The REAL Fordson, 1918

Fordson Cablegram Address

Fordson cablegram address. First known use of 'Fordson' name, Feb. 15, 1918.

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Fordson Tractor Club, 250 Robinson Road, Cave junction, Oregon 97523

Ford would have made the job of the modern day researcher a bit easier if he had just completed the MOM run, then converted over to the Ford-son 'F' run to be sold to the American public. But then, Ford never did anything to make his history easy for anyone. Instead, typical of the Ford Manufacturing of the Model T days, he and his engineers would work on components they felt needed improvement, take the ideas and specs to the supplier, who then made the necessary changes. The supplier then would only make a few to see how they would fit and how they worked out. Some of these 'later' parts would suddenly appear on earlier model tractors. Knowing Ford, they were a bit cautious to run off great numbers until the new parts were fitted onto tractors currently on the production line and checked out. We can just imagine a small 'shuttle-bug' tractor pulling a trailer full of 'New' parts being driven up to the section where the part was bolted to the tractor and the worker being given instructions to 'stick it on'. Perhaps these parts were then tested a short while, or just shipped out to let the farmer do the free testing. Then, when satisfied that it was either an improvement, or could do the same job but for less money, then the new part was made a permanent part of all tractors to be assembled from that point on. The only thing is that there were many of the 'older' parts left over, and knowing Ford wouldn't stand for any waste, these were continued to be bolted on at random, probably mixing in with some of the new parts. This helps explain the discrepancies between earlier tractors that have later modifications, and later tractors still retaining the earlier part.

Obviously the first MOM's were a great deal different than the American Fordson 'F' at the end of 1918. Enough differences existed between these two extremes to easily identify each at a glance. One would look first at the blank radiator and gas tank. Next the left side of the earliest MOM's would have a rear oil filler. Speaking of this rear filler, the parts book says just the 1,000 engines had this feature, yet some exist today with over a 1,500 engine number. We have heard of the opposite being true, that some with an engine number less than 1,000 have the FRONT filler, although this has yet to be proven with verified evidence. But it would be possible, just as the above paragraphs on 'mixing parts' state. Besides, no doubt some early defective engines with rear oil fillers may have been taken off the assembly line (not numbered yet), repaired after a period of time, put back on the assembly line, and then would receive a later engine number, perhaps after the production had turned to the front filler. Certainly Ford would not let a good usable engine or parts go to waste. At that period in time he was not concerned with the historical significance of having all tractors at one time identical to each other. His concern, instead, was to get the tractors through the production line as fast as possible and shipped out.

Further, it will have to be admitted that the MOM's at the end of their run and the Fordson 'F' at the beginning of its production were pretty close together in looks, except for a few obvious differences. The Fordson will say 'Fordson' on the front. The gas tank, while stating 'Henry Ford and Son' will more than likely have a seam down the middle of the top. The pressed steel seats, now changed from round to oval holes, will say 'Fordson' on the back lip. A brass name-plate with serial number is now on the Holley carb. (Vaporizer). The cleats on the rear wheel will be cut down in number from 16 to 14, the angle irons will be curved slightly, the corners cut off, and they won't 'stand as tall'. No doubt, after seeing the mud accumulated in the high angle irons of the MOM's, Ford's engineers finally figured a way to lessen it building up. The rear lip of the MOM fan belt pulley was eliminated as it was found the belt wouldn't slip off anyway. The cast-center fans were replaced with cheaper pressed steel. The gear shifter casting was extended out and built up straighter to afford a better 'foot rest', and there were many, more similar changes. Some to improve performance, some to lessen cost. While the early Fordson 'F' models had Toggle bolt radiator cover 'knobs', this was replaced by the cheaper Model T type, just as also, was the gas tank cap replaced by the Model T style. The words 'For Gasoline Only' appeared on the Fordson 1-quart starting tank. This could not have been used on the English MOM's as their word was 'Petrol'.

Sometimes the early manuals and parts books are helpful to place these part changes on a chronological scale, however Ford's practice of 'switching parts in the middle of the stream' sometimes confuses the exact date.

Tom Brent, the Canadian Fordson Club Director, a few years ago sent out a 'poll' along with necessary drawings to see which early tractors had which parts. From this chart it was quickly determined that some tractors did have early as well as late parts, going by the engine numbers. We must remember that while Ford had a guaranteed cost-per-unit from England and Canada for the 7,000 order, he realized that when this tractor hit the American and world markets in direct competition with other tractor makes that sooner or later he had to meet their competition. Knowing that the publicity given his tractors at the end of the war years would tend to sell a lot of Ford-sons to farmers who wanted to switch from horses, that a time would come when Henry would have to prove that his tractor was workable and cheap enough for the farmer to buy. There were two ways to lessen the cost: (1). To have parts and raw materials cost less, and (2). Speed up the production time.

No doubt Ford did both of these things as seen from the 'improvements' of the Fordson 'F' over the MOM.

One thing that still bothers those who do research on the early Fordson tractor is the use of the words 'Factories at Dearborn, Michigan, USA AND Cork, Ireland'. This is found on the manuals up through 1919 when both the manuals and parts books were still combined. This wording is not found on the 1920 manuals, which, while giving 'Dearborn, Michigan', also says 'Distributed by the Ford Motor Company, Highland Park, Michigan'. This was about the time when Ford bought out his other stockholders and merged the Henry Ford & Son, Inc. into the Ford Motor Company. 1921 manuals simply state 'Ford Motor Company, Detroit'.

As you may recall, Ford orginally had purchased land in 1916 in Cork, and had wanted to build his 'Henry Ford & Son' tractors there, but England, after trouble running into suppliers for the English and possible Irish factories, asked Ford to build them instead in the United States and they'd provide the shipping. True, the Irish plant was finally built and the first Irish-built Fordson came off the line for the European Market on March 7, 1919. But why the use of the words 'Factories at Dearborn and Cork' when there weren't any MOM's built there, nor any Fordson 'F' models for the first 18 months of production, and even 6 months after the Armistice? Notice that the front page of the 'M.O.M. (Fordson) Tractor Parts Book', (now determined to have been printed March 18, 1918) states inside: 'M.O.M. Tractor Assembly Factory, Trafford Park, Manchester'. So no credit can be given to an earlier producing Cork factory. How, then, to explain the Cork name? Perhaps in 1918 'Cork' was not the address of the actual plant yet, but instead may have been the 'Registration' address of the British Isles 'Henry Ford & Son, Ltd.' (instead of 'Company').

Also among 'Over-seas' place names, it may be remembered that the last article on the MOM's mentioned that besides 'Detroit' on the early Holley manifold, many MOM's and some early 1918's had also the word 'Coventry' on them, as is the case of the George Shubert early Fordson. Detroit was the location of the Holley plant (which also was making manifolds and carbs for the Ford Model T), so the word 'Coventry' could either stand for the town in England where perhaps it had been though as a possibility of a supplier for the earlier production of MOM's in England (same is true of early front axles which have 'England' stamped on them)-or perhaps it stands for the Coventry which at one time was a suburb of Detroit. Holley may have had a sub-plant there.

However, a recently acquired article from the October 4, 1917 issue of 'Motor Age' states: 'The Holley carburetor and manifold as used on the 'Ford & Son' tractor has been in use in small quantities on two different types of engines covering a period of two years. ... The British Government, after having made a series of tests on different types of instruments, has specified this vaporizer on four different tractors, and a factory has been built in Coventry to take care of the production in Europe of this vaporizing system. The 'Ford' tractor is the only American tractor of the four, the other three being British.'

This is probably the real reason for the 'Coventry' on the early manifolds.

The following are some sample questions sent out a few years ago to determine the characteristics of what was then believed to be 'Early Ford-sons' (but now known as also being either some Canadian MOM's or the hybrid Henry Ford & Son tractor). Tom Brent of Canada mailed many of these forms to every owner at that time who claimed a 1918 Fordson. Some of the questions asked were:

Does your tractor have 'Fordson' on the radiator casting?

Does your tractor have 'ladder' type radiator side castings that have four square holes?

Does your engine have a hump or raised boss at the rear of the block near the end of the camshaft? (This was possibly intended for a distributor.)

Does your tractor have a round protrusion located directly above the drawbar cap?

How is your air washer cover attached to the air washer bowl? (1) with four ?-28 bolts and nuts (2) with four ?-20 bolts only (the air washer bowl has threaded holes- found on some early tractors).

Do you have a rear or front oil filler?

Is your clutch and belt pulley drive gear held in place on the transmission drive shaft with two nuts? Or with 2 snap rings?

Does your gas tank have a seam down the center top side?

Does your radiator fan have a cast center?

Does your tractor rear axle and wheel bushings have 10 or 12 splines?

With questions such as these several drawings were included to illustrate the question asked. From the poll many facts emerged which led to the writing of this series of articles, and provided much information for the MOM and this section on the REAL Fordson.

Generally speaking, the early 1918 Fordson can be identified by the following features. Some are obvious, some are different from the earlier MOM, and some are identical:


First of all, the Fordson logos have to appear in four (five with tools) places. These are: Front radiator casting, coilbox, toolbox, and seat. Original tools included with Fordsons will also have 'Fordson' and not 'Ford' logos. When production turned to the larger hex air washer plugs, these also will say 'Fordson', and are quite rare today.

Dates should be cast into a number of parts, but this was not universal. Most obvious places would be the inside left of dash and the left side of the engine block. Other possibilities seen on some would include the head, right rear quarter of the oil pan, rear underside of rear axle casting left side, left side near the edge of the bottom of the front radiator casting, and occasionally, elsewhere. For a Fordson the beginning date should be no earlier than April 4, followed by the day, and then '18' for the year. Nearly all dates on the same tractor do not match exactly, give or take a few days or weeks. This is caused by the placement of the part in the bin, and whatever particular day it was taken out for the tractor's assembly. Note: Some late MOM's and Henry Ford & Son units will also have 'April' as the month date (1st three weeks). Brent's of Canada has dates both April 4 and April 12 (1st and 2nd weeks in April).

Looking closer at individual early 1918 parts and characteristics (if original):

Ladder-side radiator castings

6 spoke rear wheels

round rear bushing (later it is a 'figure 8')

concave hex front wheel hub caps

coil box switch with key (slanted top) and the early Model T coil boxes were attached with first brass, and later malleable steel (NOT 'cast iron' as stated in previous article).

early Holley 234 manifold, vaporizer (carb) and float

tool box with small Fordson logos on 'hip' roof (later, a flat roof or lid)

coated (zinc-galvanized) one-hole kerosene tank, 'Henry Ford & Son', Dearborn

1-quart cast iron gas starting tank labeled as such

flat gas tank straps

togglebolt radiator and gas caps

small hex airwasher & gear shift filler plugs

single ?' pipe thread drain on the pan (sump)

small bosses underside of radiator casting, some tapped

maple wood steering wheel rim

boss at right rear of block (possibly for later distributor?)

cap screw opposite this boss instead of nut and bolt

small lathe centering hole(?) rear center of axle housing

no grooves on the outer rear axles (for later fender 'U' bolts)

non-reinforced dash, no holes at side for later fender braces

round hole seat with Fordson logos (later, oval holes)

external choke right side of dash on outside

the letter 'K' on front wheels (stands for 'Kelsey Wheel Co.')

possibly flat instead of tapered points on front wheels

3-hole drawbar

There are a few other known characteristics. For example, does your 1918 air washer have nuts and bolts holding the top on, or cap screws?

The 1918 numbers should range from 11,000 to 34,421. It is possible that as early an engine number of 7,251 could be discovered, but doubtful, unless found in England or Canada.

Over the years, Ford Motor Company (Ford Tractor Company?) has held several 'Contests' to find the oldest Fordson in the United States. Results have been less than satisfactory as neither the Ford Motor Company nor owners really knew how early was 'early'. Some of the winners at that time included what was thought to be the 'oldest Ford-son in Michigan', as sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. This tractor was then owned by Mr. Merle Sayer of Sunfield, Michigan, It is referred to as a '1918', but actually turned out to be a late 1919 with an engine serial number of 72254. It did not even have the ladder side radiator castings! The article stated that the 'Oldest in the U. S.' was found in Maryland.

A few years ago a similar contest was held in New Zealand. The owner was Ron Sloan, a member of 'Napier Motors, Limited' of Dunedin and referred to as a '1917-1919' Ford-son. While it had ladder radiator side castings, they evidently couldn't find the engine number or identifying cast-in dates.

Even Ireland had a contest to find 'the oldest working Fordson'. Its owner won a trip to Detroit. But this tractor was also a 1919. But in 1968 Gas Engine Magazine was sent a photo of MOM #833 from Michelstown, Cork, Ireland, known at the time as 'The oldest working Fordson'. But of course it was a MOM instead!

The Fordson Club is now offering a $ 100 cash award (reward?) to the oldest verified running Fordson 'F' in the U.S. or Canada. It must have original carb, and manifold and run off of the internal mag and coils. This must be a Fordson, not a MOM or hybrid Henry Ford and Son, and must have its original engine with legible engine number and matching casting numbers on the engine, dash, etc.

The success of the Fordson tractor was due to several factors. First of all, 'it was the right tractor for the right time'. Many tractors were coming onto the market in the period of 1910-1918. Most, however, were huge and cumbersome, and hard to start. Some still had steam power, log-chain steering, and exposed external gears. But the Fordson instead was small, compact, very modern-looking in appearance (it had all enclosed gears and liberal bearings). Most tractors today still use the Fordson's basic design characteristics. So compact was it that the average person could easily touch the center of the rear and front axle centers with outstretched hands (63'). The Ford 9N which Ford manufactured in 1939 is about 8 inches longer in wheel length (71').

The Fordson was introduced to a ballyhoo of publicity, Ford and his Model T were a trusted name and vehicle. The war was over, times were good, farmers and especially their sons wanted to eliminate hard work. Many farm boys had left their parents' home to get away from farm drudgery. Ford himself was no exception.

Smith 'Form-a-Tractor' advertised in 1917 that their tractor attachment to a Model T could do the work of 4 horses, which not only cost $ 150 to $250 each, $541 a year to maintain, and with 20 acres needed just to raise hay for them. On the other hand for just $255 you could buy the Smith 'Form-a-tractor', and not only save money, but do the job easier. Was the unit succcessful? Let history answer that! At the same time Ford had been releasing stories to the press of his being able to produce a Ford car, a Ford truck and a tractor, all for $200 each! No wonder the American farmer was ready for a tractor, specifically designed for farming. It is suspected that all of this advance publicity sold Fordson tractors for many years. In 1927 half of the tractors on American farms were Ford-sons, nearly ? of a million were manufactured, 'they infested the land like grasshoppers'. Yet most Americans today, while remembering the Model T, ask: 'What is a Fordson'?

While the tractor got an ugly reputation for rearing over backwards and 'hard to start', most of this bad publicity was due to some people's resentment of Ford's millions, and the semi-political and legal complications he was involved with at the time. Just as many farmers were maimed or killed by other makes of tractors, and still are today! The fault is usually found with the driver, and not the tractor. The same could be said of the rumor that Fordsons were hard to start. If done properly, and if in good mechanical condition, the average farmer had no problem under average conditions. This author's grandfather farmed with horses until he was gored to death by a Jersey bull in 1938. He could do anything with and for horses, even made his own harnesses. He never learned to drive a car, but instead his wife (author's grandmother) would be driving down the road with this tall 6' 2' gentleman beside her on the way to church. Give Grandpa a Fordson and he'd never be able to start it, and probably would have tipped it over a dozen times. And remember what caused his untimely death! An animal, not a tractor!

Last year, the 'Farmland News' of Archbold, Ohio, sponsored a 'Cranker's Convention on Ford-sons,' and collected stories of Ford-sons and their owners in the general surrounding area.

While it would take another in this series of articles to relate the fascinating stories by the old timers about their Fordsons, they all seem to be of the same opinion on several things. One was that the oil and grease in the Fordsons was just too thick, and cold weather made starting difficult. Some solved this by even going to the extent of draining the oil out after a day's work when hot, re-heating on the wood stove in the morning and then pouring back in just before starting. Others built fires under the Fordsons, others parked over a pile of fresh horse manure. Another problem was that the magnetos from the factory were sometimes not properly placed on the flywheel (not close enough). One way to remedy this was using either a 'hot-shot' battery, or some turned to an after-market 'crossmount' high tension magneto.

Some typical comments about the Fordsons from the old-timers: BAD:

A Fordson made our minister quit farming!

Our Fordson could really kick.

When we had the motor overhauled, it would tear out the rear end, and vice-versa.

I doubt if any woman ever cranked them on a regular basis.

Our Fordson was as stubborn as a mule.

The Fordson 'learned' you how to sit bow-legged.

To start my Fordson, we used my neighbors Sampson (made by General Motors).

You could get your legs burned, so we sat on the fenders.

The Fordson heavy oil had the consistency of cold liver.

After several minutes of cranking, one sort of lost his wind ... & his religion.

The Fordson was hot on your legs and hard on your ears.

I cranked for hours, then called a mechanic (he started it right up).

We always parked the Fordson in the shed backwards, because on cold morning when we cranked it in neutral it started forward anyway, out into the barnyard.


Nothing could beat a Fordson.
The grinding sound was music to my ears.
Dad paid $75 for our 2nd-hand Fordson, but I got $75,000 worth of experience keeping it running.
The Fordson was easier to start with a quarter turn than by spinning (if tuned correctly).
The Fordson would work all day.
The Fordson always excelled on the belt pulley (no loss of power through the worm gear rear end).
Farming with a Fordson was better than with horses as they could be pretty aggravating too!
The Fordson made us aware of mechanization for the farmer.
The rear fenders would prevent the Fordson from rearing up backwards.
I'm sure glad I owned a Fordson.
Sure the Fordson had faults, but they won the hearts of the farmer.
The Fordson worked harder, faster and longer than horses.
One advantage of the Fordson was
that you could either walk or ride, as when plowing, the front wheel stayed in the furrow.
The Fordson was within the farmers price range.
The Fordson represented a great leap into the future.

For additional comments on hard starting, most Fordson Tractor Club members who have restored their Fordsons to original have no trouble in starting them at all. The classic example is the 1918 as owned by Rodney Smith of Vancouver, Washington. At the annual Puget Sound show at Lynden, Washington, this tractor appears regularly in the daily parade. In front of the announcers booth, the driver turns off the installed switch, dismounts, walks around the tractor, climbs back on, turns on the switch, and the Fordson starts right off without even cranking! (Burning carbon in the head ignites, usually up to a time span of about 18-20 seconds.)

Unfortunately, out of the hundreds of photographs sent to the Fordson Club Headquarters in Oregon for the Fordson photo albums, not a single, complete early 1918 Fordson with original parts (in a clear colored picture) has been seen yet. Perhaps this article will generate a new interest in finding an early 1918 restored Fordson with all of its original parts. If one (or more) shows up, perhaps in conjunction with the $ 100 prize, a follow-up article will be written emphasizing this Fordson, or even several, if more than one can be found. Not even the Ford Museum can produce such a tractor. If you have one of these or know of anyone who does, please contact the National Director of the Fordson Tractor Club.

There we have the advantages and disadvantages, the benefits and the evils, the good and the bad of the Fordson Tractor. Ladies and Gentlemen, on this the 70th anniversary year of the Fordson Tractor (1918-1988) we now present the REAL Fordson!