Vintage machinery is back in vogue and one of the region's biggest collections of tractors will be on show at the rebooted Orford Vintage Rally. KATRINA LOVELL reports.
Organisers of this year's Orford Vintage Rally were so keen for the event to go ahead, not even a serious motorbike accident that required an air ambulance trip to Melbourne for surgery was going to stop them.
Last year's event fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic but for enthusiasts of all things vintage, it was sorely missed.
For them it is more than just a rally, it's like a family reunion. So while pulling together an event in just six weeks has been a lot of work, it has been a labour of love for the new committee behind getting it back off the ground.
And for president of the newly-formed Southern Vintage Engine and Tractor Pull Association, David Bartlett, that has meant making lots of phone calls from his hospital bed in Melbourne just to keep the event on track.
Just last Wednesday he was badly hurt when some barbed wire got caught in the back wheel of his motorbike, sending him crashing to the ground. His bike came off better than he did, David breaking his collarbone, shoulder blade and six ribs.
"I rang the house and said I'd fallen off. They came and got me and dragged me into the ute and off we went to hospital. I didn't think it was that bad," he said.
The accident happened about 5pm, and by 3am he was in hospital in Melbourne being prepared for surgery. "They plated my shoulder blade to make it a bit stronger," he said.
In the week or so that he spent in hospital he continued to organise the rally. "From my hospital bed I was on the phone all week," he said.
He arrived back in Orford late Tuesday night and by Wednesday was at the sportsground where exhibitors were starting to roll in for the weekend's event. "I'm fine. But there will be no cranking tractors for me this weekend. I won't be doing too much," he said.
He can't tell you exactly how many he has but David has a collection of at least 100 tractors at his farm. "It's an obsession that got out of hand," he said.
And it's a hobby that he has passed on to his son Nick, who has more than a dozen of his own.
David said his collection began about 35 years ago with his first tractor - an N-model Fordson - and it grew from there. There's Internationals, Massey Harrises, Bulldogs, Field Marshalls, Crawlers and Caterpillars among his collection which he keeps in the farm sheds, although there are so many they spill out into the paddock.
Most, he said, were quite common but there are "a couple of odd ones" including the collectable Wallis or Vickers tractors he purchased not long ago.
"You've got to collect something," he said. "There's people who have bigger collections than mine by a long shot. There's a lot of people who collect tractors. You'll see that on the weekend."
David said the old tractors were built to last. "I use some of these old tractors to do little jobs," he said. "They're not all just to look at. If you need one you use it.
"They're not all easy to get going. You'll pick one that will get going easy to do the job you want to do. It gives them a run. They've got to have a run every now and then to keep 'em right. If you leave them sitting in the shed for too many years it's just harder to get them going again."
David said he would probably bring about 10 of his own to the rally over the weekend where for the last 25 years or so since the event had been staged he has run the tractor pull event.
But it is not just tractors that he likes to collect. On the beef and sheep farm that has been in the family for four generations there's vintage motors, rotary hoes, gardening equipment. "There's a fair array of stuff all up," David said.
With more than 100 exhibitors expected to turn up from across the state this weekend, there will be tractors, cars, utes and motorbikes on show along with almost anything that people collect like farm equipment and tools.
Another organiser Terry Rowbottom, who has his own collection of shearing machines, said anything that was collectable was quite likely to turn up at the weekend.
"Stationary motors, all sorts of shapes and sizes - you name it. It's hard to know what will turn up. There's usually some quite rare stuff that you don't see very often," he said. "There's normally a light show with different coloured lights running from antique generators.
"We were disappointed last year that we never got to run the rally."
And he wasn't the only one, with Terry saying he took 20 phone calls in just one day this week with people checking to make sure it was still on.
Warrnambool's Ron Clark, who is a member of the Cobden Restoration Group, said he had been attending the Orford rally for the last six years.
The retired dairy farmer arrived at the sportsground mid-week ready for the rally bringing with him a restored 1950s Ronaldson and Tippett. "They used to use them in the old dairies years ago," he said.
The comradery among those who attend the vintage rallies is something many have missed, and people were keen to get together, Terry said.
"The support we've had to try and get this going, it's just blown us away," David said. "We've had a lot of COVID issues that have made it very, very hard to get everything in place. We've only had six weeks to organise it. We've had to move a lot of mountains.
"We're just a little club starting out to do something big and everything has fallen into place so far." Terry said that by Friday night, the oval at Orford Sportsground would be a "sea of tents and caravans". "You're in your own world out here," he said.
The event is the biggest thing on the calendar for tiny Orford - a quiet spot in the south-west, but it wasn't always that way. It was once host to one of the state's biggest foot races. "The Orford gift in the old days used to be as big as the Stawell and Bendigo gift," David said.
It disappeared in the 1950s along with its famed horse and jockey pub. "It was a good little town," Terry said. He remembers going into the bar when he was about four or five. "It was after that it burnt down," he said. "There's all sorts of stories about how it got burnt down. I don't know what's right."
David said the pub - which used to host a horse race from the pub through the bush around where the rally now runs - was well known across Victoria. "It was a stopover place and everyone seemed to know it. They said it was a pretty rough pub back in its day," he said.
Orford also had a good football team and cricket team back in the day, Terry said.
"There was no hot water years and years ago. The guys when they'd finish playing would strip off and jump into the river to have a splash in there," he said.
The footy club folding in the 1950s or '60s, and the cricket team lasted until the 1980s.
Having lost its school in the 1940s, it's general store closed in the 1970s and the last of its two churches closed a few years back.
There will be live music throughout the day and there will be food vans.
Public entry will cost $10 and run from 9am until 10pm on Saturday, and Sunday from 9am until 4pm. Masks are encouraged.
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