An AC Model M Crawler|
As told by Neil Atkins
by Anthony West
Neil Atkins is a man in his late thirties, a mild and patient character who
talks fondly of his farming heritage. He farms around a hundred and fifty
acres of arable land, in a village called Southam, located just outside
Leamington Spa in Warwickshire. The soil is a rich dark brown and is well
looked after. unlike some areas in the midlands it is also fairly flat, broken
only by hedgerows and the occasional valley and brook. A copse of wildbreaking
silver birch and oak trees surround the top side, overlooking a gentle slope
to the farm itself.
Neil farms the same land that his father and family farmed before him. A
single man devoted to his work and his growing collection of farm toys, he has
spent years accumulating tractors of all sorts, adding them to his now large
collection. All of his machines apart from one, are all from local farms. Neil
states that he remembers many of the tractors at work as a child on visits to
local farms, it is nice to know the history of his collection. The one which
he tells us about is the only one he knows little about, but it is being
resurrected after many years of outside neglect.
This one machine, comes from a company founded way back in 1861. A company
which billed itself as the company of the four powers, Steam, Gas, Water and
Electricity. This company under the leader ship of a man called Otto Falk,
went on to establish itself as one of the founding members of a unique group
who's contribution to agricultural history would remain respected, prized and
sought after by collectors world wide. Just the mention of initials like 'U'
'WD' 'CA' and 'M' conjure up visions of orange machinery and a diamond shaped
emblem emblazoned with A-C. in the minds of almost everyone from children to
Neil's AC Crawler
A-C did much to improve mechanization on smaller farms throughout the U.K and
U.S.A, The machines on offer soon distinguished themselves in the fields, and
the name became synonymous with reliability and durability. By being diverse
and offering a range of products from skid units, root balers, baggers to
combines, A-C went on to become a fundamental part of mechanized farming,
whilst many other competitors fell by the way side due to economic crisis in
the early part of the century.
Neil's particular A-C is an 'M' the best known of the A-C crawlers, in
Britain at least. It was introduced in 1933. and used the 'UM' engine common
to the 'U.' It was available in Standard, Wide track and Orchard format and
could comfortably handle three to four furrows. Provided with four forward and
one reverse gear it was very much an agricultural model, however due to its
rugged power and reliability, it was used exclusively as an industrial or
construction workhorse by some owners.
Neil took time to tell me of that first encounter with the 'M,' and how he
came to own it. Here is his story in his own words:
I have always been a land man, the memories of my early childhood are
centered on this very farm. Of my father and uncle working with the sheep and
cattle until late night and of the hypnotic warmth of the kitchen range. We
would work ourselves out in all weather, and no matter what time we finally
came in, there would always be warmth and something on the stove for us to
eat. I love my way of life, my dogs and I love tractors, and for as long as I
can remember I have been surrounded by both.
I suppose in comparison, I have a lot of tractors in my collection. Although
I have to admit that most of them are what people would term as, 'As found' or
'ex farm' condition. They are all local machines, apart from the 'M,' most of
them coming no further than three miles away from here. I know who bought
them, what they did throughout their lives and how they were treated, in fact
I have driven many of them.
As you can see, I don't just have an interest in tractors, I also like army
trucks, and well just about anything interesting. The tractor that will
probably be of most interest to people is my Allis 'M' crawler. It was built
in 1935, although for some time I believed it was 1939 because of the number
on the engine. Which following a letter from a magazine turned out to be the
I didn't set out to buy it, I went to a bus sale initially looking for a
vintage bus and was lucky enough to discover it. I went on the off chance that
something would catch my eye, it was a local bus firm and that sort of history
appeals to me. The bus company had been in business for years and I had been
taken to school by them as a child. Sadly economics and old buses had run the
company out of business and into the hands of modern competition, who took
over the routes and were closing the place down. Before they could do that
though they had to sell and clear everything from the old place.
There were numerous spares and oddments and eleven old style buses at the
back of the yard. Some were from just after the war, with nice two tone paint
and sweeping lines that we can only see in films these days. I had always
fancied one of the old ash wood framed, E.R.F lorries that I remember as a
child. Or an Albion with the big flat chromed radiator and flat screen.
Most of the items were classed as non running restorable classics, the sale
didn't appear to have raised great interest, but one group in particular were
intent on buying. They were grey suited gentlemen with mobile phones and smart
shoes and I found that they were from the B.B.C set and logistics dept. buying
items for television sets.
We were allowed access inside the buses, they were all lined up side by
side, facing inwards towards the center of the yard. All eleven were in
varying states of disrepair, and I spent a while just admiring the lines
remembering the summer trips and the journeys too and from school, before
venturing inside them. I settled for a bull nosed 'Comma.' It was in good
condition really, the panel work was sound and the interior wasn't too
ravaged. I climbed aboard and sat behind the sparse dashboard, the size of the
steering wheel a give away that it was muscle and not power steering! and the
heavy gear change and clutch offering no synchronized gears.
As I walked up the isle towards the back seat, the smell of the upholstery
brought poignant memories of grey shorts and brown leather satchels flooding
back in my mind. I peered through the back window, which was crescent shaped
and split into two, where upon something caught my eye. I wasn't sure what it
was at first, but it was a machine of some sort, the elevated view from the
bus allowed me to peer over the top of the fence. I spun round and left the
bus, nearly knocking one of the grey suited gentlemen over in the process.
I hurried over to the fence, but couldn't see over it, so I had to make my
way along the line until I found a gap which, with a struggle I could fit
through. I could see an outline amidst the rubbish of what I had seen from the
bus, it was surrounded by tin sheets and tires and over grown by elderberry
trees and initially I thought it was a 'caterpillar.' As I got closer to it,
the diamond emblem on the radiator side gave it's identity away and I knew it
was an Allis Charmers. It was green and moss covered, the years of outdoor
neglect had left it in a desperate state. Parts were missing, things were
seized solid, it was nearly grown over by trees.
After a while I return to the sale that was by now well under way. I
couldn't muster any enthusiasm for it though, the buses had lost their appeal
and the excitement of my find had taken over. The big problem now was to whom
I should make an offer. I thought about it and decided I would leave it until
after the sale, so I asked the office for the name and telephone number of the
owner and left.
The number I had been given was to the new firms transport manager, Mr. Ron
Peterson. I called him and we chatted about the Allis, and made arrangements
to meet that afternoon. He was an affable man who in truth wasn't concerned
with the finer points of agriculture, but he did allow me to buy the Allis for
'Scrap' price. A mere £100:00. He also promised to call me when the yard had
been cleared so that I could retrieve my find.
Several weeks went by before Ron called, and it wouldn't be for another two
weeks before I could spare the time to go and fetch it. When I got there, the
whole place was all but leveled, which made pulling in with the ex-army
The site foreman ordered the digger driver to pull the fence down so that I
could pull the machine out backwards. Just as well really as other wise it
would have meant a full day with a chain saw just to cu a path. I was pleased
to see that the Allis was still in the same place I had found her, I reversed
up and dropped the axle of and set the ramps.
The Allis was well embedded in the earth, the years spent in the ground had
taken a tight grip on the tracks, which themselves were solid. Now came the
hard bit. The Trojan was fitted with a diesel Donkey winch, which the army
used for pulling tanks onto the trailer. I linked the wire to the tow hitch
and pushed the handle to 'retrieve' The donkey began laboring, the wire was
taught and complaining, and I was worried that if it wouldn't budge that the
wire might snap and cut the cab off the lorry!
Eventually, the Allis went with a "snap" the tracks started to squeal in
disagreement and she began to slide backwards. Once the tracks made contact
with the stone ground, the machine seemed to give in to the will of the wire
and it was pulled onto the trailer without fuss.
Leaving the winch wire attached, I lifted the rear of the trailer and
attached the axle. The journey home was uneventful as one might expect from a
truck used to pulling forty to fifty tons every day, but I was glad to get
home and draw the lorry onto the yard.
I looked over my new toy and in the dusk it appeared to take on a whole new
light. Although it was rusty and green and in a terrible state of disrepair,
it seemed to glow with a new purpose.
The following day was spent pulling the machine about from one spot to
another, the grease nipples were fed and old oil and diesel thrown over the
tracks. This seemed to have the desired effect and the shunting too and fro,
seemed to loosen the thing up.
Inspection found that the block was split, the manifold was rotted away, the
levers were seized solid and some of the instruments are missing. I have in
the time since I acquired it, rebuilt the final drive and got all the levers
operating again. I am still looking for a variety of spares to complete it,
however I am finding that my commitments on the farm don't really afford me
much free time. I have discovered another M some miles away which is owned by
a farmer and who has allowed me first refusal should he decide to sell. This
was as a result of going to buy a set of engine side panels, manifold and
other spares for mine, so who knows I might have two!
My intention is to strip the 'M' and have the block repaired locally, it's not
a bad split so I feel it will be okay. The whole thing needs stripping of
paint, and repainting to do it justice, and again, time allowing this will be
done at the same time. I have made (but not fitted) a new floor sheet and seat
assembly, as the original had rotted or been taken off.
The whole thing is now in the process of being pulled apart bit by bit, little
by little, but it will be completed and restored to its former glory.
My ambition is to complete the M and put her to work (for fun only) on the
fields plowing and disking. Then it will have pride of place amongst my
collection which briefly comprises of: two fowler track machines, a track
Marshall, a 3/45 Nuffield, an IHC 250D, a 1932 Fordson N, three E 27N's, a
Nuffield 3/45, a small BMC 850, a Model N Trackson with ditcher, and an Allis
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