The REAL Fordson, Part III

MYSTERIOUS MOM MYTH

Early 1917 tractor

Early 1917 imported to England. Note: 'blank' radiator casts, early metal pulley, small hex cast-iron front hub caps, repaired front wheels, incorrect rear wheels, steering wheel, radiator cap, etc.

Rick Rohrs

Content Tools

National Director, Fordson Tractor Club, 250 Robinson Road Cave Junction, Oregon, 97523, and Thomas G. Brent, Canadian Fordson, Branch Director, Box 150 Dewdney, B.C. Canada, V0M 1H0

Since the publication of Part II (X-9 Series) of the 'REAL Fordson Story', no one has provided any new or conflicting evidence. Nor has anyone brought forth information on the 'missing' manifold and carburetor of the X-9, tractor formerly at the Ford Museum. As the real Fordson story continues, new facts will: unveil clouded history, list production numbers week-by-week, and picture the characteristics that set the 'MOM' apart from earlier 'Ford and Son' tractors, and later 'Fordson' tractors.

The first mass-produced tractors by Ford (the MOMS) were a breed apart, and are represented by a handful now mostly restored some 70 years later.

Just about every article or book published to this date reads something to the effect that 'The first 6,000 FORDSON tractors were sent to England for the War effort (WWI).' However, this statement is more fictional than fact.

So much has been left out, so many incorrect 'facts' have been perpetrated, so many myths have arisen, that it is now time to place this tractor (familiarly known as the MOM) into its proper niche in history.

First, where did the pseudonymn or nickname of 'MOM' come from? As is well known, English-speaking people, and especially Americans have a penchant to turn initials of organizations or people into nicknames. Hence: NASA, IRA, SWAT, MADD, and probably a dozen more each reader can recall. MOM is derived from the Ministry Of Munitions, the branch of the British Government newly established in 1914 with Lloyd George at its head to procure necessary war materials. Placed in charge in 1916 of this War Agency was Percival Lee Dewhurst Perry (later Lord Perry).

The new prime minister at the time, Lloyd George (who had succeeded Asquith) gave Sir Perry carte blanche to get the tractors-for-food-farms project going. Perry was prime-mover and founder, along with Henry Ford, of the Ford Motor Company Ltd., at 55 Shaftesbury Avenue, London.

Perry was a natural for the Food Production Board, having been one of the officials working with the Royal Agricultural Society earlier to test farm tractors for possible use. We must surely consider his background when the Henry Ford and Son tractor was picked over others.

Perhaps no pun is intended, but it can also be suggested that this term MOM would have a parental connotation, similar to other terms heard: 'Fordson, the grandaddy of all modern mass-produced tractors', and: 'The tractor that put the farmer on wheels, just as the Model T put people on wheels'. This is not to say that the Fordson, or the Model T was the best, but that from their low cost and mass production, they were the most.

While many American authors use the term 'MOM', Michael Williams in his book, Ford and Fordson Tractors as printed in England does not refer to the term at all. Allan Condie in his numerous publications from Scotland and England only uses the term MOM fleetingly. Certainly the tractor was not referred to as MOM in its early production days, so when this familiar nickname came into use is really not known.

This then takes us back to the 1917-1918 period when the tractor was known as the 'Ford' tractor, or the 'Henry Ford and Son' tractor. The name Fordson was not commonly in use yet. Earliest use of 'Fordson' appears in print in parenthesis on an original MOM parts book only recently found in England by Phil Reed, the only one known to exist! This parts book, while lacking an actual date printed on it, had to be sent with the first MOM's delivered, so we can presume the printing date to be sometime prior to October 8, 1917! Meanwhile, in the United States, the earliest form of the name Fordson was in use as a cablegram address with this heading on February 18, 1918, but not used on the tractor itself until early April. An earlier reference is found on 'Fordson tractors' in the Canadian Government publication of March, 1918. Therefore, when we hear that '6,000 Fordsons were shipped...', this statement is incorrect, as these tractors were still a prototype Fordson, with many unique early features closer to the last in the 'X' series. If this tractor did not say Fordson on it, how can it be one? Instead, these were simply called the MOM tractors. So while it may appear to be nitpicking, the real MOM story has been overlooked, simplified and abbreviated way out of proportion to its historical importance. So now, the REAL Fordson story continues with the 'Mysterious MOM myth'.

History

While still not a true Fordson, the MOM fits in the evolutionary scale between the earlier prototypes, and later true American Fordson 'F' models. Following will be some basic facts already known, along with some that have never been published before, which is hoped will correct all previous writings on tractor history.

While drastic improvements had been made in the few short months between the Farkus uni-frame and the MOM model, we may ever wonder forever why still further distinctive casting and other manufacturing changes were introduced in the mid-production of the MOMs. Perhaps these related directly to the field use of the early ones on the scene when shortcomings were immediately observed. Or perhaps Ford found a way to cut production costs without sacrificing quality. One noticeable example was the recasting of the block moving the oil filler from the rear to the front. These rear filler engines are very rare, but good examples exist. No doubt changes were greatly influenced by Ford's two rules: (1) Simplicity of parts easy to manufacture and assemble, and (2) cut costs, cut costs, cut costs! His obsession with a $200 tractor for every farmer dictated these guidelines and objectives. Certainly Britain was in need of a tough, durable and small tractor that women (and perhaps children) could operate as manpower and horsepower were at the war front.

Ford kept a picture he remembered from his youth, of how a cat climbed a tree. It was not the cat's weight but the 'tractive' forces in the claws which got the cat up the tree. For his tractor he wanted a self-contained unit which would be light, strong and so simple that anyone could drive it and which would propel itself forward pulling the plow by nonslipping contact with the soil.

The complete MOM story cannot be told in a simple paragraph, as the complete financial, political and production complications of this period need to be considered.

In the early years of the war, Henry Ford had been a confirmed pacifist, then later, in a turn-a-bout, offered the full facilities of his manufacturing plant(s) to the war effort.

Events outside his control enabled I Ford to realize his dream of being the first to mechanize plowing in such radically new ways. Although he was appalled by the 1914-1918 War in' Europe, his canny industrial sense enabled him to see it as an opportunity to turn over some of his capacity to tractor production and capture the world market. In addition, a small successful tractor would tell its own tale in favor of Ford's public stance on the side of plow-shares in preference to swords. Even when Ford allowed himself to be entangled in the 1916 peace-ship expedition to Europe, he would call a press conference, not to expound his plans for ending the war, but mainly to give surprised journalists details of his new tractor, the earlier Farkus uni-frame, then testing in England. Enter the Ministry of Munitions with orders to 'Get farm machinery quick and at any cost'. Other American and English tractor manufacturers were already on the scene. A number of tractor manufacturers were making smaller and lighter tractors, a trend away from the huge steam and gas models

In alphabetical order: Allis Chalmers, Avery, Bull, Case, Emerson-Brantingham, Hart Parr, La Crosse, Mogul (IH, distributed by McCormick), Overtime (British name for the Waterloo Boy 'N'), Titan (IH distributed by Deering) and with English and European makes like: Deutz, Fiat, Marshall, Munk-tells, and Saunderson, some ready with development of a smaller model.

Many of these already had been produced, tested, shipped and put into operation by British farmers, with perhaps Deutz and others eliminated shortly, being of the enemies' production. Why then the sudden switch to the untried Ford and Son tractor which at that time was not only not in production, but not even finished in design! Even the most optimistic date of beginning production could not place them on the British farm for the 1917 fall tilling.

Enter Politics! Evidently Lord Perry, along with Lord Northcliffe, overcame the objections of many in ordering the Ford product. The whys and wherefores are discussed fully in other authors' works. Certainly there were negative feelings on the part of many British officials as well as English and American manufacturers, to single out a few of those disgruntled. Many chapters can be briefly summarized:

The British Government was irked because after arranging to have various makes of tractors tested, their   recommendations   from the results were ignored.

The American Government held to a 'hands off policy, let Ford do what he wanted as long as taxes were paid.

The British manufacturers were angry that tractors made on the home soil were practically ignored. The other American tractor manufacturers were upset that their 'tried and proven' machines were cut out of the running.

The British journalists were having a field day berating Ford for his 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' policy of the switch from hard-handed pacifism to his 'Savior of the British Farmer' role reversal.

The American journalists also were having a field day printing everything they could get their hands on about the 'New Tractor For Everyone'.

The British manufacturers and parts suppliers were out much needed American dollars as their contracts to supply the original English (or Cork) plant were cancelled. (As it was, they were actually tied up with British war contracts anyway).

The established American manufacturers were disappointed because instead of contacting many of them, Ford encouraged new ones to be the suppliers.

The British public was simply awed by Ford's overwhelming presence now on the war scene.

The American public was distressed that England was taking over 'their Ford'.

The British farmer wanted to buy the tractors he wanted on the Anglo-Saxon free marketplace.

The American farmer was denied the tractor they had been waiting for as 'all production was scheduled for Britain'. (This actually was not true!)

Perhaps this over-simplifies matters, and there is much, much more to read 'between the lines'. No doubt Ford's proven track record of 'mass-production' was the bottom line. Even then, Lord Northcliffe was sent over to smooth over the problems.

As early as 1912, Ford had wanted to build a plant at Cork to assemble Model T's. Cork was the nearest European port to America, and Ford wished to give Ireland a share in the new industrial age since this was the ancestral home of the Fords. When the tractor issue came up, Perry decided to approach Ford and persuade him to revive this plan and to build tractors there to help the Allies. But too many delays came up in installing the wharf-side plant. The proposed English plant was turned into aircraft manufacturing.

Besides, when Sorenson first tried to get British factories to make the tractors in the British Isles, the lowest bid was $1,500 per unit with no promise of when they would be delivered. Ford retorted optimistically when asked if he could then build them in the U.S.: 'We will make 5,000 in Michigan at a unit cost of $700, and start shipping in 60 days!' At this point it is necessary to set up the historical perspective in a workable time frame. To do this, a period of time must be considered prior to October 8, 1917 when the first production MOM stood complete at the end of the assembly line, and the several months after that date while the production line was being smoothed out.Unfortunately, the 'testing records' are missing, (some burned in the 1970 museum fire), leaving a gap between the Farcus uni-frame model which did see some testing, to the later Nebraska testing. Henry Ford certainly had enough experience with testing. Henry himself had a much longer interest in motorized farm vehicles than in motorized cars. Many more hours and much more money was spent on prototypes and in testing tractors than his earlier model cars, even up to the time of the introduction of the Model A. With the creation, production and subsequent shipment of the MOMs to England, there came a free testing ground never experienced by a major manufacturer before and certainly a bonus to Ford.

But Ford had everything in his favor. At one important time in history Ford had the best collection of brainy engineers and executives ever assembled for one company at one time. These would include the brains of Avery, Farkus, Galamb, Kanzler, Knudsen, Sorensen and others, not counting the genius of Ford himself. Besides the companies he helped start and financed through his orders as mentioned in the 'Real Fordson, Part II', the Ferro Machine and Foundry Company of Cleveland, Ohio cast the transmission housings on the early tractors. Several other Cleveland companies also were new suppliers for parts, bearings, etc. The Hercules engine plant was in Ohio  at Canton. For some reason, after Michigan, Ford seemed to favor the industries of Ohio.

Other 'jobbers' he favored were closer to home. The Holley Brothers' Carburetor Company was already located in Detroit, as well as the Long Cooling Systems Company who provided radiators for Model T's and now the MOM. Long advertised that their radiators were used in '28 trucks, 19 cars and 16 tractors'.

Many entirely new projects had to' be brought together: the engine design, the ignition, the wheels, the carburetor system, even special tools to fit the tractor. For tools, Ford turned to his trusty Model T supplier, and even used some already made that would fit both the car and tractor. These tools exist in the earliest parts book, but if they still did not use Fordson logos yet, there is no sure way of identifying original ones.

Even what might appear to be trivial had elephantine proportions, especially when this was a 'first time'. For example, an operator's manual and parts book had to be devised with a numbering system assigned to each new part. None of this book existed before! Of course, Ford could pattern these after the Model T, which he did! So we have the familiar 'Question and Answer' manual. This manual had to be ready by the time the first tractor finished the assembly line. They were printed as major changes in parts were taking place! These changes were noted in the article on the X-9. One original manual for the MOM is known to still exist in England.

Official caption reads: 'Arrival in Canada of first Fordson's May, 1918. (1) Mr. Taylor (Ford), (2) Mr. Fox (Ford), (3) Mr. A. Howard Fisher, (first purchaser), (4) Mr. W. Groh (in front of 3rd tractor. Copy from this original print was placed in Ford Motor archives by Mr. Ralph Cudmore in June of 1958.' This date is probably incorrect, unless some of the MOMs had been left over and no room to ship to England. Also note the painted on Henry Ford & Son on the front radiator casting, very similar to later American Fordson F gas tanks' ends. The name is in a crescent shaped form. These are all rear oil filler engines, but larger front hub caps.

Known today as 'Henry's Antique Building', this structure was originally Building #13 where the MOM's were actually assembled, recalling that most parts (English 'bits' or 'spares') were farmed out in the early days of production: that is, manufactured by other companies, many of which came into existence for the first time producing the many parts to be supplied to these side conveyors for the Henry Ford and Son tractor.

Numbering System

As we continue the 'Mysterious MOM Myth', a whole story, and certainly a large chapter could be written on the REAL numbering system of the MOM's and Fordsons. The Ford-son Tractor Club has in its library seven 'official' motor number lists, some month by month, for the 'Fordson' tractor. No two are alike! However, most agree somewhat on the 1917 and 1918 figures, except the total in 1917. Some sources claim 254, while others have printed 259 by the end of the year. This difference is minor, and may even differ solely because of a slight variation in completed tractors, between Christmas and New Year's, with the holidays interrupting the assembly line. The official Ford Service Bulletin of Jan. 15, 1920 prints the 259 number, while the Ford Service Bulletin of Aug-Sept. 1930, claims only 254. However, the very official month-by-month printout furnished by the Edison Institute agrees with the 259 figure, so we'll accept this number.

But by taking either accounting, some interesting statistics can be computed. All the time we must keep in mind the supposition that Ford was out to prove his record of mass production, so not only was great care taken to lay out the new plant for speedy assembly, but also Ford expected monthly increases in production.

The Edison Institute figures show 1-75 assembled in October, none in November, and76-259 assembled in December, or 183 for that month. The 1920 Service Bulletin states that 75 were manufactured in October and November, and agrees with the Edison figures of 76-259 in December.

Since these are only general numbers, we must take them with a grain of salt. Still, they do give us some clue as to how production actually went. First of all, we can throw out the first week in October as all histories agree the first MOM came off the production line on Oct. 8. There is a good possibility that it took all week to make that first one, trying out each conveyor, learning how to handle the castings, and figuring out the best way to lay out parts to then put them together. Now that their workers knew how to put the tractor together, they then increased their production to make nearly one a day, considering a 6 day work-week: (The exact days per week are not considered, and all calendar numbers following are rounded off for convenience

October 1-7...

..1

(Actually finished Oct. 8)

October 8-14..

..4

 

October 15-22.

..5

 

October 23-31.

..6

 
 

16

 

Assembling one a day the last two weeks in October, a total of 16 then was probably reached in October. Now each man knew his job. Parts were in the bins and on the side and overhead conveyors, production could be sped up, so for November:

November 1-7___

.12

(Two per day)

November 8-14...

.12

(Two per day)

November 15-22..

.18

(Three per day)

November 23-31..

.18

(Three per day)

 

60

 

For the first two weeks in November, assembly numbers had climbed to nearly 2 a day, and the last two weeks up to nearly 3 a day, now totaling those 76 for October and November. This now leaves 183 to be accounted for in December.

December 1-7

Week Day

48 8 (or 1 per hour!)

December 8-14

48 8

December 15-22

48 8

 

144

For the first three weeks in December it can be determined that production was 'upped' from 3 a day to 8 a day. The workers were now in synchronization. By noting the figures above, 144 from the total of 183 produced in January leaves 39 or slightly fewer than 8 a day for the last week. A drop in production? Not necessarily so. This was Christmas week, so production figures might have gone like this: (Not counting which day was actually Christmas, so we'll call it 'Saturday')

Monday.....

..8 (one per hour)

Tuesday.....

..8

Wednesday .

..8

Thursday ...

..8

Friday.....

..7

 

39

Ford was no doubt pleased with his workers' output, and probably gave them an extra hour off Christmas Eve day to account for one less that Friday!

In conclusion for 1917, we have a total of 16 in October, 60 in November, 144 the first 3 weeks in December, and 39 the last week, giving us the agreed upon total of 259 on the official production lists.

Now everyone knew his job, parts were coming in on time from all the' suppliers, the assembly line can now be sped up, so for January, production figures show from 260-616, or 356 produced. We can well imagine the confidence of the workers as they started the new year and caught the contagious enthusiasm of Ford and his engineers to speed up the production line and fulfill the British order.

 

Week

Day

 

Jan 1-7

84

14

(+2 extra for Fri&Sat)

Jan 8-14

90

15

(1st week has New

Jan 15-22

90

15

Years Day...

Jan 23-31

90

15

a day off?)

 

354 2

 

+2 for Fri&Sat above

 

356

  

This then, was exactly what Ford wanted, a gradual increase in production figures. Now to increase production still further! For February, the ex-brick plant produced from 617-1731 or a total of 1,114. Using the charts above, this would figure out to increased production of nearly triple for February of 278 per week, or 46 per day, almost 6 per hour. For this it must be presumed that Ford now had more than one conveyor in action, perhaps several being fed by side conveyors. Up to now the factory had produced a total of 1,729 units.

For March, there was again a slight increase. The numbers produced were from 1,732 to 3,082 or a total of 1,350. This again increased to 340 per week, 56 per day, 7 per hour.

 

Engine #s

Total

Week

Day

Hour

Feb.

617-1731

1114

278

46

6

Mar

1732-3082

1350

340

56

7

This grand total was now 1,729 for the months of October, November, December, January and February, and with 1,350 in March this comes to 3,079 'MOM's', or about half the number ordered by Great Britain.

But now 'comes the rub' as Shakespeare would say. Two problems must be considered before progressing with further production figures. One would be the actual number shipped to England by this date, and the dramatic 'skip' in all official production lists. First, let's look again at those figures.

We find:

  

February....

. . .617 to 1731

 

March.....

1732 to 3082

 

April......

3083 to 3900 6901 to 7608

(All lists show these figures for April.)

May......

7609 to 9580

 

June......

9581 to 11937

 

July......

11938 to 15225

 

August.....

15226 to 18637

 

September ..

18638 to 22247

 

October ....

22248 to 26287

 

First, let's skip for the time being past April, and go to May figures. For May these read 7609-9580... or a total of 1,971. This would then increase Ford's production figures to 463 a week and 77 per day.

June would find the numbers between 9581-11, 937 produced, (a total of 580 a week, 98 per day). Lets now place May through October in a chart, again skipping April for the time being:

 

Total

Week

Day

Hour

May

1971

463

77

10 (nearly)

June

2356

589

98

12

July

3287

822

137

17

August

3411

853

139

17 plus

Sept.

3604

902

150

19

Oct.

4039

1009

168

21

After a year of production, Ford had dramatically increased his assembly production, leveling off to a general peak of about 20 an hour.

The conclusion of the 'Mysterious MOM Myth' will be printed in the September issue when at that time the 'missing' April production figures will be clarified, correcting all previous printed data on the MOM assembly figures. Also the characteristics and special parts of the MOM will be discussed and pictured further.