Ian O’Rourke shares his memories of being a tractor man

Take a journey through the triumphs and debacles that tested our farm machinery industry from 1960 to the early 1990s with this first-hand account

Management at Ford Australia placed a great deal of pressure on local engineers to produce the perfect tractor model that every local farmer will buy – was the resultant Ford 8401 able to gain the sales they dearly needed

It often seems there are some big gaps of information in the history of farm machinery developments in our local market.

We should be able to pick up a book on each of the amazing triumphs registered on our home turf since the very day that HV McKay made his mark on the world market with the Sunshine Header harvester. A machine able to cut, thresh and clean grain in one process – for the first time.

Hugh Victor McKay churned that idea out in 1884 and then went on to develop the Sunshine Auto header in 1923, credited in this country at least as the fore-runner inventor of the combine-harvesters we run today.

There have been of course several books released over the years, but for such a great triumph in our history those titles have quickly faded to be rare finds or out of print.

But then, when you compare HV McKay’s record of fame to that of the highly meritorious Imperial EA tractor released in 1908 and billed as the first to be manufactured here, HV McKay at least had a fair run.

The same can’t be said for the A H McDonald Imperial Oil Tractor models built from 1908 up until the early 1920s. Very few examples exist today, and any reference books are drawn from difficult to source and check facts.

It was as recent as 2020, one hundred years later, that many people heard of the A H McDonald Imperial Oil Tractor for the first time when a model came up for sale with an astronomical reserve in the US, see the story link Priceless Imperial EB tractor may be lost.

This A H McDonald Imperial Oil Tractor EB model was built in Richmond Vic in 1912 and was sold in the US in 2020 for US$283,500

It was a US buyer that understood the valuable this model represented in our local history and forked out US$283,500 for that privilege.

So, when a once skinny kid from the outback town of Burraboi NSW can give us a real live account of the role local built tractors played in farming, we have to be interested and not let our history slip any further.

That once skinny kid is 89-year-old Ian O’Rourke who in conjunction with author Terry L Probert has let us into the inner workings of our local tractor history from 1960 to the early 1990s, in a book titled IAN O’ROURKE Memories of a Tractor Man. 

Ian O’Rourke’s education began with correspondence lessons and at the time he could never have imagined his rise through the ranks of the tractor and machinery industry.

Ian rose to become national service manager of Ford Tractor operations Australia, with his influence stretching from Melbourne Vic to the halls of power in Dearborn, Michigan USA and across the Atlantic to Basildon in the UK.

Filled with wonderful anecdotes, Ian’s memoir starts at the very core of the O’Rourke family’s struggles during his formative years on the farm.

Onto his life at boarding school and then working with Massey Ferguson as part of their Research and Development team, charged with bringing the 585 Header into production.

Ian relates to how finding a classified advertisement by the Ford Motor Company, looking to expand their presence in the tractor market, came at the right time. And how he, along with many of his Massey Ferguson colleagues migrated in mass to Ford.

Being part of the team that insisted on an annual meeting of national service managers, led to Ford’s engineering departments taking suggestions from the field as part of their ongoing model planning.

Much hinged-on Ford Australia’s stand-alone product the Ford 8401 and how it almost cost General Manager Noel Howard his job.

At the launch of the Ford 8401 much rested on this model being a success.

Noel Howard described how over the past ten years, tractor sales in the 75kW (100hp) plus power range had increased from 5.5 to 36% market share.

In his role as Ford Tractor Australia general manager, Noel Howard said, “Currently we are running at about 11% of the total tractor market, and we believe our new model line-up will move us closer to market leadership.”

The Ford 8401 was something special to all who worked at Ford, as it was styled and engineered by local Ford Australia engineers.

Billed as a six-cylinder 81kW (109hp) 2WD with a naturally aspirated 6.5-litre engine at its initial release, with PTO power of 71kW (95hp), this was the tractor everyone’s job depended upon.

Ian talks about the ructions that ensued along with his role in this iconic and collectable tractor’s development.

Respected by colleagues and dealers alike, Ian’s book takes the reader on a journey through the progress of Australia’s Farm Machinery industry from 1960 to the early 1990s.

Priced at $35.50 + $12.50 postage, ($48.00) Ian’s life with tractors makes great reading and deserves a spot on your shelf.

As a special for afdj readers, Ian has a limited number of signed pre-release copies for sale. Send an email with your contact details to: ian.gwennie@gmail.com and Ian will get back to you.

Shown here – Ian O’Rourke and his daughter in law getting ready to send more books out

About Ian O’Rourke

Living with his wife Gwennie and their dog Nutmeg on a small rural holding in the Gold Coast hinterland and close to their son Anthony. Practical optimist eighty-nine-year-old Ian O’Rourke, has after a life of turning his hand to anything, proved the flame of adventure still burns bright. However, keeping close contact with friends from all over the globe had to take something of a backseat while writing about his life, but with the book now in print he is back to facetiming, ringing and emailing the wide number of friends he has made during a life jam-packed with positivity.