By KENNETH CLARKE
The name Christie has been associated with agriculture in Northern Ireland since 1939. In that year John Christie started as an agricultural contractor during the days of compulsory wartime tillage.
Originally from Crumlin, he married one of the Adams girls from Glenavy in 1946 and moved to the Lough Road, where he established a farm machinery outlet.
One of the early brands was David Brown tractors made in Huddersfield and distributed to dealers by O D Cars, Belfast.
I recall my uncle buying a DB 850 from Christies and the tractor has outlived my uncle who was 86. Likewise, Hall McCourt, from Stoneyford, bought a Red 990 with loader, which he still owns today, and two Kola combines from the Christie stable.
The DB were known for their economy and reliability, although the hydraulics could be a puzzler!
When the DB white Selectamatic range were introduced Christies changed brand to the Czechoslovakian Zetor, with the 47 HP 4011 costing £795 in 1967.
The Zetor shared components with the Polish Ursus range by licence and surprisingly JD later marketed certain 40-85HP Zetor models in JD colours.
In the seventies a Lagan Valley farmer bought a Zetor. My father asked how she was running and, not being mechanically minded, he replied she purrs like a pussy cat at 18,000 rpm!
The Polish Ursus range was sold by Christies with the 85HP C385 selling for £2,995 in 1972.
Top of the range was the C1204 4WD 120 HP 6 cyl in 1974 and was still in production until 1980.
Christies also sold the Italian Lamborghini water and air cooled range and in 1980 the most powerful tractor was the 1256DT 125 HP 6 cyl.
SAME, from Italy, joined the company portfolio in 1980 and the air cooled Sammy became a household name with Lamborghini and the Swiss Hurlimann also in the group.
In 1981 the largest SAME made was the 4WD Hercules with an air cooled 160 hp engine.
The firm demonstrated the efficiency of the engine by putting grass in the fan system, which was shredded and disappeared – no blocked radiators.
From the late sixties Christies also marketed other well known European brands such as Kemper manure spreaders and mowers, Kvernland harrows and ploughs, Kola balers and combines, Krone mowers, Quickie loaders, Kuhn range and Fox harvesters, USA.
Such innovative products found a ready market in Northern Ireland but trading was not without mishaps.
At the NI ploughing match at Toomebridge airfield, the first demo of the Kemper vertical flail manure spreader ran parallel to the old runway used as car parking.
The bout marker was wider than the spreader with the result that the parked cars became a manure brown colour in a short time.
Farmers were invited to see the newly launched rotary mowers in action at Christies demonstration field.
John instructed a son driving a 4WD Zetor and mower to show the viewers what she can do.
With the 4WD activated and damp ground, the grass was cut and the sods started to fly – forcing the visitors to take cover in the workshop!
Adrian Christie recalls being at Balmoral Show in the Seventies when the Kola hydrostatic combine was demonstrated with Adrian positioned at the cutting bar and the driver removing and replacing Adrian’s sunglasses by manipulating the reel mechanism from the cab. Health and safety was not a consideration.
On the same occasion the combine was started by nippers and seen heading for Belfast Parks horticultural tent before being frantically halted.
A Kola combine also featured, being driven from Dublin port to Ballinderry by Andrew Christie.
The RUC escorted the large machine through Banbridge not realising Andrew was on a Provisional Driving Licence.
Brown Bros, Bessbrook, were cutting silage at Masstock, Antrim, with the US-built FOX harvester and the only four days old reel guard was caught in a gap (been there, done that).
The contractors called at Christies, who supplied the machine, on the way home and the mechanics found it impossible to bore a hole through the metal such was the quality and an alternative solution was found. Subsequently Browns bought one of the first FOX self propelled harvesters in the Province from Christies.
A County Antrim business, it had valued Middle Eastern customers and on one occasion a consignment of machinery, including six MF tractors, two Krone mowers, two industrial concrete mixers and two Star slurry tankers left Belfast port for Saudi Arabia.
Within a short time John got a call saying there was a problem at the docks.
On arrival they discovered the machinery had broken loose on board in Belfast Lough, with a mower drawbar punching a hole in a slurry tanker and the other tanker – leading to a mixer going over board.
On arrival in Dubai the MF tractors, being water cooled, were unsuitable for the hot climate and were exchanged for Deutz Fahr air cooled machines.
I remember in the Sixties my father growing a field of barley annually, usually sown late with a late harvest. I asked why this policy? And his reply … it gives the neighbours something else to talk about!
On one occasion, when the weather broke, Dennis Reddick’s big Kola combine, supplied by Christies, sat behind the hedge for a week waiting for the climate to mend – it’s a good job he wasn’t being paid by the hour.
As the Bible promises, seed time and harvest shall not fail. Despite the mishaps, Christies exhibited regularly at the NI ploughing match and Ballymena and Balmoral shows, winning numerous awards with the impressive convoy travelling the Glenavy Road with the TK Bedford rear guard.
Incidentally, such were the financial constraints on Balmoral Show in 1967 that Christies had to pay for the red carpet for the Leyland Cup presentation.
As the years progressed John found it difficult to remember the names of his six sons, with each given a number.
Sadly John, the founder, passed away in 1977, leaving the management to Mrs Christie and son Raymond.
Ormond, the eldest at No.1, was perhaps best known as World Hot Rod Champion in 1981, 1983, 1985, 1996, and 1997, with son John becoming World Champion in 2013.
All eight siblings had a role in the business – Ormond, Raymond, Audrey, Adrian, Andrew, Madeline, Ivan and Trevor, the youngest.
In the Eighties the Thatcher government overseen interest rates of 15 per cent and, combined with the extended family pursuing other interests, the company decided to downsize.
However, the boys continued to apply their mechanical knowledge, fitting Ford 4000 engines in Ford 3000 tractors for County Armagh apple producers and fitting Perkins 4108 diesel engines in Triumph 2000 cars.
Most of the family are still involved in mechanics, including Andrew with a successful classic tractor business at Crumlin.
Regarding diesel vehicles, the story is told of the Irish lorry driver in the mighty Hino refueling with white diesel at Carlisle en route to the ferry at Stranraer.
His method of payment was a combination of sterling and punts. The attendant, however, wouldn’t accept the punts, telling the driver the staff would have to suck out a quantity of fuel.
With a smile on his face the driver told the attendant: “Leave the red diesel in the bottom of the tank for it belongs to me”.
In conclusion, the foresight of Christies Farm Services has had a positive impact on Northern Ireland farming, as many customers will testify.
n With thanks to Adrian, Andrew and Audrey Christie for information and pictures supplied.
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