ExWeb interview with The Tractor Girl, Manon Ossevoort: "I created a story that ultimately just had to become a real-life adventure" (Part 1 of 2)

Posted: Mar 22, 2013 09:17 am EDT

(Correne Coetzer) As an actor she created a story that turned into reality, a story of a seemingly impossible dream; to make a journey to The End of the World, the South Pole, on a tractor.

For years the "Tractor Girl" from The Netherlands, Manon Ossevoort, has been chasing her dream. Now it has become reality with a main sponsor that came on board, the tractor manufacturer, Massey Ferguson. Their expedition will emulate the achievement of Edmund Hillary, who reached the South Pole in 1958 using three Ferguson tractors. It is planned that three MF 5600 tractors will reach the South Pole 56 years after Hillary's achievement in the 2014-5 season. This will also be the 56th Anniversary year of the birth of the Massey Ferguson brand name.

Ultimately they hope to do a full crossing of Antarctica, says Manon to ExplorersWeb. "Before we can confirm our route we are working on more tests with the tractors; how much fuel they will burn, and how much they can pull in the snow."

ExWeb caught up with Manon just after a training and testing session on Iceland.

ExplorersWeb: You have tried for many years to get sponsorships to drive a tractor to the South Pole. Where did this idea come from and when did you actively started to do something about it?

Manon: As a Theatre-maker I created a story that ultimately just had to become a real-life adventure story that people could follow. It’s the story of one ‘seemingly impossible dream’ finding its way to realization. A journey to the ‘End of the World’. A child might say: that’s the South Pole!

That sounds like going to the moon on a tractor! But maybe it is possible. As an adult I immediately thought: ‘the end of the world is place where people lose hope, a famine-area, a country at war. Both voices inside me said: ‘Go’. And then I thought ‘maybe I should just dó that!’

Of course my idea sounded more like a children’s book story than reality. So when I started setting it up, it turned out pretty impossible for me to find sponsors. (I had never even set up a Bingo in my life!) But people and companies who believed in the idea and who wanted to give me and my determination a chance supported with info, advice and practical support. (Lending me a tractor, selling t-shirts for me, helping me build a website...)

My plan was also to raise funds for inspiring projects and initiatives - initiated by people who prove that ‘the end of the world’ doesn’t exist, because there’s always someone who doesn’t give up hope, who keeps trying and this way inspires others.

This I wanted to do in a creative way, so I started designing tractor t-shirts, people could buy a km (2 euro) of my journey and read ‘my adventure on ‘their’ kilometer. And as the deadline for departure came closer I decided, that a small portion of the t-shirts, dreams and km’s-sales should go to the realization of the project itself.

I started with a budget for only 3 months, playing my theatre-performances while traveling through Europe and the Balkans (on international theatre-festivals and at War Child-projects I visited). By the time I reached Kosovo, my foundation told me that I had sold so many of them that I had a 2 month budget for starting the African leg of the journey, so I did.

In the end I drove for nearly 4 years through the ‘grace of inspiration’ it gave others. Whenever I needed diesel, food or a visa, someone had bought a t-shirt or given their dreams to travel with me... This is what made the first leg of the journey possible.

I arrived at the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ in South-Africa with thousands of dreams (written on small pieces of paper) in the back of my tractor, and beautiful stories to share. There I literally missed my boat. The icebreaker I was offered a ride up to got a new job on the North Pole, and only 6 weeks before I arrived in Cape Town it had started sailing north.

And now I was in need of a hero! A sponsor. Because Polar expeditions are a different matter than my journey so far, to Antarctica you can’t travel ‘touch’ and ‘go’.

ExplorersWeb: Were there times that you thought it is not going to happen and you should give up on your idea?

Manon: No never, I was so inspired to tell this feel-good story, and make it real, that I probably couldn’t allow such thoughts. It would’ve been too hard, in the end the first leg of the journey (over 38.000km’s) that took me 3 years and 8 months to complete.

And because the concept of the story said: ‘do’, doesn’t matter if you’re slow, go.

And don’t forget to laugh about yourself ones in a while. Yes, I did have to tell that to myself on a number of times. And I think I’ve also reinvented myself a couple of times while traveling and I learnt that being headstrong will eventually cause you more headaches. It’s a precious gift to stay open and flexible, and a complex lesson to learn.

About a year ago I sort of gave in on the idea. I still hadn’t found a sponsor, and trying to find one makes me very uncertain. I decided to implement a very down-to-earth idea: ‘If you can’t do it the way you want it, try doing it the way it’s possible!’

I dearly wanted to go back to doing what I was good at: inspiring people, creating an uplifting feel-good story in film and in writing (I still have 4 years of film-material waiting to become a movie). So I asked the people in Cape Town to ship my old tractor back to the Netherlands and started preparing a low-budget ending to the story.

I would hitch a ride with an Icebreaker and do what I had promised: go to Antarctica and build a snowman with ‘the dreams of the World’ in its belly. Filming a nice ending...

But while the tractor was on the boat, it started nagging at me. I hadn’t even contacted other tractor-companies about the idea! (Probably being too stubborn on going with my old village tractor, or being afraid those companies would say no.)

So I gave myself one final push..... ‘Do it, try!’

ExplorersWeb: How did it come that you teamed up with Massey Ferguson?

Manon: When I made my first test-drive in 2002 (‘to drink a coffee under the Eiffel-tower’ raising funds for Unicef and War Child), I started telling people about my plan to go to the South Pole, by tractor. Then someone send me a link to the Ferguson heritage website. And there I saw black and white photos of tractors working on Antarctica, and read about the epic story of Sir Edmund Hillary (first climber of the Mount Everest) who drove three red Ferguson tractors all the way to the Geographic South Pole back in 1958.

That story gave me such a boost, such confidence, because now I knew it was possible. That idea kept me going for all those years trying to get to the Cape of Good Hope. When I realized my little old green tractor wouldn’t make it to the Pole, I knew I had to try and contact the Massey Ferguson company to see if they would be interested.

To my surprise their door went wide open, and now my story seems to be getting a really uplifting ‘happy end’. (Which we still need to create of course, ahum!)

I’m in awe of this sponsorship and the people at this company, for it’s not an easy endeavor we’re planning but they’re supporting it. When I first met the Ferguson director Mr. Richard Markwell, he gave me the most beautiful quote as an introduction. He quoted President Kennedy when launching the idea of going to the Moon:

“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal?
We choose to go to the moon, not because it's easy, but because it is hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills...”

ExplorersWeb: Have you already been on the ice somewhere with these tractors?

Manon: Yes, early February me and my team met up for the first time and went on a full Polar training in Iceland, where we tested with the tractors on a glacier. It was the first time me and my full team met up and trained. This was such a good experience.

[Ed note: Check in again to read more about the modifications to the tractors, the rest of the team, and what Manon says about the British winter Antarctic crossing that has started yesterday, March 21st, with two caterpillars/bulldowsers]


Previous - Winter South Pole crossing: Bad summer weather before winter-start March 21

Previous - ExWeb 2013-14 South Pole kick-off interview: Daniel Burton, return cycle journey

Previous - ExWeb interview with Aron Reynisson (part 1), “It is by no means easy to drive to the South Pole”

Previous - ExWeb interview with Aron Reynisson (final): “We literarily tear the vehicles apart and rebuild them with components proven to tolerate the cold climate.”

Manon Ossevoort's website

Manon Ossevoort on Facebook

Hillary and Fuchs 1955-58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition

Massey Ferguson's website

This expedition (and other expeditions/ adventures/ projects with RSS feeds) can be followed in the live Dispatch stream at the Pythom App for iPhone/iPad and on Android as well as at ExplorersWeb.

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It is planned that three Massey Ferguson 5600 tractors will reach the South Pole in the 2014-15 season, 56 years after Edmund Hillary's achievement.
Image by Sarah McNair-Landry courtesy (c) Manon Ossevoort / Massey Ferguson
The expedition will emulate the achievement of Edmund Hillary, who reached the South Pole in 1958 using three Ferguson tractors.
courtesy (c) Manon Ossevoort / Massey Ferguson
In 2002 Manon read the story of Edmund Hillary, "That story gave me such a boost, such confidence, because now I knew it was possible. [...] When I realized my little old green tractor wouldn’t make it to the Pole, I knew I had to try and contact the Massey Ferguson." Image: February 2013 Manon test driving MF in Iceland.
Image by Sarah McNair-Landry courtesy (c) Manon Ossevoort / Massey Ferguson
Manon started chasing her dream with a budget for only 3 months, playing her theatre-performances while traveling through Europe, the Balkans and Africa. In the image, telling her story in Ethiopia.
courtesy (c) Manon Ossevoort, SOURCE
Manon collecting dreams from Ethiopian children.
courtesy (c) Manon Ossevoort, SOURCE
In the end Manon drove for nearly 4 years through the ‘grace of inspiration’ it gave others. Image: Lions in Zimbabwe and her green tractor that took her to the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Town, South Africa.
Image by Manon Ossevoort courtesy (c) Manon Ossevoort, SOURCE
Camping in Zimbabwe.
courtesy (c) Manon Ossevoort