CLASSIC TRACTORS

1925 Case 65 HP

1925 Case 65 HP.

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Fairmount Farms, Inc. 2200 Fairmount Road, Hampstead, Maryland 21074

I am not sure I really know what the term 'classic' means. A trip to the dictionary was only some help. When used as a noun, it means 'a work of the highest class and of acknowledged excellence.' That makes sense. But how do I relate that to tractors?

The antique auto boys use the word 'classic' for some of their models. I have some interest in antique autos, having several old cars in various conditions, from original to restored. I have a friend who is really into this car thing. Every vehicle he has must be completely restored right down to the proper bolt and screw. Of course, he has the ability (and patience) to do all this work himself. He has this 1921 Packard which he completely restored in 1984. He took it all apart and made a new part for any he could not fix. Now I ask you, does he have a 1921 Packard or a 1984 car that looks like a 1921 Packard? I said to him, 'You know, there is something to be said for a fifty or sixty-year-old car that is still in its original condition.' After a little thought he answered, 'Yes, but not much.' So you see I wasn't going to get very far with him with my theory. To further make my point, I told him about attending an antique auction recently where they were selling an axe that belonged to Abe Lincoln. 'Yes sir,' the auctioneer went on, 'this is authentic and documented as having belonged to none other than Abe Lincoln himself.' When questioned about its apparent good condition, the auctioneer replied, 'Well it has had in its lifetime three new handles and a new head.'

Since I am not really 'into' the classic auto bit, I am not sure I know exactly what makes a car a 'classic.' I think there is some committee that votes on it. I do know there are certain makes, models, or years that are classic and that is that. We in the tractor hobby don't go in for all that judging, points, national Senior and Junior annual winners, and all that stuff, and boy am I glad! It will be the ruination of our hobby if we ever start all of that because then the big bucks boys will get into it. These fellows never had the joy of operating one of these fantastic marvels of engineering while watching new earth turn over or while enjoying the smell of new-mown hay. If it happens like in autos, they will buy up the rarest pieces, over-restore them, and have a fancy auction at Las Vegas or someplace like that.

Since we have no basis for determining whether a tractor is 'classic,' I suppose we each can use our own criteria. I like it that way. To help make up my list of classic tractors, I went back to the dictionary meaning of classic: 'a work of the highest class and of acknowledged excellence.' I like that, too-it's short and to the point, but says it all. All we need to apply it to tractors are a few ground rules which, after careful study, I now present. These are my opinion only- I'm open to other suggestions.

Suggestions.

What makes a classic tractor?

1. A model or make that represents a significant breakthrough in the development of the tractor or of a farming system.

2.  A model that started a trend.

3.  A model that, when judged by the number sold, was very popular in its time.

4. A model that, because of its popularity and construction, wore well. It stayed in production for a long time and became popular with collectors.

Using these rules, I selected my choices for 'classic tractors.' I admit to being somewhat biased by my own experience and likes and accept that other collectors may not agree with all of my choices and may have their own favorites which would be just as appropriate. My selections for 'classic tractors' are:

1.  Case Steam Engines

2.  Rumely Oil Pulls

3.  Case 20-40

4.  Fordson

5.  Farmall-regular and F series

6.  John Deere D

7.  Case L-LA

8.  John Deere A

9.  Farmall H

10. Ford 9N

11. John Deere 4020

12. Steigers

My rationale for including each of the above follows:

1. Case Steam Engines-1869-1925. I originally was thinking only of gas or oil tractors, but the significant role of steam in the transition from beast power to iron cannot be ignored. I selected Case because J. I. was at least one of the first to use steam to power his threshing machines (I am also slightly biased because I am a Case collector.). I am not sure if Case made the most steam engines or not. I do know they must have made many since there are still many around. Also, it seems that whenever anyone compares an engine, they use the Case as the standard. I haven't picked a specific Case model, but if I had to I would go with either the 110 HP, probably just because of its impressive size, or the 30 HP, which I have.

2.  Rumely Oil Pulls-1910-1928. Again, I am not specifying a certain model. I am not familiar with the different models; however, I do know that the distinctive style of the Oil Pull must have been a major force on the power scene from 1910 through the 1920s. Some 56,000 were built during that time. It represented the type of tractor that, after steam, was responsible for breaking the virgin prairies of our west. Here in the east, we older folk still have memories of them on the threshing machine circuit and on saw mills. They must have been well-built and engineered because many remain today with their familiar sound that is music to the ear of an old iron buff. They are also very popular with collectors. 

3. Case 20-40-1912-1920.I include the 20-40 for some of the same reasons as the OilPull in threshing and western power (also because it is the favorite in my collection). It was also the first successful gas (kerosene) tractor built by Case. It must have been well-engineered for its day as it won several awards for fuel economy.

4. Fordson-1917-1928. I think everyone will agree that the Fordson must be included on the list. Henry Ford did for the farmers with the Fordson what he did for the general population with the Model T. The Fordson probably was the one tractor most responsible for doing the horse in. It was small enough to be handy and powerful enough for many farms. At times more Fordsons were sold than all other makes combined. From 1917 to 1928 about 740,000 Ford-sons were made in this country. In 1922 one could be bought for $395. It established the trend to a small-farmer-size tractor.

5. Farmall-Regular and F series-1924-1939. If I had to go with a specific model, it would probably be the F20. Although not the first to offer a tricycle-type tractor, they certainly popularized it and made it almost the industry standard for many, many years. Since hard-headed Henry Ford would not change the design of or modernize his Fordson tractors, the fact that the Farmall and others that were easier to operate had a little more power and were more versatile than the Fordson caused Henry to stop making tractors altogether in the U.S. in 1928.

6.  John Deere D-1924-1954. Probably the longest production run of any tractor model, the D came out in 1924 and remained with a few changes for thirty years in the John Deere line-up. In its day it was powerful, rugged, and simple. It remains a popular collector tractor today. It was the first tractor model of any consequence to carry the John Deere name and, therefore, it deserves a place on the list.

7. Case L and LA-1929-1952. I am including both the L and LA because the LA is really a styled version of the L. Case chose to change the model designation from L to LA when they styled it (as opposed to John Deere which stayed with the 'D' even when they styled it). The L was a welcome change from the clumsy cross mounts by Case and the big iron of the other types of over-45 HP tractors. It had lots of power and agility for its size and was a particular favorite for belt power.

8. John Deere A-1924-1952. One of the most popular tractor models in the John Deere line. I could have just as easily gone with the B, but I just like the A better. Its popularity in its day, the long production run, and its popularity today with collectors assure it a place on my list (Heck, it seems like anything with the John Deere name is popular among collectors today!).

9. Farmall H-1938-1952. Here again I would hardly turn my hand for the difference between choosing the Farmall H or the M. I went with the H because it was the most popular in my section of the country. Like the John Deere A, the popularity of the H in its time and the fact that there are still thousands of them doing chores on farms entitle it to a place on the list. Although it was under-powered for its size (author's opinion only), it was a rugged and simple tractor with a clean, 'classic' style.

10. Ford 9N and 2N-1939-1947. Ole Henry did it again! This time he teamed with Harry Ferguson to come out with a tractor that would revolutionize the entire tractor market and to develop an entirely new system of power farming with its 3-point and traction-boosting hitch. After initial skepticism among farmers and in the industry, it was soon copied and is more or less standard today. Unfortunately, Henry was again hard-headed and did not branch out into larger sizes and other innovations soon enough. However, the tractor well deserves its position as a trend setter.

11.  John Deere 4020-1964-1972. Anyone who disagrees with this one on the list has me to contend with. I will not back down on this one. The 4020 was one of the most popular tractors of any make during its lifetime. I bought my first one new in 1966 and a second one in 1972. These two tractors are still my main farm tractors. The 1966 model pulled 6-bottom plows until we went to 100% no-till in 1970. It is large enough for those big jobs, yet handy and economical enough for small jobs. If I was forced to keep just one tractor to farm with today it would be the 4020. My friends ask me, 'How come you collect Case and farm with John Deere?' I say, 'I might be sentimental, but I ain't stupid.'

12. Steiger-195 7-. I am closing with the Steiger as a company and not specific models because I am not that familiar with the models. I am including them for just two reasons. First, they started a trend that caught on like wildfire in the industry in high-power tractors by going the 4-wheel drive route. Second, I admire the way the company started. Two farm boys in Minnesota needed a large tractor on their farm so they built one in their dairy barn one winter. After building some for their neighbors, they started the company and later moved to North Dakota where they built the largest 4-wheel drive factory in the world.

There you have it-my list of tractors that qualify as 'classic.' I am sure there are others for which you could make a strong case (Case with a small 'c'-get it?). I might even accept a few more on the list. I hope my list will stimulate discussion, on tractors and their place in our heritage, even if it sparks some friendly comparison between makes. I hope we can keep our hobby so that all types of collectors feel free to contribute their opinions in these friendly discussions. I hope our hobby remains one in which a kid who likes to fool around with tools can pick up for a couple of hundred dollars some old clunker that he happens to find or one like Grandpa said he used to have, do a valve job on it himself, perhaps spiff it up with a little paint, take it to a local show, and be just as proud as anyone on the grounds.