Massey to the South Pole

“Despite unsuitable conditions of soft snow and high altitudes our Fergusons performed magnificently and it was their extreme reliability that made our trip to the pole possible.” —Telegram from Sir Edmund Hillary to Massey-Harris-Ferguson Farming Company

By Laura Hardin | Photos By AP worldwide/Rennie Taylor

 Sir Edmund Hillary, right, and Jim Bates, both of New Zealand, stand before their tractors on Jan. 4, 1958, after arrival at the American Scientific Station at the South Pole. The party of five travelled 1,200 miles with this equipment over polar snow and ice. The square box at right was Hillary's quarters and housed the expedition's radio equipment.

Sir Edmund Hillary, right, and Jim Bates, both of New Zealand, stand before their tractors on Jan. 4, 1958, after arrival at the American Scientific Station at the South Pole. The party of five travelled 1,200 miles with this equipment over polar snow and ice. The square box at right was Hillary’s quarters and housed the expedition’s radio equipment.

As the coldest, windiest, driest and highest continent, Antarctica is the perfect setting for those looking for a challenge. So, when renowned New Zealand explorer Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Mount Everest, was asked to join the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1955-58, he saw it as another grand adventure and chose Massey–Harris–Ferguson tractors to help get him there.

Led by Dr. Vivian Fuchs, the main objective of the British-led expedition was to be the first to travel overland in mechanized vehicles across the entire continent via the South Pole, gathering scientific data along the way. The main group would embark from the Weddell Sea coast of Antarctica (which is closest to South America), while a secondary New Zealand team, led by Hillary, would set out from the Ross Sea on the opposite side, establishing supply bases for the British team, but stopping short of the Pole. The two teams would meet up after the Brits had passed the Pole, with Hillary guiding them back along his path.

With more than 10 tons of fuel and supplies to carry, Hillary made an unlikely choice for his team’s main transport: farm tractors, specifically three Ferguson TE20s. Given some modifications to better equip them for the extreme conditions, Hillary was confident his tractors were up for the challenge—and then some.

On October 14, 1957, Hillary’s team cranked up its caravan of Fergusons and a support vehicle, pulling a bunkhouse and several supply sleds. Even though it was the Antarctic summer, conditions were brutal. Over the next 82 days, they faced temperatures below -35º Celsius, winds above 50 knots and altitudes surpassing 10,000 feet.

Even in such extreme conditions, the Hillary team reached its destination on December 15. Once there, they learned the British team—which, incidentally, was using more high-tech snow vehicles—was significantly behind schedule and would not reach the New Zealanders for about another month. Hillary decided not to wait and continued on to the South Pole to meet the rest of the expedition there.

To great fanfare, Hillary’s team reached the U.S. Pole Station on January 4, 1958. Before heading into the warmth of the station, he paused and later wrote, “I took a last glance at our tractor train … our Fergusons had brought us over 1,250 miles of snow and ice, crevasse … soft snow and blizzard to be the first vehicles to drive to the South Pole.”

Massey to the South Pole Part II

 Manon Ossevoort and her Massey

Manon Ossevoort and her Massey

In 2005, at an international theater festival in the Netherlands, Dutch storyteller and actor Manon Ossevoort performed her live narrative, “DO.” It’s a story about a girl on a tractor taking the dreams of many to the end of the world. So, when the story ended, Ossevoort drove out of the theater on a tractor and began a journey.

Ossevoort’s odyssey led her through Europe, the Balkans and down through the continent of Africa. Along the way, she performed her story and collected, on little slips of paper, the dreams and hopes of the people she met.

After four years and more than 23,000 miles, Ossevoort reached the Cape of Good Hope. “I literally missed my boat,” she says. The ship she had planned to take to Antarctica—the symbolic end of the world—had canceled its trip. “I had no sponsors, nothing,” says Ossevoort. “But I had thousands of dreams in the back of my tractor that I had promised to bring to the South Pole, a continent where there’s never been war.”

Cue Massey Ferguson. The company has a unique connection to Antarctica. Sir Edmund Hillary and his team drove three Ferguson TE20 tractors to the pole in 1958. That same year also marked the introduction of the Massey Ferguson brand. Sponsoring another trek to the South Pole on Massey Ferguson tractors seemed like a perfect way to celebrate both milestones.

Ossevoort and a Massey Ferguson assembled team of specialists have begun polar training in Iceland and northern Canada with a new Massey Ferguson 5600 Series tractor that has been modified to create “the ultimate polar-expedition tractor,” she says. The expedition plans to sail to Antarctica in December 2014, where it will follow the same path as Hillary’s expedition.

Ossevoort explains what she’ll do with the stories she’s collected on her journey: “I’ll symbolically finish my epic story at the geographical South Pole by building a snowman with the ‘dreams of the world’ in its belly.”

FOLLOW THE JOURNEY: Click here to follow Manon Ossevoort and her team’s progress. >>