No such thing as a 1917 Fordson!

Content Tools

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

In Collaboration With: Thomas Brent, Canadian Fordson Club, P.O. Box 15, Dewdney, British Columbia, V0M 1H0

Many 'histories' have been written about the Fordson tractor, usually in regard to their significance to the tractor industry and the introduction of tractors to the American and world farmers. However, this series of 4 articles has been dedicated to portraying the evolutionary process, step-by-step, with the introduction of facts never before published in order to correct previous errors. The first in this series reviewed Henry Ford's attempt to build a workable small tractor over a period of 15-20 years and his first success with the Farkus Uni-frame model. The second article dealt with the previously unknown 'X-Series', and the third article (in two parts) continued with the little known 'MOM' tractors, made by the 'Henry Ford and Son' Tractor Company, with over 4,000 manufactured before the first REAL Fordson came on the market.

Some of the incorrect facts previously printed stated that 'the first 6,000 FORDSONS were shipped to England'. This was disproved in the last article. Another misconception was that a 1917 Fordson existed. This would be impossible as only 259 MOM's were produced by Dec. 31, 1917, and the last one not completed until the 2nd or 3rd week of April, 1918.   So, therefore, it would be impossible to have a REAL Fordson until nearly the 4th week in April, or after about number 4,250. This was complicated further by the fact that when the first REAL Fordson Model 'F' was produced for the American market, the engine numbers were continued in sequence, and on top of that, 3,000 engine numbers skipped as illustrated in part III.

As for all those spurious '1917 Fordsons' heard about so often, it can almost be believed that a special factory must have been set up just to make them! Despite this tongue-in-cheek attitude, one cannot believe those seen advertised, as ' 1917 Ford-sons', parading at rallies and even captioned at the Ford Museum in Michigan. An Oregon owner even claims a 1914 Fordson! One '1917 Fordson' shown every year in the North-West was examined by the author and Fred Heidrich of Woodland, California, a Fordson expert in his own right. Not only were all the characteristics and parts from a typical 1919 model, but also the engine number verified this. It seems the present owner, purchased it from a 95-year old gentleman who 'remembers buying it in October of 1917'. Of course this would be impossible as all were being shipped to England at that time. No doubt a lapse in memory has caused the confusion. Even the curator of the Ford Museum, Peter H. Cousins, now admits that the 1917 placard dating of Luther Bur bank's #1 is incorrect. It is a 1918 model!

Then there are those who say the MOM's were Ford-built, looked like a Fordson, had most of the same parts as a Fordson, therefore they should be called a Fordson. But the best answer to this would be: 'When it says Fordson on it, then it is one, not until.' All known makes of tractors have their names proudly cast on the front top of the radiator casting. The MOM's were blank, with no Fordson or even Ford identification of any kind on any part. True, the MOM evolved from the X-9, a 'Henry Ford and Son Tractor', just as the Fordson evolved from the MOM. Sometimes these changes were minor just as they were on the Model T, but still different enough, and with the nameplate missing to categorize the MOM and the Fordson as two distinct tractors in the evolutionary line.

While the oft-told story of another Ford tractor laid a claim to this name, Ford had to have a name of some kind when he introduced his new tractor to the American public. Also, he wanted a complete disassociation from the Ford Motor Company, having 'political and personality' problems with the other stockholders at that time.

There may always be some confusion as to when the term 'Fordson' first came into permanent use. Certainly the cablegram of Feb. 18, 1918, shows this for the first time in print. With the finding of the early MOM parts book, at first this seemed to indicate an earlier date as one would presume that a manual and parts book would be sent over with the first models in October of 1917. However, Tom Brent of Canada noticed a series of numbers and letters on plate 50, and had an English printer residing in Canada at the time to interpret them. These read: B 11860 Wt 15629-AP4751 15M 3/8.

Most of these can be deciphered. The B 11860 is possibly an internal filing number. The Wt 15629-A is a library number. P4751 is unknown. 15M means 15,000 copies were printed (probably some going to dealers), and 3/8 is March 8, 1918. This is the American way of figuring dates, yet it was printed in America for English use, hence the pounds, shillings and pence for parts prices. If printed in England, this date would read 18/3, with the day given before the month (the traditional European way). This new evidence then does not push the 'Fordson' name use back before the Feb. 18 cablegram.

As previously pointed out, but lacking official documentation, there will always be a little confusion as to just WHEN the 'Fordson' name was recognized as THE name for the new Model F tractor built to sell to American farmers. It has been said that the first 10 went to special friends of Henry Ford. According to David Crippen, reference Archivist, Ford Museum, Number One went to Luther Burbank (the one on display currently at the Ford Museum, and labeled incorrectly as a 1917 model). Number Two, Crippen says, went to Thomas Edison, and Number Three to Arthur Brisbane. Others were possibly given to more of Ford's friends like the Vanderbilts. According to Wik, when that first Fordson was unloaded into his yard in Santa Rosa, California, the botanist Burbank was heard to exclaim: 'Just like Ford, all motor and no frame.' While it has been reported that these first ten were painted red, white and blue, for the patriotic colors of the day, the Burbank #1 returned to the Ford Museum appears to be a darker grey.

We know that the MOM series started with #1 and continued right along in sequence until the 'skip' of numbers at #3,900. It is very likely that at about this point (actually a bit later), these first 10 American 'F's' came on the production line, and the numbering sequence started all over again with the #1 for Burbank and publicity uses. But since Hercules in their own mass-production of engines had continued on numbering after the 3,000 skipped (real reason unknown), that someone at the top, perhaps Ford himself, decided to just  revert to the numbers already in progress. Otherwise what else could they have done with all of these engines from Hercules that in going through their production line, already had the continuing sequence of numbers stamped on? It would be easy to take 10 of the 'replacement' engines, those that had minor defects while going through the assembly and set aside with no numbers on them, and hand-stamp them with #1, #2, #3, and possibly up to #10 for these first 3 (or 10, depending on which fact is correct). Other replacement engines were usually preceded by the letter 'R', and then a series of numbers, usually in 4 digits.

To simplify matters and rounding out the numbers, it can be re-stated that the first 2,500 or so MOM's were sent directly to England. There may have been 500 more in parts, to later be assembled at Manchester. Then the docks in the U.S. became congested with tractors unable to be shipped over, so about 500 were sent up to Canada to start fulfilling their order of 1,000. The first Greater Production Fleet reportedly arrived 'sometime in March', with 30 MOM's being shipped to Saskatchewan, although the order was not supposed to have been started until April 1, 1918. These 30 could have included engine numbers anywhere between 2,500-3,082, and would then account for the Tony Tooker tractor of Washingon, which had engine #2,550. Perhaps a few of these Saskatchewan MOM's ended up in British Columbia, hence into Washington.

Incidentally, Professor David Lewis wrote us that the first Canadian Ford-built tractor was given to a certain Jack Miner. Miner and Ford were good friends and Henry had often visited Miner's bird sanctuary near Kingsville, Ontario (about 30 miles south of Windsor and Detroit). Miner never asked for financial assistance, but Ford was reported to have given him two things: a chain link fence costing $14,800 to encircle his sanctuary, and . . . 'the first 'Ford' tractor to come into Canada, at that time worth perhaps $750. Perhaps this was one of the early MOM's, a 'Ford & Son Tractor', an actual real Fordson (perhaps one of the first 10) ... or maybe this may have referred to the 1939 Ford-Ferguson.

Anyway, if the above 3,000 can be accounted for in such a manner, this then brings us to the beginning of April, where the production figures start at 3,083.

We can contend that April 1st had been the target date for the introduction of the American 'F' tractor, but there was a delay of three weeks, making the actual introduction to the public on April 23, or the 'beginning' of the 4th week in April. Perhaps there was a 'snafu' in the new 'F' parts, or it could have been a multitude of reasons.


(Emergence of the REAL Fordson)


April, 1918

3,083-3,900 6,901-7,608

(Note 3,000 skip. It is presumed that the  real Fordson was scheduled at this point)

April 1-7


(numbers rounded off, a few Fordson parts in the bin awaiting assembly  of the first real Fordson, hence some 'Hybrids')



1st two week's production totaled of 817, divided  by two for 1st week's production
....3115, Hybrid MOM, Canadian Museum

April 8-14



(rounded off to 3,900)


....Brent's hybrid, Canada (casting dates of 1st & 2nd week)
 ...#3872, Reed's of England, formerly Dave Bretton's.

April 15-21


...note 3,000 'skip'  Half of 2nd two week's production (707  divided by two) No doubt the real Fordson  was intended to be built at this 'skip-point', 
...#7079, Manitoba, Canada MOM hybrid

April 22-29


(actually April 23-30, first real Fordson produced April 23



...this would make the first real Fordson  the 4,255 (approx 4250) built but re-numbered  #1, #2, 83, etc, possibly up to #10 using previously  un-marked engines, numbers hand-stamped.  After these first few special models,  the real Fordsons would start with engine  number of around 7255-7 (approx)... adding  the 3,000 skip).


However, until a true 7,000 units had been delivered to England and Canada, most of the next 3,400 were sent overseas or to Canada.

Now let's take a look behind the scene of those three weeks. For this, refer to the chart of April's production. Note the official Ford chart breaks the production numbers into two segments. For clarity's sake, let's assume the first set of numbers of 3,083-3,900 pertains to the first two weeks in April. If so, the total production of these two weeks is 816 (actually 817), or 408 per week. So from April 1-7 the numbers would range from 3,083 to 3,491 (3,083 plus 408). Some of these were shipped to England to continue her order, others were sent to Canada.

The dates of April 8-15 (2nd week) would now have production numbers from 3,491-3,899. With Tom Brent's 'hybrid' MOM-Fordson of Canada having casting dates of both the 1st and 2nd weeks of April, let's now examine it a bit closer. This tractor has some internal parts which could be found on nothing but a MOM. The end of the gas tank is blank, and has no top seams, another MOM feature. Unfortunately a later engine has been installed in the last 70 years to deny us an early engine number, but because of the casting dates, it would no doubt range from 3,500-3,900 or the 2nd week of April. David Bretton's (now Phil Reed's) MOM #3,872 was also made during this time, at the end of the first two weeks in April.

Now with the upcoming introduction of the American 'F' just a few days away, no doubt the new radiator casting with the name 'Fordson' had been made up and a bunch of castings struck off. They were probably already in the bins mixed up with the earlier 'blank' ones.

Brent's tractor has the Fordson logos on the radiator castings, so perhaps one of these was either put on at assembly time, or has been replaced by some previous owner.

A good guess would be that the new American Fordson 'F' numbers were supposed to have started after 3,900, and this could account for the Hercules people making a skip of 3,000 numbers.

Now let's consider the second set of numbers which officially, are 6,901-7,608. This is where the 'skip' takes up after 3,000 numbers were left out. Again, let's assume that these production numbers are for the last two weeks in April, a total of 707, or about 100 less than the first two weeks in April. Why 50 less per week these last two weeks? Well, this was the 'change-over' time. While the first REAL American Fordson came out at the beginning of the last week, the workers were being given instructions to keep the two models separate as parts for BOTH the MOM's and the Fordsons were in the bins the 2nd week, and for a number of weeks thereafter. No doubt this caused some slowdown as when each different unit came down the production line, there was some hesitation as to which part to use, and probably some were underneath others. Even then, some of the parts, human nature considered, were mixed up a bit. This week accounts now for the Manitoba, Canada tractor with the blank radiator casting and engine number 7,079. To arrive at that 7,079 engine number, we must keep in mind that with the 3,000 numbers skipped, we now have to subtract to get the actual number of tractors produced. So 7,079 minus 3,000 is actually the 4,079th tractor produced, the actual numbers now stamped on the engines are between 6,901-7,254, or the third week of April. Off to Canada #7079 went! Others this week were probably split between Canada and England, so any numbers falling in this range could now be found in either place (remembering that a few 'migrated' to America).

Now we come to the last week in April-about April 23, depending upon which day in the calendar it fell in 1918. Time for the first Fordson- (or first 10 with a new set of numbers). This would then make the actual first REAL Fordson at about number 4,250 of actual production. After the first 10, then the numbers would revert to around 7,260 (4,250 plus the 3,000 numbers skipped). So from 7,260-7,607 (end of April), this series of numbers could be found on either MOM's or REAL Fordsons.

It is known that further shipments to England and Canada continued simultaneously with the American 'F' production. By this time there was no need to keep the parts separate, so whatever came along was used up. This was a period of more hybrids, and accounts for the variations found in American Fordsons and so-called MOM's shipped to England in this period. But finally the MOM run was over!

Incidentally, the statement this series of articles has made over and over that the hypothesis is, that with the skip of numbers: 'that no MOM's (or Fordsons) could have the engine numbers 3,901-6,900'. A reader from Palmer, Alaska wrote the Ford-son Club headquarters that he did, indeed have #6015. But after closer examination this turned out to be the casting number on one of the parts, not the engine number. So the hypothesis still stands unless more concrete evidence is found.

Besides going to England and Canada, evidently a few of these early tractors went also to Australia and New Zealand. It is believed none were MOM's, but perhaps those manufactured between numbers 7,500-10,000 (actual number of tractors was 4,500-7,000 made, remembering the 3,000 skip). Even some of the 6,000 order to England were not all 'Government', or 'Ministry of Munitions' tractors (or under their jurisdiction) by now. Starting in late spring, after the British government placed them into farmers hands, a policy was instated to 'sell' the tractors. At first this gave the other tractor dealers an unfair deal, so after a while, the tractors were simply transferred to the British Ford Motor Company and sold for 250 pounds, of which 80 pounds represented shipping costs from Dearborn. These were now nearing the last of the 6,000 order the British government had, plus 1,000 more for Canada, or 7,000 accounted for. Since the war was nearly over, and the 'food emergency' also over, and with the 'great plowing program' considered a failure, the government now felt that these early Fordsons could best be utilized under private ownership. Certainly Ford had gained from this total transaction as he had been having 'free testing' of his tractor in order to find the weak parts which were then re-designed for either efficiency, cheaper costs or easier assembly, or probably all three reasons.

While some of these changes were 'cosmetic' in some cases, others were a definite improvement. One thing that had to be changed with the new American 'F' to go on the market was the nameplate. To get the name 'Fordson' on the front of the tractor, and in a hurry, it was simply easier to insert a small section in the original master mold. Nearly all of the early Fordsons showed the result of this. This 'insert' was 8?' x 2?'. The force of the metal being poured into the mold quite often tipped the new insert either a bit sideways or up and down, and even sometimes 'catywampish'. This irregularity of the Fordson logos on all of the 1918 Fordsons can be easily seen. However, sometime in 1919, a new pattern was made and this new master had a permanent 'Fordson' in the mirror casting mold, and no longer could the outline of the insert be seen, nor was any more tipping possible.

At the end of April, with the American Fordson 'F' now being produced and the American farmer clamoring for them, Ford was in a dilemma. Who was going to get the production of the Fordson factory? England was still insisting on the full 6,000 as the contract called for (the original 5,000 plus the additional 1,000 ordered in the early spring). Canada still would like her 1,000 as promised, so a total of 7,000 tractors needed to be manufactured just to fulfill these orders (3,083 tractors at the beginning of April until the end with 1,524 more tractors produced this month, made a total assembled now of only 4,607-or, roughly, 2,400 more needed to complete the 7,000 order).

So let's now turn to May's production. Official figures state production numbers of 7,609 to 9,580. This was just 1,971 more tractors adding up to a total of 6,580, but still 400 short of the 7,000 tractors contracted for. Since June's production figures show 2,356 more produced, these 400 would not be built until near the end of the first week in June. But at least now there were 7,000 tractors made. We must keep in mind that with the 3,000 skip in numbers, the numbering system would now be standing near engine number 10,000. Therefore it is most significant that the earliest Fordsons found today in the United States would begin at about that number. Fordson Club member George Shubert of Nebraska has #11,195. This tractor has the early Holly 234 manifold that says. 'Detroit and Coventry' on it. The next oldest (youngest?) is owned by club member Robert Shaw of New York with the original engine number of 11,892.

The Fordson at a Glance

THE FORDSON IS LIGHT - weighs only 2700 pounds. The Fordson Tractor is economical - both to buy and to operate two and one-quarter gallons of kerosene per acre plowed is a fair average. The Fordson Tractor is powerful - will pull 14-inch plows in the stillest soil or drive a threshing machine - maintains 1800 pounds drawbar pull at plowing speed- 2500 pounds on low gear. Twenty to twenty-two horsepower is available at the belt pulley. The Fordson Tractor is durable - simple, rugged, accessible in design with few parts. The toughest steels which science can produce are used to give strength and durability instead of depending on heavy masses of metal. All moving parts are enclosed and lubricated-air is washed clean to protect the motor.

Another very early tractor is the one that until recently was owned by Lawyer Smith of New York. Unfortunately it has a replacement engine, but all of the early features suggest that this may also have been among the very first REAL Fordsons (or an earlier hybrid). Your authors are grateful for his donation of the-manual and parts book that came orginally with this tractor (up through 1919 these two were combined). This is thought to be the earliest found in America to this time, and believed to be a first edition. From reading and studying these two sections (dated 'Effective Dec. 1st, 1917'), we first discovered the clues to the rear engine oil fillers, and other early features found only on MOM tractors. Another early manual-parts book, as procured from 'Buzz' Stetler of Stockton, California and dated July 1, 1918 (2nd Edition?), is the only one known that shows the leather boot for the front axle and steering system. Unfortunately the cover page and last page that shows the edition number are missing from both sets.

The Smith Fordson was purchased new by the father of Dean Higgins from Ford dealer George Murray of Ogdensburg, New York. Ogdensburg is near the Canadian border in upstate New York southwest of the Iroquois Dam on the St. Lawrence Seaway. This is the N.W. corner of New York, approximately 20 miles south down the river where the U.S. boundary is on a straight line with Canada. Mr. Smith was the second owner having purchased it from a Jack Bedlock who purchased it from the Ford dealer, Mr. Murray. The proximity to Canada makes it suspicious that it may have 'migrated' across the border while still a new tractor, and therefore, may have been one of the early 'hybrids'.

To prove how easy this old Fordson would start, Mr. Smith once cranked it at 10 degrees below zero just using the original buzz-coil system.

The George Shubert Fordson #11195 is actually about the 4,000th Fordson built-but among the first released to American farmers. Using again the figure of #4250 being the first REAL Fordson being built at the beginning of the 4th week of April, (April 23) 1918, we then subtract 3,000 of the skipped number from the 11,195 engine number, leaving 8,195. Since Ford was obligated to finish the order of 6,000 to England and 1,000 to Canada, not too many were available to the U. S. farmers until this 7,000 order had been filled. No doubt a few were sent out here and there, but no trace of any with an engine number less than 11,000 has been found yet in America. We must then presume that Ford faithfully completed the order (minus the 10 special ones sent to friends and shown for publicity purposes), therefore the Shubert Fordson was more likely among the first 1200 released to the general American public. Even then, this tractor (#11195) was not off the assembly line until the first week in June.

Computing this once again, we find 4,067 completed at the end of April, 6,578 by the end of May, and with 2,356 (or about 2,400) more built in June, this would average 600 a week we know were built from the official Ford production numbers. So add the end of May's production number (6,578) with 600 or the end of the first week in June, we have a total of 7,178 (then add the 3,000 for the skipped numbers) or actually engine number 10,178. As you can see Mr. Shubert's engine number of 11,195 is pretty close to this. (Among 1195 built after 7,000).

By the time these 7,000 tractors were completed also this first week in June, we can see if nearly all of these were shipped to England and Canada, then Mr. Shubert would indeed, have had just among the first 1100-1200 Fordsons to have been released to American farmers.

Since it has been written that the last of the shipment of the English order was not completed until 'sometime in July', it is then likely that some of the May and June production went to American farmers. According to Wik, to obtain a new tractor during these war years (the Armistice wasn't to be until November), the farmer had to get a permit, and then these new Fordson permits would have to be distributed through the local County War Boards. The farmer had to sign that he would keep the tractor busy on his farm and county agents evidently monitored that farm to see that they were used to their fullest. A quota of 1,000 tractors was set for most agricultural states, but of course this was for any make of tractor, not just Fordsons. Many farmers, believing Ford's publicity that the new Fordson would cost $250, naturally waited on their release. However it has been suggested before that Ford's production costs were much higher and he raised the price correspondingly.

As we turn now to take a closer look at the characteristics of the REAL Fordson, let's consider the original colors, which have always been debatable. Owners of the earlier Fordsons as opposed to the later ones of 1924-28, when uncovering some specks of original paint underneath the 70 year old grease feel that the early models were a bit darker gray than the later ones. Later models seem to have had a gray closer to the 8-N Ford which is slightly 'yellowish', as opposed to the 9-N which is more of a 'battle-ship' gray. This earlier and darker gray would be a natural trend as evidently the MOM's were a darker olive drab-gray with red oxide wheels. Since a 'machinery' gray was popular in those days, and since the McCormick-Deering 10-20's and 15-30's were darker gray with medium red wheels, Ford then turned to a slightly lighter gray similar to the 'machinery' gray with bright red wheels. However, even until the end of the production in 1928, the paint was rather thin, prompting farmers to order special 'Fordson Gray and Red' paint as advertised in the Ford bulletins of the day, and some were painted on a yearly basis. Two brand new 1925 models discovered in a barn of an estate in the Dakotas had the paint completely rusted off. But these were so 'brand new' that today, even under the recently applied coats of paint, you can see the hand-filing marks on the front wheels never worn out by working the ground. These currently belong to Jim Ittner of Kingsburg, California and Edward Towe of Montana (Towe's world famous collection of Ford cars, the largest and most complete in the world, has recently been transferred to a special museum near Old Sacramento, California).

But back to the 1918 paint. While on the production line of the MOM's, Ford noticed early that since the wheels were shipped from the Kelsey plant sprayed with metal primer (red oxide), perhaps he noticed the nice contrast and then had the paint crew just leave them the red oxide. It was a natural step then to have the 1918 REAL Fordson's wheels painted a bright red for contrast to the new gray. You may recall that gray seemed to be a favorite color of Ford's, as the 9N was gray all over, and then when he started making the 8N, he wanted a contrast but reversed the combination slightly by making the body red and the wheels gray, hence the nick-name 'Red Belly'.

It has been told many times that the first 10 Fordsons were painted a patriotic Red, White and Blue! However current evidence cannot verify this. They may have been painted temporarily for a showing to the press, then re-painted for delivery to Burbank, Edison, Brisbane, etc.

The early manuals show some clear pictures of the first Fordsons, but being in black and white seem to indicate they were 'machinery gray' or darker all over, but these may have been pictures of the last of the MOM's or hybrid Henry Ford & Son Tractors taken for publicity purposes. The 'Fordson' on the front may have even been painted on, as there is another line below the 'Fordson' logos of about 9 or 10 letters, probably the word 'trademark' which is clearer on artist's renditions of the front of the Fordson. It must be contended that this was painted on, as no evidence of any casting found yet bears these words, although recently one with the word 'Trademark' underneath 'Fordson' has been reported to have been seen on a Fordson at the Reynolds Museum in Alberta, Canada. Perhaps Ford wanted to emphasize to the public that he had the name 'Fordson' registered, just as the early company in St. Paul, Minnesota had the 'Ford' tractor name 'patented'. To include the word 'trademark' on the front under the 'Fordson' logos on the radiator casting, would have required a much larger insert, weakening the rest of the casting, with the new insert coming a bit too close to the edge. And no doubt it was discarded as not 'cost productive'. It may well have been that 'trademark' was painted on the first 10, or similar 'Introductory' tractors to show the American public.