A lone furrow: Madrid’s last tractor driver

Miguel Serrano works a slither of land that survived the construction boom

Miguel Serrano in his tractor.
Miguel Serrano in his tractor. CARLOS ROSILLO

Of the many changes the Spanish capital has witnessed over the last couple of decades of frenetic growth, perhaps one of the less appreciated is the disappearance from its roads of the tractor. As recently as 20 years ago there was still agricultural land within a few kilometers of Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square, but the recently deflated construction boom saw the city’s appetite for land pave over vast areas once dedicated to growing crops or grazing sheep.

Nowadays, one of the few remaining tractors in Madrid is driven by Miguel Serrano, and can be found trundling along the back roads of Valdecarros, just 10 kilometers southeast of the center of the city, a small community tucked between the A3 and the M45 and M50 ring roads surrounded by the housing estates of Vallecas and Vicálvaro, and overshadowed by large-scale out-of-town shopping centers.

Miguel is a 60-year-old agricultural laborer who has worked the land round here all his life, and still cultivates around 140 hectares of land that produces around 200 tons of barley each year.

“The owners of the land, the Marquis of Villar, Luis Roca de Togores, sells it for animal feed,” says Miguel of his crop.

Not that the land Miguel works has escaped the attention of the property developers. American multi-millionaire Sheldon Adelson wants to build a controversial Las Vegas-style casino and gambling complex in this area, while the regional government of Madrid has plans to build 50,000 new homes in what would be one of the largest, most ambitious projects of its kind in Europe.

I love my tractor. I can put the radio on  and I’ve got air conditioning for the summer"

Born in nearby Vallecas when it was still a small village cut off from the city of Madrid, Miguel says he started working for the Villar family was he was 14. “We’ve grown barley, wheat, and even sunflowers,” he says.

Six days a week at around 8am, he is to be found driving his tractor along the road from nearby Perales del Río, taking a shortcut through the wonderfully named Valdeculebras (Vipers’ Valley) and along a dirt road known as the Camino Viejo a la Casa de Eulogio.

“A lot of people out walking their dogs or cycling stop me and ask about my work. They are amazed when I tell them that I am working the land,” he says, adding: “I tell them they are welcome to come along and have a look.”

While Miguel’s bosses wait to see who will finally buy their land, he is more worried about this year’s harvest. “It hasn’t rained for the last year. This land is dry at the best of times, and if it doesn’t get regular water, you can forget about growing anything. We’re hoping for some rain this spring, and to be able to bring the harvest in by June. Then we’ll sell the barley, and maybe they’ll use it to brew some beer,” he jokes.

Miguel is hoping that the collapse of the property market and the financial woes of the regional government delay construction plans for at least a few more years. “I hope that I am able to retire first. This is a great life. There’s wildlife: rabbits and grouse, and the open air. I love my tractor. I can put the radio on, and a bit of heat in the winter, and I’ve got air conditioning for the summer. Who could ask for more?”

Sitting atop his tractor, looking in one direction over to open hilly land dotted in the distance with unfinished buildings, and in another across to the skyline of Madrid, where landmarks such as the Telefónica building on the Gran Vía can just be seen through the smog haze, Miguel ponders his situation.

“I’m not sure if there’s still anybody driving tractors over in Vicálvaro; I think they’ve all retired. I guess that makes me the last tractor driver in Madrid. All good things must come to an end, I suppose. All I can say is that when my time comes, I’ll be in my tractor.”

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