One of the most famous models in the David Brown stable was the VAK1C, or the Cropmaster as it was better known. In total some 59,800 models were manufactured, making this series of tractor numerically second only to the 990 models. The VAK1C was introduced in April 1947 in time for the round of summer agricultural shows, but David Brown said that he wanted his new tractor to be the star at its first show. Accordingly, the Sales Department came up with a bright idea for its launch, and they decided to have their own show exclusively featuring the equipment made by David Brown and those companies with whom they were associated.
This was held on land just off the Harrogate Pateley Bridge road, and it became known as the Harrogate Convention. When the Cropmaster was presented to the farming public at this event that April, it was billed as the tractor which embodied all the four major improvements that Brown’s had intended to put into the VAK2. As we have seen David Brown’s had intended that a VAK1B would be built to incorporate a 6-speed gearbox, but it was never introduced and this facility only became available as an optional extra on the VAK1A . Yet the success of these 6-speed VAK1As encouraged the Sales Department, and in turn this prompted the firm to move on to the VAK1C. This development firmly pushed the proposed VAK2 into the realms of a ‘might have been’, and the decision to carry on the VAK1 designation was taken because the 1C embodied so many features of its two forerunners.
It is also worth mentioning the decision to introduce the name Cropmaster other than the simple alphanumerical designation that had been hitherto employed. This came about as a consequence of the development of David Brown’s marketing department, who brought their influence to bear on how the company’s models were presented.
At this time they hit on the ‘master’ concept, and designations such as Cropmaster, Taskmaster and Trackmaster were born. Around the same time, David Brown decided that his name should also appear in large letters on the tractor, as he felt that the world should know that he was the originator of the red tractors. Some may consider this conceited, but he was only exploiting his name and reputation in the same way the Ferguson and Ford were exploiting their’s.
The range of implements available with the Cropmaster also grew, and in this the VAK1C became a popular British farm tractor and it greatly speeded up post-war farming mechanisation. Herbert Ashfield writes ‘The 3.5” Bore 35.0 BHP VAK1C included our own power lift which we made in built. This was done because one of the problems with selling th original Ferguson was that a farmer had to buy a tractor plus a set of implements. They didn’t like it because they wanted to use their own ploughs and trailed implements, but Ferguson wouldn’t make any provision for using their old equipment.
So if a farmer didn’t buy a set of implements the tractor was virtually useless! It was one of the points that David Brown fell out with him on, and he said to his design team “Well, why can’t we have a draw-bar and then the farmers could hitch their old trailed ploughs up.” So on the VAK1 they made provision for the trailed implements, but you’ve got to remember that there were no mounted implements in those days. So if you sold a tractor suited for mounted implements, you’ve got to sell mounted implements.
Well, we couldn’t make enough mounted implements to meet the demand, so our tractor was made with a button-on power lift. Because of this we could sell the tractor with or without a power lift on it, as it still had a draw-bar suitable for trailed implements. When we got the 1C we made an in-built power lift so it was suitable for trailed implements or mounted implements. In a way the 1C was the big brother to the 1A, and because it was so versatile we sold so many. But it was the chance to change from a petrol/TVO engine which made such a big difference.”
The VAK1C became available as a 31.5 BHP diesel-engined variety in 1949, with the first units being tested in the spring prior to an autumn launch just ahead of the Smithfield Show. It was a unique first for David Browns, and they became the first major tractor manufacturer in Britain to launch their own make diesel engine. Yet, this had long been a goal of the company, and when designing the VAK1 engine David Brown and Albert Kersey had shown the engine plans to Harry Ricardo, who was one of the leading consultants on diesel engines in the 1930s.
Brown asked Ricardo what modifications would be required to the design if the engine were ever Diesellised, to which he was advised to strengthen the camshafts and connecting rods. The tooling for the VAK1 engine included these modifications, and this saved much time and money when the market for introducing a diesel engine finally developed. Tom Lazenby recalls the introduction of the Cropmaster Diesel with some pride ‘The Cropmaster was a grand little tractor, but the Cropmaster Diesel when it came in was magnificent and the salesmen could sell that like hot cakes. I remember when we launched the diesel at Smithfield Show, Ford’s Sales Manager at the time, Frankie Daniels, came up to me and said “I wish we had that.”
So I took him to have a closer look at it, and when we turned the engine over he said “it’s marvellous, it runs just like a sewing machine that’s what we want, not an old slab-sided design like ours. Imagine, if you took a good engine like that and put it in the Fordson Major.” So we went over and looked at his tractor, and with barely concealed envy he said “Its twenty-five years out of date this and it needs a thumping bag of tricks in here to improve it. I’ve seen your engine before of course, and I told the boss (at Ford) if you want to see what’s wrong with our engines, go up to Yorkshire and have a look at a real tractor, the Cropmaster diesel.” I don’t think we could have got any higher praise than that!’
The Cropmaster sold very well, and in the years between 1947 and 1953 the firm made a number of variants. One of the first was the Cropmaster M, a model without hydraulic lift, which was available from April 1947 in the standard engine and as a diesel variant from June 1950. Next came the Vineyard, or narrow, version, which had a particular application with a lot of overseas customers as well as market gardeners in this country. A few of these Vineyard models could also be ordered with dealer modifications which made them into a low-clearance tractor, and a lot of these sold well in the West Country and other locations where farms had small entrances in the barns, byres and storehouses etc. Quite a few of these ‘specials’ were sold to the fruit growers, among which cider-apple farmers were the most common. A diesel engine version was introduced to the Vineyard tractor in 1951, but the demand for these was so low that only a small number (around 80) were produced.
In time for the 1950 Smithfield Show the company introduced the Super Cropmaster, with a 3 5/8” bore TVO engine which delivered a power range of 35-37.5 brake horse power. The tractor featured large section tyres, and tin-work which had distinctive full-engine side panels with grill vents. One of the tin-work fitters, Albert Haigh, recalls them as being called ‘the fishy tractors’ in the factory because the vents looked more like the gills on a big shark’. A novel introduction brought about from a demand in the Canadian market, saw the inclusion of a rain-trap in the exhaust/silencer unit.
In all, approaching 5,000 Super Cropmasters were built before they were discontinued at the end of 1952. As there was a demand for low-clearance and narrow tractors, there was also an emerging demand for tractors with a high clearance, and as a consequence of this demand the Prairie version of the Cropmaster emerged in October 1951. Tom Lazenby recalls the introduction of this variant; ‘When we brought in the Prairie tractor it was aimed at the Canadian and United States market, and we had to make it look a bit different.
So we got round a few ideas and tarted up the tractor; you know, different wings, wide mudguards and single seats, which we hoped would kid the Americans that we’d got something really special for them.’ The Prairie model did have a very striking appearance, a fact which was much remarked on when it appeared (once again) in time for the Smithfield Show that December. A 34.5 BHP diesel version was brought out the following autumn, and unlike the Vineyard diesel these sold reasonably well. In fact the Cropmaster Prairie Diesel actually accounted for about a third of the total production figures of this dependable variant.
Other versions of the Cropmaster appeared in industrial form as the Taskmaster and as a tracked version called the Trackmaster, both of which feature elsewhere in this book.
In all 59,800 Cropmasters were produced before they were superseded by stripped down versions which appeared in 1953 in response to competition brought about by the mass production of Ford and Ferguson tractors.