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24 November 2022



As featured in Classic Tractor Magazine- November 22

The perfect present…

You might not expect someone with a fleet of more than 200 tractors to want another one for his 40th birthday, but the 1982 Ford 4610 that James Ashbrook has just had refurbished to new condition isn’t any old tractor: it has been in his family from new and is also one of a small number to be fitted with a Lambourn low-profile Q cab. Ken Topham has been to Cheshire to see the impressive result of many months of hard work by a dedicated team.

The folks involved

IN ANY GOOD STORY, it helps to know the identity of the main characters from the very start. In this case there are three of them – James Ashbrook, Neil Baxter and a 1982 Ford 4610 – plus a supporting cast of many other helpers.

James Ashbrook is the man behind J. K. Ashbrook Ltd, a Cheshire-based plant, access and agricultural machinery hire company with a fleet of over 3000 machines at its disposal. That total includes more than 200 Case IH and John Deere tractors, which are hired out to agricultural and construction customers, together with a sizable plant fleet. The latter includes Caterpillar excavators from 36t heavies down to 1t mini diggers, and everything in between, plus articulated dump trucks, compact rollers, wheeled loaders and more. To put the firm’s association with Caterpillar into some sort of perspective, over the past 20 years it has taken delivery of a staggering 1300 new machines from UK importer and distributor, Finning UK.

At this point, having mentioned Finning UK, it seems pertinent to introduce one of its employees, key account manager, Neil Baxter, who is the second main character in this story. Almost all of the Cat machines that the James has bought from Finning UK over the years have come through Neil, and not surprisingly, they’ve got to know each other very well.

Although he sells plant for a living, Neil comes from a farming background and his family is involved in farming and contracting. The Baxters have used blue tractors since the late 1950s and have only recently deviated from that tradition with the purchase of a red Case-IH tractor.

So, what about the third main character in this story – the Ford 4610? This tractor was bought new by James’ father, Keith, to use on the family’s 200-acre dairy farm near Alderley Edge, just down the road from where it now lives at Byley. The 62hp Ford was one of Keith’s main tractors back in the day. The farm’s heavy tasks, like silage making, were carried out by a contractor, leaving the Ford 4610 to look after the day-to-day work.

The Ford and James were both born in 1982.  When the family moved from Alderley Edge, Keith stopped milking, after which the Ford 4610 was put to use by James’ uncle, Philip, where it spent many years as a scraper tractor. When he also eventually packed up dairying, the 4610 was consigned to an open-fronted shed with a few nettles to kept it company.

As for James, he has always had an entrepreneurial spirit, one that has seen his business, J. K. Ashbrook Ltd, grow to the multi-million-pound company it is today. His contracting and hire business started with a borrowed tractor (a Ford 5610) and a bank loan, guaranteed by his Dad, due to James being fresh out of school. Livestock wasn’t on his radar as James was, and still is, a machinery man, someone who is not afraid to jump onto a tractor and push some silage around on a clamp.

Utilisation is James’ byword. If any of his machines were standing and a hire opportunity arose, he took it. So how do you go from such a modest start to running kit that’s worth tens of millions of pounds? In James’ own words, “I went to the bank and borrowed a shed load of money!”. The Ashbrook fleet runs on an ownership model, and buying-in the right machines to hire is a fine balance.

“Plant is easy,” explains James, “as a digger or dumper comes in a size. Tractors are far more difficult, with transmission and precision farming options making it a bit of a minefield.”

Let’s get back to that Ford 4610, which happens to be a bit of a rarity as it is equipped with a Lambourn low-profile quiet cab. The Lambourn cab was only available on the 4610 for a short length of time, so how did Keith and Philip Ashbrook come to own such a tractor? The simple answer is that it happened to be in stock at G. W Lea, the Ford dealer in Nantwich, at the time. James says his Dad’s machinery replacement schedule was based on need rather than a time-frame.

“He would think about it, know that he wanted a tractor, and then just go to the dealer and buy what best fitted his requirements,” explains James.

“The 4610 was in stock and as we needed something with a low-profile cab to access some of our low buildings, that was the tractor we had.”

Geoff Richardson, now of Agri Engineering Ltd, worked for G. W. Lea at the time, and he carried out the PDI on Keith Ashbrooks’ Ford 4610. Recently he was also involved in supplying parts for its refurbishment, coming full circle with the tractor.

The Ford is the beginning of a project that James himself has initiated. He wants to find and ideally buy the tractors that he remembers working on his family’s farm when he was a child. He is also searching for a David Brown 780 Selectamatic with the registration number of MTU 143H.

Neil Baxter got the nod on the Ford 4610 rebuild project after he showed great skill refurbishing some older Fordsons, including a Dexta that was used for a charity run called ‘Dexta’s Grand Day Out’. This involved driving the Dexta from its birthplace in Dagenham to Neil’s home in north Lancashire, a feat that raised £12,050 for Macmillan and Clatterbridge Hospital. The Dexta had been a hedgerow wreck, and had been palletised prior to Neil becoming involved in its refurbishment.

James supported Neil in the project, back in 2015, and was one of the biggest sponsors of the run. Little did Neil know that he was lining himself up for another challenging job.

So, the scene was set. James acquired the Ford 4610 from his uncle Philip and then Neil volunteered (in the same way that an army officer calls for volunteers) to do the refurbishment. That was back in 2019, by which time the 4610 was then 37 years old. That’s a long time in farming, and with some cow muck added into that equation, it was almost a hedgerow basket case.

The tractor arrived at Neil’s yard more-or-less in one piece. It hadn’t moved from its sheltered resting place for some time, and it wasn’t happy about being taken from its patch of nettles, throwing up many challenges straightaway. It had clocked 5499 hours before being packed up, so some issues were to be expected.

Strip down of the Ford 4610

Neil started the strip down and by the time he had finished, only the gearbox and rear axle were left intact. The engine was stripped to a point where it was a short motor, the timing case came off and a total reseal was carried out, with new injector nozzles being fitted too. The fuel injection pump had been serviced just before the tractor was parked, so it didn’t need attention. Neil reassembled the engine and while on test it ticked over to 5500 hours.

The rest of the skid unit was a relatively painless process. The half shaft seals were replaced along with the transmission input seals and an odd O-ring here and there – basically anything that could leak outwards – but apart from that, most of the work involved cleaning and painting prep. After much searching, some Goodyear rear tyres, period correct for the year, were located online.

One of the trickier parts of the mechanical refurb was the steering assembly. Firstly, the steering wheel wouldn’t come off, so Neil’s father got involved by fabricating a split collar to press the steering wheel off. Then Neil had an ‘interesting’ few hours rebuilding the steering box, which involved a few cross words as he replaced the ball bearings, whilst ensuring that everything lined up.

Many of the skid unit fixings were re-plated and new link arm balls were fitted. As many of the original parts as possible were used. Neil donated a Ford Motor Company PTO screw cover from the family farm, and there are some hidden Cat bolts as a nod to the link between Ashbrook and the manufacturer.

When you spend a few minutes with Neil, you quickly realise he’s not into a 20-yarder job, by which we mean a restoration project that looks OK from 20 yards. It has got to be right.

The Uncommon Cab

This was the first time Neil had taken on the refurbishment of a cabbed classic, but surely a Lambourn cab would be simple, right? Before making that sort of assertion in Neil’s presence, just make sure you are standing at a safe distance!

The Lambourn cab was the biggest anomaly in this project, and also the biggest headache. The connection between Ford and Lambourn was right at the end of its days when this tractor was made in 1982. In fact, the Ford/Lambourn relationship had already ended, and Lambourn was on a 12-month notice period. Ford had decided to source its low profile cabs for the Series 10 from Sekura of Denmark, as that company was able to supply and ship its cabs direct to the Basildon tractor plant, as opposed to Ford having to send its skid units to Lambourn in Berkshire. Not surprisingly, the termination of this supply agreement had a massive impact on Lambourn, which relied on Ford for over 30 per cent of its work.

Desperate attempts were made to find other sources of business, sadly with little success. Production of Lambourn cabs ceased in April 1982 and the factory closed at the end of the month. All of which makes the Lambourn low-profile Q cab on this 4610, which was first registered in June 1982, something of a rarity.

As Neil was to discover, it was a factor that made the refurb of this 4610 a little more challenging, but not impossible. He meticulously stripped the cab to its base components. Although it was almost 40 years old, much of it was intact, including most of the glass.

Amazingly, James’ uncle Philip had removed the floor mats from the tractor when it was new and had stored them away. Fortunately, he still knew where they were, so they were unearthed and found to be in excellent condition.

The cab and chassis were sandblasted by Paul Morris at Tarleton, with repairs to the tinwork and painting being carried out by Longton Coachcraft Ltd, who achieved what can only be described as a fantastic finish.

The inner wings were completely lost to rust and the sections where the light clusters are mounted were in a very sorry state, so these steelwork parts had to be re-manufactured. The fabrication work on the cab was expertly handled by Andy Gate at G8 Fabrication Ltd.

Fitting the windows was quite a task, as the rubber bead sits the glass outside of the metal, and the glass is cut to suit. Retro-fitting the glass flush wasn’t an option. Neil managed to get the correct beading, and with the help of John Roocroft of Site Glass Chorley, they managed to fit all the glazing correctly, getting it spot on. To complete the as-new look, the window catches were refurbished and plated. Neil even fitted a new piece of string so the cab door key could continue to hang in the same place it had occupied for 40 years.

The Lambourn-made dash surround was a major headache. Replacements were like hen’s teeth, so there was no option but to repair the tired original surround. Tom Farrington, who works at Ashbrook as group service manager, and who added many of his own hours and skills to the project, recommended getting the surround repaired by his father Trevor, a classic and vintage car restoration specialist from Knutsford in Cheshire. Repairing the surround using plastic welding and then painting it so that it had the correct textured finish were tasks in themselves.  Trevor also repaired other parts, including the air filter box, nose cone and seat.

All of the switchgear and knobs that could be saved were kept, cleaned and re-used, with the patina on the stopper knob reflecting its many years of active usage. The seat, which according to Neil was basically scrap, was retained and subject to an extensive overhaul.

He managed to repair and rebuild the backing plates for the cushions, although the cloth is obviously new.  Cab interiors are a challenge, and while ‘close enough’ might be good enough for some, that wasn’t the case here.

“It was a nightmare,” declares Neil. “Once you glue something down, like a piece of upholstery, that’s it – you can’t unbolt it and have another go.”

There was more than one cross word spoken and moments when Neil nearly threw the towel in. His wife Gabi and father Keith stepped in with steady hands and calm words, and the three-person team nailed it – or to be more precise, glued it.

“The guys at Tractor Cab Specialists at Ballymena were outstanding,” notes Neil. “We had a cladding kit, but there were parts that weren’t quite right, as the Lambourn cab that it was modelled on was from a Ford 1000 Series, and some things just didn’t quite suit.”

Neil took measurements and made templates of areas he needed cladding for, and the team at Tractor Cab Specialists delivered the goods.

“They were so helpful,” he says. “The project wouldn’t look as good without their patience and perseverance. It’s fair to say the whole effort by the people involved contributed to an outstanding job.”

The tractor’s front guard is a Baxter family trademark. Neil’s father used to make and mount them on all of the family’s tractors, and in recognition of Neil’s work, James Ashbrook requested one to be fitted to his Ford 4610. G8 Fabrication made the guard to Keith Baxter’s specification, and it finishes off the front end very nicely.

The aim throughout this project was to return the tractor to its former glory, whilst remaining true to its original factory look. That has certainly been achieved, but not at the expense of a few reminders of its working past. All but one of the glass panes in the Lambourn cab are original, and retain some of the scratches they accrued during their work lives.

Having coordinated the efforts of everyone involved in the rebuild, it was fitting that it should be Neil who handed over the finished tractor to James on his 40th birthday. The project had commenced in June 2019 and was completed in March 2022. As for what’s next, the focus is now on finding the Ashbrooks’ old David Brown 780, registration number MTU 143H.


Useful Contacts

  • Front axle repairs: G. T. Engineering, Bridgwater, Somerset. Tel: 01278 684383
  • Plastic dash, seat, air filter box and nose cone repairs: Trevor Farrington Ltd (Trevor, Ash and the all the team), Knutsford, Cheshire.  Tel: 01565 722151.
  • Cab repairs: G8 Fabrication Ltd (Andy Gate), Knutsford, Cheshire.
  • Steps and pick-up hitch: David Ainscough Engineering, Rufford.
  • Donated and sourced parts: Geoff Richardson, Agri Engineering Ltd, Sandbach, Cheshire. Tel: 01477 500783.  Website:
  • Spray painting panels: Longton Coach Craft Ltd, Leyland. Tel: 01772 621007.
  • Sandblasting: Paul Morris, Tarleton.
  • Cab interior parts: Tractor Cab Specialists (Logan McMaster). Tel: 07885 077168 Website:
  • Tombstone repairs: Fleet Engineering Services Ltd, Smallwood (Rory Fleet). Tel: 07790 553498. Website:
  • Genuine Ford parts: Malpas Tractors, Lathom (Paul Walton). Tel: 01695 589178. Website:
  • Cab glass fitment: Siteglass Chorley Ltd (John Roocroft). Tel: 01257 234561. Website:
  • Serial number plates: Vintage Brass Plates (Chris Astell). Tel: 07594 969146. Website:

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