Paul Rackham’s collection of historic tractors to go under the hammer

Paul Rackham, whose huge collection of vintage tractors is to be auctioned off.

Paul Rackham, whose huge collection of vintage tractors is to be auctioned off. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2015

A vast and valuable fleet of farm machines, embodying the engineering legacy of East Anglia’s major industry – and the unending drive of its owner – is about to go under the hammer.

The Holt 75 tractor, built in 1918.

The Holt 75 tractor, built in 1918. - Credit: Submitted

After spending 20 years amassing one of the world’s foremost collections of vintage and classic tractors, entrepreneur Paul Rackham says he has no regrets about selling off his labour of love to the highest bidders.

The landmark auction at Camp Farm in Roudham, near Thetford, is expected to bring interest from around the globe when 175 machines go under the hammer on September 26.

And that’s not just because of the sheer quantity of lots available – auctioneers say the appeal lies in the unique quality, provenance and diversity on offer, spanning more than 30 manufacturers and covering a period ranging from the First World War to the 1970s.

Among the famous British and US names like John Deere, Ford and Allis Chalmers, there are some less familiar such as Peterbro, Weeks Dungey and British Wallis, with many of the machines having been meticulously restored to a higher standard than when they first rolled off the production lines.

Mr Rackham, 79, was born in Peasenhall, Suffolk, and now runs a mixed farm at Bridgham, near Thetford, with 1,800 acres of arable land and 600-strong beef herd, having built up and sold a number of businesses during his career, including the Waste Recycling group.

He said the guiding principal which built his machinery collection was to acquire the best, the earliest or the rarest models. He said: “My family do not share the same passion as I do. The shed is full and there is no more room, so it is time to close one chapter and open another one.

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“I got a kick out of putting this collection together, getting out there and finding them and getting them all restored.

“But there will be no tears shed when they are sold. I am not getting any younger and I need a new challenge. The hunger is still there, and I am not ready for gardening yet.”

Mr Rackham said the collection began with one tractor, an International Farmall BM, made in 1951, and bought for £250.

Other highlights include two 1954 BMB Presidents which spent their working lives at Old Trafford cricket ground, and a 1917 Fordson Model F, introduced at the request of the British government to help meet the need to increase food production during the First World War.

The undoubted flagship of the collection is a Holt 75 built in 1918, the sole surviving example operated by the British Army during the First World War.

“It is a bit special,” said Mr Rackham. “It is the only one remaining with that provenance of having done service in the First World War – not in combat, but in supporting the supply trains at Dover.”

Auctioneers think the Holt 75 could fetch a sum “pushing six figures”, but Mr Rackham believes that, on a good day with two people who really want it, the bidding could go as high as around £250,000.

His favourites also include a 1948 Caterpillar D7, the same model used by his company on landfill sites as he built up the Waste Recycling Group, which was sold to Terry Firma in 2003 for £531million.

“It is one of my favourites, because we worked on them over the years and they were good old sloggers,” he said. “This one worked on agricultural contracting and it has got 42,000 hours on it, so you can see how reliable they were.”

The sale is being jointly handled by specialist vintage auctioneers Cheffins and agricultural auctioneers Clarke and Simpson.

Oliver Godfrey, a rural chartered surveyor for Cambridge-based Cheffins, said: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime sale. In terms of the quality and quantity on offer, it is unheard of.

“It is not just the monetary value, it is the historical value. What Mr Rackham has done is preserve these machines for future generations.”

James Durrant, a rural chartered surveyor with Clarke and Simpson, based at Framlingham, added: “The total cost of restoring this collection is staggering. You are nearly into seven figures for the restorations alone.”

“This is a sale that none of us will ever see again. It is 20 years in the making.”