One of the most popular accessories on modern four-wheel-drive pickups is a winch mounted on the truck's front bumper. Compact, frame-mounted winches first became popular during World War II, installed by the thousands on Army Jeeps and on large Army trucks. How many of us still remember the famous winch-equipped Dodge Power-Wagon?
While the term 'winch' generally takes on a more modern connotation, larger units were referred to in the past as a 'hoist,' a word that aptly describes their intended function.
Mechanical winches or hoists have been a mainstay in various industries for centuries. The 'steam-donkey' used in early logging operations enabled logs to be skidded up to a landing, sometimes on over-head cables strung from tall trees that had been 'topped' to make the operation possible. Smaller logging outfits tended to use stationary or portable winches, often with some type of gasoline engine providing power. And then there were winches and hoists mounted on Fordsons.
Fordsons Out Front
Fordson 'skid-units' or complete Fordson tractors with integrated winches and hoists became popular with the success of the Fordson tractor. These hoists (some of them front-mounted, others mounted on the back - one company even featured a side-mounted hoist) could be either single or double drum versions.
Fordson seems to have led the field in the development of the earliest stationary or portable winches used in industrial, construction or farming jobs. As many previous articles on Fordson tractors have noted, Henry Ford never made any attachments for either the Model T or the Fordson tractor. This prompted many early entrepreneurs to manufacture a great variety of mechanical innovations to retrofit on the Model T or Fordson tractor.
Period advertisements for various hoist-equipped Fordson tractors. While most of the units show here were adapted to fully operational Fordson tractors some, like the Huston, were built with a fordson platform that was mounted on skids.
These ranged all the way from special springs for Model T axles to governors for the Fordson tractor. Fordsons became the first tractors to be made into road-rollers, graders and loaders, to name but a few examples, and a few even had tracks (either full or half-tracks) mounted on them. Some farmers may still remember the 'Gleaner' (a self-propelled combine) mounted on the Fordson, as well as corn pickers and cultivators. For the Ford car, a number of companies turned out attachments that converted a Model T into a tractor.
Of the companies that manufactured winches for the Fordson, some are still in existence today. Companies like Hyster (Ersted), M.A.C. (Skagit), White, (which bought out Oliver and even Trackson, (which made 'tracks' for Fordsons and was later bought out by Caterpillar). Other companies advertising winches were Clyde Iron Works, Smith, (a company that made pulleys), Myers Winch Company, Dorsey, Allison, W-K-M, Tom Houston (which made mid-mounted attached plows for Fordsons), Pioneer, and many more. The Fordson Tractor Club's literature files has brochures, manuals, advertisements and endorsements for all of these companies, as well as many more.
Looking at the variety of winches and hoists that were once produced specially for the Fordson tractor, it is easy to see the impact Fordsons had on the development of construction, industrial, logging and farming machinery. Winches and hoists were just a few of many different types of machinery made to take advantage of the Fordson tractor.
The Fordson tractor was quite unique, serving as a platform for a great many different devices. The versatility of the Fordson tractor and its application in a variety of duties is not generally appreciated by antique tractor collectors and restorers. But without the Fordson, it's likely that many items we use today would have developed very differently, if at all.
Jack Heald, national director of the Fordson Tractor Club, has written widely on Fordson tractors. Contact him at: 250 Robinson Road, Cave Junction, OR 97523.