It was so long ago... Seeing this abandoned old wreck of a tractor brought it all back
Brian thumped along the roadside, trying not to slip on the shale chippings left after the last time it was surfaced.
From the village down to the station was a long walk downhill. What was worse, he figured, was being able to see the column of smoke from the engine. The train was well on its way from Pickering, and he had only about a mile to go but the rubble at the side of the road made walking treacherous. He could have walked down the other side of the road but he knew on country roads you walked towards traffic. Being able to see you meant drivers could avoid you, and you knew to step aside a little. Besides, on the other side of the road was a steep bank, away down from the road. It was so long since the council last saw to this road it was dangerous for drivers as well. So progress was slow. There was still the last few hundred yards to go when the big black engine ground to a halt. He could still make it, couldn't he? His bag slipped off his shoulder and he nearly fell into the rainwater filled gully beside the road, steadied himself and ran a few yards. The guard's whistle blew, the engine driver pulled on the whistle chain and just as Brian reached the still closed level crossing gates the engine burst into steam. He reached the platform end only to see the rear lamp glow in the damp late winter afternoon air as the last carriage trundled away towards Goathland where he needed to be.this evening at the latest. Auntie Violet had invited him to stay for his birthday this half-term week.
He knew the way to walk, but it was so far off and the sky was overcast. It would be dark early this evening. A tractor pulled up at the roadside behind him and he turned to see Jack, one of his lordship's farm hands beckon.
"What's tha doin' young Brian? Tha looks a mite forsaken". Jack was a master of understatement.
"I've just missed the train to Goathland, Jack. Auntie expects me and she'll be at the station, waiting. She'll be upset and phone dad, and he'll wonder what's going on. That was the last train today as well, Sunday service being what it is this time of year".
"Goathland ye say? I could tek ye", Jack leaned over to give Brian a helping hand. "Maister doesn't know where I am at best o' times. 'op aboard and keep tight 'ol of yer bag. This thing sheks a bit, it does when it goes fast. Mind, thirty miles an hour ain't that fast, but you'll be there by nightfall. I can say she broke down along road"
"Could you?" Brian was used to riding on the back of his dad's tractor from time to time. He leapt onto the step and hung on, grinning as Jack pulled away. Little was said, not that you could hear anyway.
He took the road up to the west side of the railway and Brian wondered why. Jack yelled back over the roar of the tractor engine,
"Police 'ave shut road, so I've tekken track through woods. Y'doan't mind, do ye? Any road it'll be quicker than goin' through Lockton an' up by Fylingdale. That Saltersgate bank's treacherous for tractors. I should know..." he laughed.
Nothing else was said. The track zig-zagged slowly uphill through the woods and out on the top, overlooking Raindale. An abandoned farm lay near the road. A mill at Raindale Head looked like the skeleton of an elephant, Brian had seen in a school documentary film.
The engine suddenly sounded choked, and died suddenly. It was as much as Jack could do to get the last ounces of energy to get him off the top of the forestry road.
"That's torn it". He sounded as unhappy as Brian felt. "Theere's a farm 'alf a mile on, Brian. Come with me, ye can't stay wi' tractor, an' bring yer bag. Tha might catch a lift, Tha never knows".
They trudged by the side of the stone chip-built track with its steep camber. Brian looked around on all sides. He felt uneasy, even in the company of a man he knew well, someone who'd left the same school he now attended a few years ago. But you heard about people vanishing in woodland... to be found a long time later as a corpse. At his age his dad let him watch television, and sometimes he didn't want to see...
The trees seemed suddenly closer as their feet scraped the stone chips. A light shone through the trees.
"Aye, there's farm just off track. They'll 'elp sure enough" Jack tried to sound comforting, but the looming trees shut out much of the light. They reached the heavy.steel five-bar gate and Jack heaved it open wide enough for Brian to pass through before he slipped past the gatepost and let the gate slam to, shuddering on its hinges.
Light from within the house showed through the opening door and someone called out, "What's that, like?"
"It's all right mister", Jack answer the grufflt put question. "My tractor packed up on track an' young lad 'ere wants to get to 'is auntie in Goathland. She'll be worried.
"What's wrong wi' train?" the man grinned lopsidedly. "Ah mean, tractors is summat else for a lad to hitch a lift".
"'E were at station an' just missed a train. I saw 'im at roadside an' offered a lift. Can 'e sit down a minute an' i'll phone for a cab - wi' your permission o' course" Jack offered coins.
"Nah! I know summat better'n a cab. Ah can whip 'im up there in no time!"
Brian was cheered by the man's helpfulness. He beamed up at the fellow from the wooden chair by the door that he'd been motioned to sit on. Everybody was being helpful, so how could he not feel happier?
"Where're ye from, lad?" the man asked as he fished in the table drawer for his keys.
As he took them from the drawer Brian told him in one word, "Levisham, Mister".
"An' ye want to get to Goathland. Mebbe next time ye'll set off earlier, eh? Ye're lucky I'd 'ad me tea. The missus is stayin' wi' 'er sister of Goathland. She'll be tickled pink to see me, she will!"
Brian beamed again, as did Jack. His main worry now was to get the tractor fixed.
"Tha can stay there while I get messed' ready. It'll be chill out there by now, eh?" The man didn't expect an answer and turned to leave the room.
The landscape was barely changed...
"Well young man", Jerry told Brian, "Let's get thee off t'Goathland".
He said it like 'Goatland', as many did in the area, as Brian was aware. He took up his bag from the stone flagged kitchen floor.and followed the man to the door. Before they reached the Land Rover Jerry made a halt turn and asked,
"Was there a reason Jack brought you this way?"
"He said the police had closed the road", Brian answered, telling Jerry what Jack had told him".
"That's probably true. What he didn't say was the cops would;ve 'ad his guts for garters, driving a young lad like you all that way in an oppen tractor in winter! Still, lad, tha's got guts, bein' willin' to go along wi' it", Jerry smiled lopsidedly again and opened the passenger door for Brian. "Sit tight an' we'll 'ave you in Goathland by dark. We'll fix 'is Lordships tractor 'atween us an' a 'urricane lamp!"
Brian was safely re-united with his auntie. Jerry probably had the tractor fixed with Jack without his Lordship being any wiser. That's not the end of the story though.
Years later Brian visited the area. Now living far away in Leeds, and his family having moved from the Moors to a farm near Richmond, he took a room at a working farm in the district near where he'd lived before and walked around his old haunts, Levisham, Lockton, Newton-on-Rawcliffe, and Goathland of course. His auntie was long gone by now; the family had gathered for her funeral at the small church at the top end of the village at the road fork, near the 'Mallyan Spout' inn on the way to Egton one way, and Pickering the other.
He was out on the road by Levisham Station when he heard a tractor pull up behind.
"'Ey Brian - it is Brian isn't it?"
Brian spun round on his heels to see a balding, fair-haired fellow with glasses and ruddy cheeks,
"Jack?" The only one still around who he knew. "You're on a brand new tractor!"
"Almost new, Brian. It's a year old now - well, a year since 'is Lordship bought it".
"Not the same Lordship?" Brian laughed out aloud.
"Different one - 'is son an' heir. The old lad croaked a while back -"
"Not because that tractor you drove broke down?" Brian broke in.
"It's still up there. Forestry folk wouldn't move it, cos' it's not theirs. They're still waitin' for owner to claim it for scrap", Jack rubbed the side of his nose in the same old way and pushed the peak of his cap upward over the back of his head to show a few wisps of hair on the top of his head. Ravages of time.
The landscape had hardly changed, as little as the people in it or less so. People age, the landscape doesn't.
Seeing the taxi brought more back... He was a lad again, waiting for his auntie to spend Christmas with the family
"Ahm finished soon", Jack told Brian. "Ah can show thee around if tha likes..."
"That'd be nice of you Jack", Brian lifted his bag from the roadside wh. ere he'd dropped it on seeing Jack.
"Aye, ah've got a Landie, like Jerry".
"Is he still around?" Brian's eyes opened wide.
"Retired now. 'E lives alone in a cottage up Levisham", Jack sounded wistful. "My Landie was 'is. Couldn't drive it any more after 'is back went".
"That's a shame", it was Brian's turn to be wistful now. "Didn't have anyone?"
"Wife died long ago..." Jack rested on the steering wheel. "Any road, meet us back 'ere in an hour. There's a cafe at back o' station - nice coffee, Ah've 'eard".
True to his word Jack showed an hour or so later at the wheel of a Defender.
"This is a nice one Jack" Brian walked around it. A few dents in the lower body where he might have taken a bend too sharp - all to often in these parts - but otherwise sound in heart and limb, as they say at livestock auctions.
"Ah know where Ah'll tek thee first", Jack winked. He almost took off as I pulled the door shut. He laughed,. "Slam it, Brian, it's not med o' glass".
The Defender was up on the forestry road in no time, taking the road bends in record tíme, and then Jack yanked the brake on,
"Recognise what?" Brian asked, looking around.
"There it is", Jack pointed to an overgrown area close by the track, still granite chips, still the built-up camber wide enough only for one car, no passing.
The pair dropped down to the grass and walked over.
"'Is Lordship's tractor", Jack grinned broadly. "The young 'un doesn' want it either - not a wreck. 'He said it would cost 'im more to salvage it than he'd mek on scrap. So it stays 'ere".
They passed Jerry's farm soon after. That hadn't changed a lot. A lick of paint maybe, but the building was still the same workmanlike shape. The mill and farm ruins were no longer there, though.
"Mill's at Yoork", Jack told Brian, at Castle. They put it together, way it was, by the Foss. Tha can see it from end o' Piccadilly that knows".
Brian hadn't been to York for many a year. His universe centred on Leeds now. His house, his wife Karen and kids were all West Yorkshire. He just nodded and sighed.
"Where's Tha stayin'?" Jack asked.
"I'm at a farm not far from Goathland. It's one of these working farm B&B's", Brian looked around them.
They walked to where the buildings had been, a bare trace of the foundations detectable. "Some things change", Brian corrected himself.
"They don't 'alf change, don't they!" Jack either read his thoughts or he'd said them aloud, loud enough to be heard from a few feet away. "We.can go to that little inn at Beck 'Ole if ye like, lap up some o' their 'Beck Watter' in the bar room.
"What's that?" Brian was bemused. "They drink the water from the river?"
"They might well do", Jack grinned. "It's called that as it looks the same colour".
Evening came and they were still sat outside the Birch Hall Inn when Jack suddenly sat up,
"Time flies, eh Brian? I'll 'ave Thee back at farm afore Tha can say 'Jack Robinson'", Jack grinned . That was his name.
Brian was up early and packed the next morning before breakfast. He didn't have too far to go to a bus stop, and looked longingly over the Moors. Then he looked back as the short bus trundled around and up sharp bends, out of the National Park to York, changed for the Yorkshire Coastliner at Rougier Street.
Leeds and the West Riding beckoned but Brian felt saddened. Maybe he shouldn't have gone back? He'd bring his young family next time - soon, he hoped -, in the car, to show them his part of God's Country
Brian picked up his backpack, said "Farewell" to the farmer's wife and set off back towards Newton
To Bill's 'Billybuc' challenge: first find your tractor. I thought of using his picture but I thought I'd add a fresh insight into the world of tractors. Bust the word budget again...
© 2020 Alan R Lancaster
Alan R Lancaster (author) from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on February 27, 2020:
Don't know if you're aware, I had a series of Land Rovers in the past. Used to enjoy off-roading with a club and on my own on the Moors and in the Dales (first is N E Yorkshire, second is N W Yorkshire). Drove downhill once in the gathering murk (dusk) from the moortop to 'civilisation' on what must've been a 1-3 incline. Had to stop fthree or four times to open gates, drive through (downhill), get out again, close gates and climb back in again. Last one at the bottom was a struggle undoing the latch but I wasn't going to try to get back up in the dark, in reverse, so in the end brute strength prevailed. Satisfaction guaranteed! Lots of other adventures with all-terrain Continental tyres (750 X 16 if I'm not mistaken). One of my 'Heritage' pages covers that.
Never driven a tractor, but Dad had on the farms Grandad worked on, and a Willy's Jeep after WWII in the Austrian Alps (see the auto-bio).
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 27, 2020:
A very enjoyable story, my friend. I drove a tractor about two miles along backroads to another farm once. I absolutely loved chugging down the country lane, waving at people, cars buzzing around me. All that was missing was a straw hat. :)
Alan R Lancaster (author) from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on February 22, 2020:
Hello John - that puts us both in the lead then, doesn't it. Different takes on the same theme: step back in tíme
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on February 21, 2020:
This was a great response to Bill’s challenge. When I saw the tractor as the main image I suspected it maybe. I enjoyed the story and the colloquial dialogue throughout. Nice job, Alan.