The Formation of Tractor Spares

By the early 1930s I was fully involved with my Father’s business. I was working on my car one Saturday afternoon in 1935 at Chillington Fields when Mr. Ted Aimer, Plant Engineer for Shellabear Price Company approached me. He had a contract in Moseley Road to level some 1,000 acres of old pit mounds for a Bilston housing estate and needed spare parts for his earthmoving equipment. He said "I have spent all day in Birmingham looking for four bolts with this thread and I've been told you may be able to help". I found we did not have this thread either, but suddenly remembered the 3/- cases of American stocks and dies we had in stock. I took some long bolts, cut off the B.S.F. thread and re-screwed them N.F. No charge.

He was so pleased he suggested I send our representative to see him the following Monday morning and to bring a set of stocks and dies with him. I was there on Monday morning and sent him my card but it was returned "Nothing today, thank you". I borrowed a pair of wellington boots, waded through the mud and sold him the stocks and dies for £25 and some 300 steering clutch linings, 24 main clutch linings, 24 C40 cone linings and an enquiry with samples for 100 sets RD8 Piston and Liner Kits.

This was my first realisation of the vast potential of the replacement tractor spares business, without competition. So in 1936 I persuaded my Father to allow me to have the use of one of his buildings at Chillington fields, rent free and also borrowed £3,000 from him to purchase the entire stocks of tractor spares from Tractor Traders Ltd., stored at their Sunbury-on-Thames depot. This depot was an old barn with all the smaller items upstairs. I had just purchased a Black Label 4½ litre Bentley for £16 from the Fighting Cocks Garage. With the back seats removed it would carry a ton. So I loaded the car with RD8 Lower Rollers and spent all day delivering load after load from the Sunbury Depot to George Johnston, Chief Engineer for John Mowlems Ltd., who operated some 200 Caterpillar machines on the 723 acre site of St. Mary's Reservoir, Staines, Middlesex. The sale of these rollers amounted to £3,000.

I then had 10 lorry loads of unidentified items. The smaller items, such as gaskets, seals, bushings, pins, links, nuts and bolts, were tipped out of their bins onto the upstairs floor and then swept out onto the lorries below. It took six months to sort them out, identify them and sell them.

The move into tractor spares

An aerial view of Chillington.

That was the real start of Tractor Spares, and our first move into that market, though we were still trading as SEBCO and the Briton Motor Company.

From then until the outbreak of the Second World War I was fully occupied developing the range of spares and accessories we were making for tractors and, of course, travelling the country selling them. 

Another opportunity arose when George Wimpey's asked us for grease buckets as part of an order for "one lorry load of spares". We loaded the lorry so high it would not go under the 15ft. high doorway and had to be partly unloaded then reloaded. Wimpeys then told us we had not included any grease buckets, which, it turned out, were in short supply and  the greasing of rollers and idlers was the essential first daily routine of a tractor driver. So we designed and made some rather crude greasing units and supplied them to Wimpeys. Other contractors started calling for grease buckets.  We improved the design and they proved so popular we could not keep up with demand.

In the period 1937-39 tremendous business activity took place. Some of those with which we were involved included aerodrome construction, anti-aircraft sites, factories, ammunition dumps, and so on. In 1939 I formed a new company, Aerodrome Contractors Ltd., which was equipped with tractors and bulldozers. Our main contract was Prees Aerodrome, Whitchurch and we were also engaged in removing overburden at Wombourne and Wellington.

Our most profitable contract was an open cast coal site on the Willenhall Road, opposite the Walsall cemetery. After moving 30 feet of overburden I found 18 inches of clay above the coal seam. I had to dig out this clay by hand, to keep it clean. I was able to sell it for more than the coal.

Whilst most of our energies were devoted to our specialised engineering work, we also kept an eye open for other opportunities which came to our attention. For example, in 1937 we purchased from Sunbeamland, the stock of Deloford’s portable canoes and formed a new company called the British Watercraft Company. These canoes could be folded up and transported in a car. Mr. Deloford took action against my Father in the High Court for infringement of his patents. My Father conducted his own defence, and during his cross-examination of Mr. Deloford, Mr. Deloford had a heart attack and died in court. My Father won the case but discontinued production.

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