now forms part of a full set of five early white Selectamatic models, the line-up also including a 770, 780, 990 and 1200. The arrival of the latter model about 4-5 years ago completed the set.
All these machines, like many others in John’s collection, have been checked over mechanically, repaired and overhauled where necessary, then given a fresh coat of paint and decals. They are not over-restored and are regularly used on road runs or at local ploughing matches. John does most of the work himself, with occasional mechanical help from the aptly named David Brown, a former service engineer who worked for David Brown’s retail branch at Wragby.
The collection also contains several more nice sets, such as the three red/yellow Implematic models – 850, 880 and 990 – that made up David Brown’s wheeled tractor range in the period 1961-1965. Most notably there is also a full set of David Brown 90 Series tractors from the early 1980s. It is unusual and rare to see all five of these tractors – 1190, 1290, 1390, 1490 and 1690 – in one place, let alone four that have been freshened up with new paintwork and retrimmed cab interiors.
The two-wheel drive 1490 is one of John’s original farm tractors and arrived new in 1983. Supplied by David Brown Tractors of Wragby, the A-registered Hydra-Shift model has clocked just 2090 hours and is in immaculate condition, with newly-painted tinwork. John’s set of 90 Series models also includes an 1190 that was purchased from a local building supplies company at Market Rasen about three years ago; a 1290 with 2825 hours that originally worked in the Doncaster area; a 1390 that was previously owned by a local collector; and a 1690 Hydra-Shift that belonged to a local contractor until two years ago. The 1690 Hydra-Shift is the only one of the five 90 Series models that’s still awaiting refurbishment.
When John packed up milking cows and full-time farming he retained his most modern tractor, a two-wheel drive, white/black 1594 from 1984, and this is now the youngest machine in his collection. He says likes this tractor, which has clocked just 1892 hours, but admits that he currently has no great ambition to own a set of the 94 Series models. His 1594 is in very tidy, original condition, albeit with a few areas of surface rust, but will in time be freshened up like the others.
The tractor with the oldest connection to the farm is a DB 950 model that arrived new in 1959. This tractor, which is one of 5574 DB 950s that were produced before the introduction of the Implematic draught control system in 1959, received a complete makeover a few years ago. The collection also contains a DB 995 with a safety cab that arrived new in 1974 and is still waiting its turn in the restoration queue.
When it comes to the earlier red tractors in the famous ‘Hunting Pink’ livery, John’s David Brown collection ticks just about all the boxes. He quite naturally owns one of the company’s first tractors, a VAK1, plus an example of almost every standard agricultural wheeled model produced from then until the end of the red era in 1965.
The list includes a Cropmaster, Cropmaster Diesel, Super Cropmaster, petrol/paraffin and diesel versions of the 25 and 30 models, three variants of the 900, an 850 and 950, a rare red version of the 770 Selectamatic and even a couple of 2D toolcarriers in standard and narrow track widths. Apart from a couple of machines, such as an unrestored 990 Implematic which will probably be moved on, there are very few duplicates among the 61 tractors in the collection.
The jewel in the crown – and in any serious David Brown collection – is without doubt a six-cylinder 50D. After many years of looking for one of these elusive and highly prized tractors at an affordable price, John finally tracked one down in New Zealand in 1996. He was alerted to its availability by a friend who facilitated the deal with the owner. A deal was done and the 50D, which had already been restored, was soon on its way to England in a shipping container. It finally arrived in John’s yard, along with a number of other non-DB tractors, in August 1996.
Joining the 50D on the list of head-turners are an unusual and probably unique pair of replica Oliver 500 and 600 tractors. David Brown manufactured just over 2100 DB 850 and DB 950 models for the Oliver Corporation in the USA between 1960 and 1963. The DB tractors were given a restyled bonnet and a new green and white livery and were sold in the USA as the Oliver 500 and 600.
John’s two Oliver models were created a number of years ago by avid Oliver enthusiast Sonny Smith of Shropshire. The original versions are notoriously hard to find in the USA, so Sonny decided to make his own using archive pictures for reference. When he decided to reduce his collection about four years ago he put them up for sale and John took the pair. They are an interesting talking point and add a nice splash of colour to the area devoted to the earlier red models.
The main collection of 51 wheeled David Brown tractors is stored under one roof in one of the former farm buildings, but tucked away in another corner of the yard are no less than seven DB crawlers. The earliest of these, a Caterpillar D4-based DB4 model from the period 1942-1945, is one of the rarest machines in John’s entire collection. Just 110 DB4 crawlers were made during the war at the request of the Ministry of Supply and only a handful, possibly less than 10, have survived. This makes John’s tractor, which he acquired from a local dealer 6-7 years ago, a rare piece by anyone’s standards.
The impressive crawler line-up also includes a very tidy six-cylinder 50TD crawler, a couple of 30TDs, one of which has a very low ratio gearbox, and a smart, repainted 40TD model in a bright industrial yellow livery.
It has to be said there are not too many gaps left in this highly impressive collection. Looking to the future – see ‘On the wish list’ panel – John says he wouldn’t mind a four-wheel drive model from the 1970s, perhaps a 1412 and a prototype DB5 crawler, though he accepts that such is the scarcity of the latter model, it would be a miracle if he was ever offered one.
“I don’t know if I really need any more,” he says with a wry smile, before returning to the yard to work on his latest addition, a 1979 David Brown 990 Highway model that had arrived just 24 hours earlier!
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