By the early 1950’s it became clear that the “Cropmaster” range of tractors, whilst still selling well, were beginning to face fierce competition from other manufacturers Who were undercutting David Brown’s list price. It was also clear that a new breed of tractor owner was emerging and, whereas the immediate post-war demand had been for bigger and heavier tractors of 30 hp or more, there was now a growing trend to lighter tractors of 20 to 25 hp.
This was probably brought about because smaller farms, especially those which had not mechanised in the 1940s, were now finding it was time to do so. To continue to farm with only horse-power was now becoming very uneconomical, and the smaller farms quickly began to convert even those in very marginal upland areas.
Thankfully new grant regimes assisted the poorer farmers to increase food production in post-war Britain, and it was greatly needed due to the various food shortages, especially the meat ration which had been dramatically cut by 1950. Now, whilst the Cropmaster was simply the best post-war tractor on the market, Ford, Massey and a number of other manufacturers began to realise that there was this growing market for smaller tractors, and it was a niche that the Ferguson models very quickly began to exploit.
If the Cropmaster was going to compete, it was clearly evident that it would require radical new features in order to prolong its life. So the decision was taken to produce a stripped down version of the Cropmaster range, where certain economies of manufacturing could be passed on to the customer. One of the most obvious solutions was to produce a tractor with a smaller engine, and with a 25hp version immediate reductions could be made in the selling price.
Meanwhile, economies in the manufacture of a 30hp version could also be achieved through careful design. As Leonard Craven told me; ‘In the early 1950s, as the post-war reconstruction period came to an end, the demand for tractors continued apace but the availability of supplies was much more widespread. In turn this depressed the agricultural market slightly, and after a decade of being able to sell anything and everything they made, tractor manufacturers found that prices were now becoming an important issue with many farmers. David Brown were no exception and the firm decided to produce the stripped down version of the Cropmaster.’
Fitted with fan-type fenders, single seats, the models became known as the 25 and 30 series tractors. In recalling their introduction, Herbert Ashfield writes ‘Ferguson came in with real mass production with Massey Ferguson, and later on Ford got going as well so we began to feel the draft a bit. My contention was that we should stop somewhere in between the 25 horse power Ferguson and the 40 horse power Ford. Unfortunately the problem with the Cropmaster and the Super Cropmaster was that it was getting as pricey as the Ford and farmers were getting less power for their money. So we did a strip down version, the 25 and 30 which were wonderful tractors, just right for British farmers.
We easily undercut Ford, with a very modern tractor and at the same time produced a superior tractor to the Ferguson. They were designated by Mr. David Brown as 25 and 30, which signified their nominal horse-power. He had decided that his name should figure large in the tractor’s image, and that the ‘master’ name detracted from the image of quality he felt the firm’s name warranted. So out went the ‘Cropmaster’ name, and David Brown came to the fore but we were soon put at a disadvantage as a number of makers weren’t as scrupulous in their designation numbers as we were, and added another five or even ten horse-power on to their designation number, giving customers entirely the wrong impression.’
The 25 and 30 series were one of Meltham’s greatest secrets, and although some books and magazines have commented that the tractors went on sale in February 1953, we can put the record straight and state categorically that they were not released to the public until Friday 27th March when they went on show at the Harrogate Convention. At this event David Brown dealers and distributors were presented with the DB25, 30C and 30D. Other dealers were invited to the factory to view the new models.
The 25 (later to be known as the 25C) represented David Brown’s entry into the popular priced class, and was presented in such a way as to immediately appeal to both the small and the large-scale farmer. Powered by the 3.5” bore petrol or petrol/paraffin engine, it was fitted with a 6-speed gearbox and the latest two-position hydraulic lift, the 25 brought ‘Cropmaster’ performance and reliability within reach of those who could not hitherto afford it.
For a comparatively low initial outlay the small farmer could now purchase a powerful, but economical tractor, which would be capable of every job on the farm. The thoughtful consideration that the farmer could continue to use his own trailed implements in conjunction with the decent drawbar on the 25 was well appreciated. This allowed him to mechanise his operations, and not be tied down to the immediate expenditure of purchasing mounted implements. It was a big difference, and it made the 25 a firm favourite with both the farming press and the small-scale farmers who bought it. Another feature was the Traction Control Unit, TCU which was a controlled weight transfer system and enabled even small tractors such as the 25 to carry out heavy work with large implements.
As mentioned earlier, the 25 also appealed to larger farms, because of its low-price to high-performance factors making it a suitable choice for a general duty machine. Some farms purchased the single pan-seat 25 as a second machine, others sold their larger tractors and standardised on a small fleet of 25hp tractors. The appearance of the 30 horsepower tractor in its stripped down version was also well appreciated, although at this time it did not look greatly different from the Cropmaster. Indeed, the original 30 was fitted with Cropmaster tin-work and badged as such. However, the new 30, in both its engine configurations, was a remarkably economic tractor achieving a very high acreage per hour to low fuel consumption ratio.
The change to a styling similar to the 25, incidentally came about a year after the introduction of the 30, and with this the famous DB bench seat finally disappeared from the standard market. Mind you, I recall that well into the 1970s some of our tractors for the European market, especially Germany and Belgium, were still calling for bench seats and square-topped wide mud-guards on which people could sit as well.