I’m a veteran driver, but this was my first time ‘off-road’ in a tractor

As a motoring columnist who spent most of his life in cities, I only tested cars and knew little about farming, but now that I live in the countryside, I couldn’t resist driving my neighbour’s New Holland/Ford 7740, says Declan Colley

I’m a veteran driver, but this was my first time ‘off-road’ in a tractor

As a motoring columnist who spent most of his life in cities, I only tested cars and knew little about farming, but now that I live in the countryside, I couldn’t resist driving my neighbour’s New Holland/Ford 7740, says Declan Colley

BEING a ‘city slicker’ — though I now live very rural — I have never been exposed to much agriculture.

My late mum was a countrywoman, from rural east Cork, but, like so many thousands of others of her generation, she willingly swapped small-town Ireland for the big city.

Post-school, post-college, my working life was all city-based and the trips to the country, while hugely enjoyable, never involved anything agricultural, other than the consumption of farm product.

Never having driven a tractor, I was delighted to receive an invitation from a friend and neighbour, John Walsh, to have a crack at his one. Now I did drive the same vehicle last summer, but too briefly and not to ‘farm’.

The tractor in question is a 1997 New Holland/Ford 7740 (around €40,000 to buy new in 1997). And not alone was it the SL model, with a 12-speed gearbox — which is actually a 24-speed gearbox, because it will do the same things going forward that it will in reverse, but it was the — get this — ‘blue cab’ version.

Its precursor was the Ford 7610 and it would be succeeded — when Ford took over New Holland — by the New Holland 7740 and, subsequently, by the TS110. There is some debate as to whether this machine is powered by a Cummins engine or a Ford.

Given that Cummins powerplants are ubiquitous across the agricultural landscape, it may be a moot point, but online technical details of the 7740 indicate that it was fitted with a Ford Genesis, 5.0-litre, four-cylinder, eight-valve turbodiesel.

Not knowing anything about tractors, I decided the best thing to do was simply try and drive the thing and not focus on the technical aspects.

The cockpit is pretty simple, but made better, especially when on-road, by the sprung driver’s seat. There is no odometer clocking up miles. Instead, the tractor clocks up ‘operational hours’ and ‘my’ 7740 has 7,300 hours on the clock, which I am told is equivalent to around 100,000km.

Much like a car, it has a clutch, a brake, and accelerator pedals. But you also have an array of handles for various gearbox activities and, intriguingly, a lever with loud orange buttons offering ‘snail’ or ‘hare’ settings, which are for on-road work and off-road work (fields; really big, flat fields, or lumpy ones).

Being a 1997 model, the New Holland/Ford 7740 is not exactly up-to-the-minute, technology-wise, but it is not a Neanderthal beast, either.

But it still offered what most people who suffer the M50 on a daily basis need most: fresh-air living and working. It was far from such four-lane madness that we got aboard the 7740, in the fields at the foot of Brow Head.

We lurched up perilously steep hills, navigated seemingly impossibly narrow gaps in the stone walls, until we finally emerged upon The Field: my field. The field I would render into submission as I undertook my ‘topping’ duties.

Large and square — albeit with a substantial cliff at the top end — the field did not look like a massively huge challenge, provided I kept away from the 300ft t drop and the ‘edges’ and other potentially tractor-wrecking rock bits, which had already — wisely — been done.

But not assessing this to be a massively huge challenge and not making a balls of the task I had been assigned were two very different matters. I dropped the ‘topper’ via a lever behind me and to the right, got her into gear, and off I went. Now, in the normal course of events, I’d be reporting here on the power outputs and 0-100kph times and top speeds, and that sort of stuff. Plainly, however, such figures are immaterial here.

Aside from the fact that 0-100kph will take eternity, especially as the absolute maximum, flat-out top speed is somewhere around 40kph; and that’s with the slicks fitted and your ears pinned back. No, this thing is all about torque and getting the engine’s 85bhp to give everything.

So, I fixed her into second gear and set off. In fact, I never got her out of second gear.

Once at the helm, it’s immediately noticeable this has a spin-on-a-sixpence turning circle, which allows you to render turns — totally impossible in a car — into a complete non-event. The steering was incredibly light and very direct. Impressive.

After less than an hour in the field, I had it fully ‘topped’ and was able to gaze proudly at my work. I had, John assured me, aced it and he was fully satisfied with the results. I don’t know if he was just saying that to assuage my ego and had to go back and do it again himself under the cover of darkness.

So that was it then, my run in the 7740. It is, obviously, a deeply capable beast of burden and although I did not certainly over-burden it, from the way John talks about the thing, you’d safely bet that — family aside — the tractor is probably one of the most important things in his life and one of the most important purchases he has ever made.

I could waffle on all day about technical stuff, like three-point linkages and plough-take-off (that’s PTO, to you non-agri types), but I’ll save that for when I meet my fellow farmers at the bar and we can wallow in lengthy discussions about power shafts and open centre hydraulics.

Now, where did I put my wellies?

Many thanks to John and Jackie Walsh for their bravery.

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