Restoration man - Mike Jarvis returns tractors to their former glory
- Credit: Archant
In an undisclosed location in Honiton, a man is fixing up a vintage tractor in his workshop by hand and without instructions.
Patiently, he takes apart the entire machine into each individual rusty piece and cleans them until they sparkle. Then, he meticulously puts the parts back into the exact same places they came from until, before him, stands a revived machine.
Meet Mike Jarvis, Honiton’s very own restoration man.
Born in Copplestone, Crediton, Mike moved to Honiton when he was 12 years old - and fell in love with tractors after his father let him drive one up and down his fields. However, his impressive portfolio of vehicles did not begin with a tractor.
“I always liked tractors,” Mike says. “I like the engineering. I started by building a kit car in 2001. So far, I’ve built a Westfield, Robin Hood, Striker and a Moss. It is quite fiddly to build a car and put it on the road. So someone said to me ‘Why not do a tractor?’”
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Mike managed to acquire his first tractor – a Massey Ferguson 35 Petrol TVO – after it was sourced by his friend.
He says the tractor was found in a barn and was ‘worn out’, so he took it upon himself to fix it up in the driveway of his old house.
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But how does he rejuvenate these old farming machines? “I take it completely to pieces and clean it, which is a very dirty job,” Mike says.
“I find out what part is broken and worn out, and refurbish or replace it. Then, I rebuild it back again. The last job is to get it painted.”
Mike does the majority of the engineering work himself, but says he prefers his tractors to be painted by the local bodyworks shop for the perfect finish.
Mike’s enthusiasm for his work is apparent – so far, he has nine tractors, dated between 1950 and 1970 – housed in two big barns on his property. Each machine has been lovingly restored, and sits proud until it is taken out on the road.
When asked if he would consider selling – or ‘flipping’ – the machines, Mike flatly rejects the suggestion.
“They are all personal to me,” he says. “All of these tractors would have been scrapped – now they are going into a collection.
“They go on road runs which raises money for charity. They also go to ploughing matches.”
But, Mike says, they will not return to their roots – the farm.
“I don’t know if that would be economical,” he says. “They are not big enough.”
Mike, whose impressive selection of tractors were all sourced locally, says: “I try to keep the tractors coming in from locals because of the transport costs.
“They all come from within a 100-mile radius – I have one from Cornwall and one from Bristol for example.
“Lots of them come by word of mouth.”
Mike, who has one son and two daughters, says his offspring do not share his enthusiasm for the hobby – probably thinking he is a bit ‘bonkers’.
But he has no plans to stop restoring the historic machines, and is enjoying learning more and more about their mechanical workings.
He says: “It’s not plain sailing – there are mistakes and there are breakages along the way.
“Getting specific parts for each machine is a big challenge.”
Mike says when they were originally made, the tractors were equipped with specialist parts to carry out certain jobs – many of which are hard to source and expensive to replace.
As such, he is forced to improvise at times – recently he constructed a makeshift piston lever for a machine which was missing its original part.
Mike says he never photographs the tractors in their original state before gutting them and rebuilding them.
He prefers to use his experience and memory to complete the job – though this does sometimes come back to bite him.
“In the past, I have put a tractor back together and forgot a piece,” he laughs.
“For example, there is a piece of one tractor in a box and I do not really know what it’s there for… But I will find out!”
If he gets really stuck, Mike says he knows a lot of retired engineers who act as an ‘invaluable source of information’ when it comes to tackling problems head-on.
And how would someone follow in Mike’s footsteps if they were interested in his hobby?
“My advice would probably be to join a club,” says Mike, who is a member of East Devon Tractor and Machinery Club and Woolbridge Motor Racing Club.
“You will get to know a lot of people, and people are quite helpful.
“If you have a problem and talk to people about it, they will help you out.”