Right – The Wabbit Tractor looks stunning in her new RAF livery as the official tug for Harvard AJ 841.
23rd October 2021, Andrew Goodall and Collin Vaughan discovered the “Wabbit Twactor” on eBay after searching for the ultimate warbird towing machine for the Harvard MK4, known as the “The Wacky Wabbit.”
Initially, Andrew was interested in the newer, more modern options for towing aircraft. Having searched the latest gadgets for towing aircraft, from remote tugs radio-controlled tracked vehicles to ex-military tugs, Collin suggested the good old Massey Ferguson TE-20 tractor! After a couple of weeks of searching eBay, we found the perfect candidate.
Collin did most of the research and found this beauty pictured below, initially manufactured in 1947/49. Not wartime, but close enough! Grey is the traditional colour for the TE-20, “The Little Grey Fergie”, but not this one!! “It’s only paint”, it can be replaced anytime, so it was decided to restore it in keeping with the Desert Air Force Harvard (DAF) “Wacky Wabbit.” The paint “Light Stone” was purchased from Marcus Glenn, the correct colour for WW2 military vehicles… Perfect!
TED the tractor might be a TEA – TED the tractor or TEA cups? – According to research “TED the tractor” has gone through many changes in its life… We believe it was actually built as a TEA-20 and then converted to a TED-20 with an aftermarket TVO conversion, apparently around for a while before Ferguson started doing their own. It’s also a bigger engine than the earlier ones, 2088cc instead of 1850cc on the older models so we have a couple of extra horses under the Bonnet! From the serial number, we believe it was built in the first quarter of 1949 assuming the serial is correct, which it might not be. So let us just stick with: “TED the Tractor” and the rest is all history!
Registration FEW 425 – Isn’t this just perfect as a tribute to “The few” We couldn’t have wished for an excellent original registration.
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The Ferguson TE-20 is an agricultural tractor designed by Harry Ferguson His most successful design was manufactured from 1946 until 1956 and was commonly known as the Little Grey Fergie. TE-20 (for “Tractor England”) to be built by Standard Motors at their Banner Lane plant in Coventry.
The designation ‘TED-20’ denotes that the tractor is designed and built to be started on petrol and run on tractor vaporising oil (TVO) once warm. TVO isn’t a commercially-available fuel but can be approximated by mixing petrol and 28-second heating oil (kerosene).
The 2,088cc engine was manufactured by the Standard Motor Company and features a cylinder bore diameter of 85mm as opposed to the 80mm bore of the original, petrol-only engine while retaining the same 92mm stroke. The increase in bore was necessary to counteract the power loss of running a lower compression cylinder head, to prevent re-ignition of the fuel. Initially, a compression ratio of 4.8:1 up to and including engine number S170,173E produced 23.9hp, but later engines featured a compression ratio of 5.1:1, with a correspondingly useful increase in power to 25.4hp.
All that was left to do now was put Collin to work!! Collin Vaughan – Project manager and restoration expert – www.TheOddityfinder.co.uk
The Fergy was picked up and loaded on a trailer and recovered to the Oddity HQ in Essex for Collin to examine for the forthcoming restoration. Unfortunately, it was found that it had quite a bit of corrosion on the metalwork and odd-sized wheels! So back to eBay to purchase some new mudguards, footplates, wheels and tyres, amongst many other items!
The radiator grille was badly corroded and damaged. It needed attention, so it was back on fleabay to purchase a new one! Again the old radiator grille was put back on eBay and resold to help keep the costs down. The restoration was made easy using the products from Bit Hamber for degreasing, cleaning and priming. Great products that proved invaluable.
Once the wheels were removed, it was clear that it would take too much time to fill the corrosion; we decided to buy new wheels and sell the others on eBay. This saved us hours of work as we were on a tight timeline… We did an excellent job as they were both different size wheels!
Now for a couple of hundred quid, we had ourselves a matching new set of wheels. All that was needed now was to purchase some new tyres and tubes, get them fitted and spray them. We wanted the grass tyres that look like P-51 tyres; however, they are like rocking horse poop to find, so we went for the standard easy to buy tyres.
Collin did a great job painting the new wheels and fitting the fresh nuts, which finished the look… She’Finally, she’s starting to come together! The degreasing and priming were done with a product manufactured by Bilt Hamber Laboratories.
The wings were also badly battered and corroded and different sizes, so we purchased two new wings again on eBay and fitted them. This saved a lot of time, and again they look marvellous and symmetrical now painted in the desert light stone. Furthermore, the old wings go back on eBay to save money as we know someone with more patience and time will buy them.
As this T-20 is being restored as an aircraft tug, we need the tow bracket fixed to the front and the rear. Not as easy as it sounds as we had to get a fabricator to make all the specialist brackets and parts. As you can see, it all came together very nicely.
Below is the expertly fabricated front tow hitch made explicitly for this tractor. We find that towing the aircraft with the rear hitch is ideal. However, when putting the aircraft in the hangar. The front hitch works better than trying to reverse the beast into a tightly packed hangar that is usually full of very expensive. Spitfires and Messerschmitts, to name but a few! Loving the silver finish; it looks great against the light stone paintwork and breaks the colours up nicely.
1st February 2022 – This project started in early November 2021, and by February 2022, Collin had it looking like it was ready to roll! With all the new hitches fitted, it’s almost time to fit the Bonnet and spray some period looking RAF decals on the Bonnet.
10th February 2022 – The “Little yellow Fergie” needed some finishing touches to make it look military so we applied stencils for AJ841. This was the ‘Wacky Wabbitserial number’ in RAF (DAF) service between 1942-1946. These stencils really make it look military along with some RAF roundels for good measure.
11th February 2022 She’s almost complete with the Bonnet now attached. We have a new Fergie badge coming for the front of the Bonnet, which will be in blue. Note now the newly fabricated front hitch. This will make all the difference when pushing the Wabbit back into the tightly-packed hangar instead of reversing it in. This is just to add another layer of safety to the operation.
So back in the day, when she was initially registered as FEW425, she is seen below with her skinny wheels on. No wonder there were so many oddities when we stripped er down. This explains the mismatched wheels, the odd mudguards etc. Just look at all that rust and corrosion, and Id guess this was in the 80s? It’s likely that someone felt sorry for her and made an attempt to get her looking like the “Little Grey Fergie” again.
The Wabbit tractor arrives at Duxford! She set off from her restoration home near Colchester to Duxford on the back of a trailer and arrived about 09:00 ready to be offloaded. Collin Vaughan carefully drove her off and she had a little test drive around the front of the WW2 T2 Hangar. As you can see she looks right at home with the military markings at this historic airfield.
Below is a short video featuring some photographs of the restoration. She was made in 1947 and 75 years later she has had a new lease of life and we hope she will keep on going for another 75 years! You can see her at the Duxford Imperial War Museum, where she shall remain, doing what she does best for the next few years, pulling and towing and generally looking amazing!
Collin Vaughan – Project manager and restoration expert – www.TheOddityfinder.co.uk
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