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Spanish Secrets: From Mammals To Motors

Spring is in the air in Galicia, says Craig Briggs. Men are frequently checking on the progress of their wine, while women toil in the fields.

Here in Galicia there's a real feeling that spring is in the air. Everywhere you look small patches of land are being tilled ready for this year's crop. Even the birds seem to have gained an extra decibel in their morning chorus.

When it comes to tilling the land, there's a definite farming hierarchy.

At the foot of this perennial pyramid are the wives. In this male chauvinist backwater of Spain, it's often the women who do much of the work. Whilst men check the progress of their wine, with regular frequency, women toil in the fields.

Next rung on this ladder is a donkey, mule or ass. Not quite the multi-skilled beast of burden as the wives, but stronger, quicker, slightly less temperamental and easier to manage.

These are followed by the real heavyweights of this division, a team of oxen. Apparently ponderous yet deceptively powerful animals, they plough through the land like a warm knife through butter. Keeping the beasts under control and the furrows straight and parallel requires a small compliment of workers.

We move on, from mammals to motors.

Not even Leonardo da Vinci could have imagined the next magnificent machine.

Its main component is a powerful diesel engine, which resembles a small refrigerator tipped on its side. To the rear are two wheels, one on either side. The wheels are similar in size to those of a Mini Cooper, except with a heavy tractor-like tread. Mounted on top are chopper-style motorcycle handlebars. It looks as if a group of school kids have tried to build a mechanised Texas Longhorn cow.

Transporting this contraption to the fields is simple. A flatbed trailer, reminiscent of those seen in cowboy and Indian movies, is coupled to the back. At the front an old piece of rope is twice wound round a fly-wheel, and mightily tugged.

With a cough, a growl and a puff of thick black smoke, the beast rumbles into life. Mount the trailer, engage a gear, and trundle off slowly down the lane.

Upon arrival, this talented machine comes into its own. The trailer is uncoupled. Out comes a wheel-brace, and off come the wheels. The wheel axel is knocked through the engine block, with the assistance of a lump hammer. This allows the fitting of a new axel, to which a whole host of farming implements can be attached.


Next in mechanised farming sophistication is the miniature tractor. Although appearing almost toy-like, we have now reached the level of serious cultivating. It has a proper seat, steering wheel, familiar foot operated pedals for the engine, and hand operated levers for the assorted attachments.

Fractionally ahead of this in the pecking order are older, full-sized tractors. None of which, would look out of place in a museum. The area is literally littered with museum pieces still in daily use.

At the pinnacle of this cultivating hierarchy is the latest model John Deere, a true thoroughbred in modern tractor manufacturing.

For all manís ingenuity, the results remain the same - a ploughed field ready for planting.

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