ASK AROUND farming circles these days and the croppers are considered to have it the easiest.
Air conditioned cabins, auto-steer and a seat as comfortable as any lounge-room chair, once the maintenance is done, there’s not too much that will force you to break a sweat.
On the other hand, the livestock sector is a different kettle of fish, shearers sweating it out in hot sheds, drenching or drafting in dusty yards, there’s a lot of hard yakka in the stock game.
Wind back the clock some 70 or 80 years, however, and it was a different story.
Cropping was a back-breaking caper that required people to lump ridiculously heavy bags of wheat to the top of stacks, sit exposed to the elements, towing a five furrow plough or a harvester with a front about as wide as the modern-day rider mower deck.
It was long, laborious work.
Yet the machines that allowed people to do this were held in the highest esteem by the farmers of the day, for as slow as it may have seemed to modern eyes it was in turn a quantum leap from horse-drawn agriculture.
One museum in Victoria’s west tells the story of the advance of machinery better than most.
Woods’ Farming and Heritage Museum at Rupanyup has an extensive collection of vintage tractors and other cropping machinery that provides a fascinating insight into how farmers went about their job in the first half of the 20th century.
Michael Woods said the museum had originally been set up on his family farm to the south of Rupanyup, before shifting into the township, where it is manned by volunteers and open every weekend.
Pride of place of the museum is a collection of some 80 vintage tractors, primarily Fordsons, Mr Woods has collected from across the country.
“I got started collecting and have kept travelling around to get them, we’ve got a good collection from just this side of Ceduna in South Australia and from down in Gippsland, they’ve come in from everywhere,” Mr Woods said.
One of the star exhibits is a 1918 Fordson, packing what in its day would have been a whopping 24 horsepower.
“The Fordsons were always popular in the Rupanyup area, they were a bit more affordable than some of the other options, so that’s why I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for them.”
The collection is not exclusively Fordsons, however, with an interesting array of International and Massey Ferguson tractors as well.
In terms of tillage and harvester gear, there are a range of makes and models, including several of the iconic Sunshine harvesters, the titans of their day, now dwarfed by modern equipment.
Mr Woods points out an old combine used for sowing.
“With this type of combine on our place, it would barely hold a bag of wheat in the box, you could get one lap around a 60 acre (24 hectare) paddock but not quite around again so you had to have the bags on the back to refill again.”
The machinery is not pensioned off just yet.
Of the tractors, Mr Woods said at least 80pc were operational.
“Most of them just take a bit of tinkering, there is no one problem you tend to see more than anything else, it is all just general wear and tear.”
He said there was a mix of petrol, kerosene and diesel engines.
“In the early days there was a bit of distrust of diesel as it was new.”
Each year he said he went out and planted something, this year he is waiting for the right moment to take off barley crops.
He is not planning on retiring on the proceeds – all up the harvester will run over around a hectare of crop.
Along with the machinery, Mr Woods has also been an avid collector of other artefacts of rural life, the museum featuring exhibits such as a recreated shop, post office, shearing shed and blacksmith’s shop among other things.
“It’s good to keep a bit of our past for people to have a look at,” he said.