Double celebrations as historic ledger comes to light

Left to right on Sandy Mercer's Ifor Williams trailer is John Wilson and Keith Robertson with Sandy Mercer holding the ledger
Left to right on Sandy Mercer's Ifor Williams trailer is John Wilson and Keith Robertson with Sandy Mercer holding the ledger

AN old sales ledger which gives a fascinating snapshot of the local agricultural industry 100 years ago has been discovered by a Borders firm which is celebrating its centenary.

Earlston-based Rutherford Agricultural and Automotive Engineers, which started in 1911, is also marking another important anniversary this year.

The firm, which started life as Millwrights and Agricultural Engineers, has now been a distributor for Ifor Williams Trailers, Europe’s biggest trailer maker, for a quarter of a century.

Rutherford is still doing business with later generations of the same families recorded in the ledger which lists the very first customers to use their services.

It contains a wealth of information, detailing the types of jobs carried out, the costs involved and the time taken to support farmers long before the days of tractors and combine harvesters.

The 20th customer listed is James Mercer, the grandfather of retired farmer Sandy Mercer who lives in Lauder and still buys Ifor Williams trailers from Rutherford, which employs 50 people.

The company is celebrating its 25th anniversary of supplying the trailers which are made in the UK and supplied to outlets all over the world.

Mr Mercer uses his flatbed trailer to transport pieces of vintage farm equipment, which he restores himself, to agricultural shows and steam rallies.

The 77-year-old told us: “I don’t remember my grandfather because he died in 1929 before I was born. He was a saddler before he came to farm at Whitslaid, near Lauder, and at that time the farm was on an estate but my family later bought it.

“It was livestock, grain and potatoes mostly. We had sheep and cattle, but I retired from it 20 years ago and the farm was sold.”

He said he has spent some time looking at the document which was lent to him by Rutherford.

“It says they were repairing the water wheel on the farm which was used to power the threshing mill and also the Osborne binder, used for grain harvesting. It was pretty costly work by the looks of things and I know the water wheel was scrapped on the farm in 1923 because my father Robert, who was running the farm by then, thought it was too costly and bought an international junior tractor from Rutherford in 1923.

With the tractor, you could drive the threshing mill and do cultivation at the same time, so it killed two birds with one stone.”

Mr Mercer’s grandfather paid seven pounds, nine shillings and tuppence to have the water wheel fixed, a task involving 10 days of labour by the engineers both on the farm and in the workshop.

Explaining why his family have always had strong links with Rutherford, Mr Mercer said: “They have always been very helpful people to work with and I find myself buying things from them because I know what they supply is good quality.”

John Wilson, managing director, who has been with Rutherford for 35 years, said he thought the same families were still using the firm 10 decades later because they believe in the reputation of the company and associated it with a well-run, family business which looks after its customers. He said: “Rutherford has grown into a very well respected and strong brand which gives us credibility and customer confidence which is very important. It has been owned by the same family ever since it started and it is now in the hands of Ann Rutherford and her daughter Jane Millar, who is the chief executive.

“The good thing is that Jane’s son, Nick, is now also involved in the business, so just like our customers, the company has very much come down through the generations.”

Peter Nesbitt, business development manager for Ifor Williams Trailers, said: “Rutherford has been a loyal partner of ours and it is always reassuring to hear the customer service we pride ourselves on is replicated by the firms who sell and supply our trailers.

“While we might not have quite so many years under our belt, given that Ifor Williams has been going for just over 50 years, we were founded on very similar principles – a business which can be trusted and relied on to deliver to its customers.

“Although we are an internationally recognised brand and employ world-class manufacturing methods, we have retained the core values of a family business.”