Henry Fordson Tractor

Front view of Henry Ford & Son tractor.

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National Director, Fordson Tractor Club 250 Robinson Rd., Cave Junction, OR 97523

Thomas G. Brent, Canadian Fordson Branch Director Box 150, Dewdney, British Columbia, Canada VoM 1H0

 The general lines and front end were quite similar to the Ford car. The front axle was built up from three flat pieces with the top plate fashioned, at its center, into an upstanding eye piece which formed the trunnion bearing support. The axle was held in position with a triangular radius rod which closely resembled the 'wishbone' employed in the Ford car for this same purpose.

The question is often asked at Fordson Tractor Club displays: 'Is a 'Fordson' related to a Ford tractor?' While the quickest answer is 'Yes, the Fordson is a fore-runner and Granddaddy to the Ford and most other modern designed tractors',. . .usually a lengthy historical explanation has to follow for a full understanding of that short answer. To do this the full answer must contain chronology and evolution of Ford's involvement with his early attempts in tractor design starting with his experiments with steam engines, early car-type tractors, the first 'unitized' tractor, the English Ministry-of-Munition's tractors of World War I, the actual first Fordson 'F' of 1918-28, the Irish (Cork-built) Fordson 'N', the English 'N', the E-27-N, the Dexta, the Majors and Super-Majors. On the later Ford Tractor track would be the Ford-Ferguson 9-N, the 8-N, the NAA ('Golden Jubilee'), and the blue Ford tractors of modern times.

Most are not aware that the vintage Fordsons were developed in four stages, but not until the 'U-frame' was developed could in real Fordson be designed.

The following series of articles will be an attempt for the first time to trace the evolution of the real Fordson, and using the calendar to record the changes as they occurred, change by change, step by step. While a number of excellent stories have been written on the Fordson, including various authors like Professor David Lewis, it is hoped that the articles forthcoming will bring to light some new facts. Some speculation on this historical development will have to be included especially since production and records were destroyed by a museum fire at the Henry Ford Museum in 1970 according to David Crippen, reference Librarian. If any readers can provide some more correct or just additional information, they are urged to send documented evidence, or even just 'remembered facts to the addresses included.

The articles will include: (1) the car-type and first unitized tractor, (2) the X-series and MOM's, (Ministry of Munitions), and (3) the early 1918 Model 'F'. While the first article will actually cover the first two stages, it is felt that a brief review of the much publicized 'Model-T' car-type tractors will keep Ford's development in perspective. The reasoning behind the need for an early 1918 models article is that many unique features, including some inherited from the MOM model, soon disappeared, and few samples remain. The rising popularity of Fordson tractor preservation and restoration (the aim and goal of the Fordson Tractor Club) has brought forth many unexplainable changes on 90% of the Fordson F still in existence today. Since nearly all parts are inter-changeable from 1917-1945, and many still interchangeable on the E-27-N up to 1952, what were the factors that caused these changes? Just as the Volks-wagon 'Beatle' had most parts that would fit any of the models, the German car company also had good reasons for the improvements. From a distance, most Beatles look alike, and the same can almost be said for the Fordsons from the 'MOM', F and N models, and to some eyes, the E-27-N.


Henry Ford, even as a teen-ager was always interested in farm machinery. In 1880 he assembled his first mechanical attempt: a crude self-propelled steam engine 'tractor' which ran 40 feet. At age 20, in 1883, he then constructed his first successful steam engine Tractor (on display at the Ford Museum).

But this and subsequent later models more than convinced Ford that the internal combustion engine would be the only answer. Many photographs have circulated on stories of the Ford-sons on the early gas models, which just proves their importance to early experimentation.

In 1907, at the age of 44, production problems were leveling off for Ford at the car plant, and so he turned his attention once again to the tractor. For this, he called in Joe Galamb, who had been born in Bulgaria and was one of his chief engineer-designers, and told him: 'Joe, we have to build a tractor in three days.' (It took them a week). This model built by Galamb, C. J. Smith and the rest of his crew was the much-pictured vehicle made from a 1905 Model B engine and transmission, while the rest of the running gear came from a larger 1907 Model K. Buggy wheels were at the front, cultivator wheels at the rear. 'The gas tank was placed in front of the radiator to prevent the engine from lifting the front wheels off the ground. Ford wanted this vehicle to pull a binder in one of his fields, and while the machine did some work, the motor lacked power and overheated easily.' This model was the first of 12 built which Ford called his 'Automobile Plow', or Auto-plow. While the word 'tractor' has been attributed to Hart-Parr, an earlier reference in print was made during a race between Paris and Rouen, France, in which steam 'tractors' pulled carriages.

In 1908, 12 more of these Auto-plows were built. Some evidently had implement seats and various size front buggy wheels.

In 1909, Ford built two more steam tractors using the same or similar chassis as the previous gas models. One had a shorter boiler, the other had a much higher one, making it difficult to see over the front. These two tanks were cabled down to the frame. While they did run successfully and one was displayed at the Michigan State Fair, both attempts again convinced Ford that the gas engine was the necessary propelling force needed and much superior to steam, especially for small tractors, the only kind he ever seemed to be interested in in order to help out the small farmer.

In 1910, Ford applied for his first tractor patents that would protect him for many years, even though he may have 'borrowed' an idea here and there.

In 1913, Ford decided to build a light tractor on the principle of the Model T, but using a worm gear (truck) rear end and a heavier frame. However, these models could not pull a 14 inch plow over 4 inches deep, with a team of horses bettering the tractor. These used 15 gallons of water daily and engine bearings needed tightening every two weeks.

In 1914, Eugene Farkus, another Ford engineer and patternmaker was taken off the Electric Car Project and immediately put to work to redesign the Model T auto-plow. Farkus took over the work of Frank Katz who also had worked hard under Joe Galamb to design the first Model T car.

So in 1915, with farmer demands surfacing for a cheap, light tractor, Farkus first re-designed the 'auto-plow' to include a dual-reduction rear end with a simpler worm gear drive. But some of the same problems persisted: over-heating, 'too light' with rear wheels slipping when pulling a 14 inch plow, dirt getting into working parts, and the weak planetary transmisssion. Some 'changed' features of the many models tried out were: bent frame to provide adequate ground clearance; tractor type steel front wheels with flat-ribbed spokes; two tanks at the front, one for water, one for gas; hood side-louvers removed; a sprung bucket seat similar to an earlier 'Industrial' model, which was just a shortened Model T with rubber tires on the front, and with solid rubber tires on the rear which was built especially for the Ford Motor Company.

The second model, in March, saw a return to the iron-shod front Model T wheels and a bucket seat now sprung from the rear. The third model in early summer was even a more refined version which had a higher-sided rear sprung bucket seat, the rear wheels now featured barred cleats all angled the same as on later Fordson models, and a flexible hose connection between the left side water tank and radiator. Farkus now returned to the tractor-stove front wheels. These models, evidently totaling 12 in all, weighed about 1,600 pounds. Three are shown in the book Ford Truck Since 1905.

In May of 1915, a newspaper announced that Ford would build a tractor for $200.00 which would do the work of six horses and would revolutionize agriculture. In October of this year Ford announced that he would set up a corporation completely owned by his family to manufacture this tractor (but he did not incorporate until later) and he further announced that he planned to sell the tractor through a mail-order arrangement. Also in October he purchased a plant site for tractor manufacturing at Michigan Avenue and Brady, on the site of a previous brickyard in Dearborn.

About this time one unusual vehicle was built called 'the Bug'. Using the Model T engine at the rear, the large drive wheels were up front, with the driver sitting high up over a gas tank. The steering wheel turned the two small rear wheels a strange looking tractor indeed.

But during the summer, a casual circumstance changed the course of tractor history, when a tractor parts salesman called on Joe Galamb and showed him pictures of the Wallace Cub which had just come on the market. The Wallace was designed by Bob Hendrickson with its unit-structure, boiler plate U-frame serving as the oil pan with its unit-structure, boiler plate U-frame serving as the oil pan with all gears enclosed. Mr. Ford was evidently greatly impressed with its simplicity and clean concept and soon had his engineers at work designing a brand new tractor model with a three-unit cast-iron body which later became the two-piece MOM and Fordson underbelly.

Ford issued a new order which may have gone something like this. 'Let's forget the car-type tractor. What we need is an entirely new tractor design, incorporating a unitized frame, keeping in mind the new trends in tractor design with suitability to large-scale production.'

By now, Charles Sorenson managed the new tractor plant. He was known as 'Cast-iron Charlie' because of his preference for cast iron parts. With him was Eugene Farkus who invented the multiple spine, Joe Galamb who had designed the Model T and earlier 'Auto-plows' and Thomas L. Fawick, a talented engineer who was later to design the twin-disc clutch, a refined over-drive for Borg-Warner and the 'Cushion-Power' rubber engine mountings later adopted by Chrysler. These four men made up the nucleus of the design-engineering team, among others.

There was rumored to have been a transition design and model built using the previous Model T engine (334 x 4). However, no pictures are known to exist and perhaps this one was a design, a drawing, only, this 'possible model' was evidently made in October or November and was the first to consider entirely new concepts. Instead of the Model T planetary transmission, a regular car or tractor-type of selective-shift transmission was adopted. At first there were only two gears (32:2 and 77:1) but after the first few of the new unitized design, this was changed to three forward speeds and one reverse. Since previous models were underpowered, a new engine, but still somewhat a larger version of the Model T, was built for the project by Hercules.

Previously the Dodge Brothers had provided the power train for Ford cars, but when they started building cars of their own at the end of 1914, Ford terminated his contract with them and evidently turned to Hercules for some or all of his engines. So it was a natural course to have the Hercules Engine Company build a larger engine for the new unitized tractor.

By 1916, Ford had spent$600,000 on design, engineering and actual models of tractors. But now, after 90 days of intensive work, the tractor crew now felt they were finally on the right track. Six more models were built with the new unitized body section, but from beginning to end, the design and thinking were kept open as testing began in earnest with success now seen on the horizon.

The first of the Hercules-powered engines with the early rear oil filler was first photographed in March pulling a single bottom 14 inch plow. The new features of this unitized (U-frame) tractor included a 4' bore and A' stroke. The sparkplugs were found at the right side of the head, two at the front, and two near the rear. The carburetor was an updraft, probably of Hercules design and the exhaust was channeled out the rear of the manifold, running straight down. This first shown model was still a little 'rough' and did not show any hood, but did have a small gas tank on the left front side of the engine. It featured a car-type radiator shell which was considered as one of the 'four-parts' of the unitized design. The other three were the engine, transmission, and worm-gear rear end. On the front were 7-spoke wheels of flat ribbed steel and fairly large in size. The rear had 8-spoke steel wheels with cleats that tended to be standard Ford design for later Fordsons. The steel front axle was laminated using 'built-up' pieces, the steering was on the left following the pattern of U.S. cars. This or later models had a Fawick designed water pump which later proved too costly for mass production, and Ford returned to the Thermo-syphon system: 'Circulation by percolation'.

By April several different models, similar but with new ideas incorporated here and there, were to be found on the Ford family farms working out the bugs. The next model photographed in late May had now added a hood and side louvers, the steering wheel was now shifted to the right-hand side which made it easier to follow the plowing. A larger up-draft carb is shown with the exhaust now channeled to the front of the manifold and then sent straight down. This is the first time a name-plate appeared on the front of the radiator casing, saying 'Henry Ford and Son'. Probably an air filter had now been added on the left side as fields were becoming dusty. The front wheels are now shown with 7-spokes but much smaller in diameter. A 'V' shaped draw-bar was attached to the axle at both ends to pull the Oliver plows which Ford seemed to be particularly fond of as he used them throughout the experimental and production stages. Probably on this model the stroke was increased to 5', the same as later Fordsons, and very likely this one or the following model used the Holley Vaporizer and manifold in order to take advantage of the price of kerosene, then 16 a gallon.

According to several Ford historians, two of these new models were shipped to England for testing in March. If so, it is strange that a more refined design of these two are pictured in an article written in a London based magazine. But since they did plow a few days in the snow, certainly it had to be, at the least, in early spring, maybe April or early May.

The features as shown in some revealing photographs for the first times are very modern for a Ford prototype of this time. Some of them are as follows: There were very 'standard' 6-spoke 36' rear wheels and 6-spoke flat-ribbed steel front wheels. These were similar to later Fordson production wheels in appearance. The typical MOM and early Fordson 'ladder-side' perforations are evident on the radiator side casings for the first time, evidently tried for better cooling. On the left side near the driver's knee is shown the first air or water filter which had several unusual 'attachment-openings' as if they were trying out different uses for it. An eight-gallon kerosene tank is under the hood and no doubt there was an allowance for a small 'starting tank' for gas. Headlights were installed on the front using approximately 6 volts tapped off the built-in magneto similar to the Model T. These were used for twenty-four hour days in English testing with each of the two models having a crew of three men on eight hour shifts plowing non-stop, pulling two-bottom 12' plows and plowing successfully 8' deep. The bucket seats were replaced with large implement pressed steel seats with round holes no doubt giving the drivers a warm place to sit on cold spring days and nights over a hot worm-gear rear end. As mentioned, the plowing was continuous, with the men not stopping even for meals except one time when it was recorded that one owner of the land didn't want them to plow the snow under! This testing was nonstop for a fortnight, only pausing briefly to take on kerosene, oil and water. These two unitized prototypes found in England were 8'4' long, 4'6' tall and 5'6' wide. This compares with production Fordsons which were 8'6' long, 4'6' tall and 5'2' wide.

Bearing with Ford's pacifist philosophy of the time, stenciled on each side of the hood in bold Itallic lettering were the words: 'Peace-Industry-Prosperity'. Ford could not resist a wee bit of free advertising and publicity! Since these two models were dolled up and refined, a high priority must have been given for 'show'!

In June of 1916, this new unitized-frame tractor, similar in appearance *to the two British-tested models, but without the 'ladder-side' radiator openings were shown to the American public for the first time. As far as can be determined by the photographs, they were a light gray in color as opposed to a darker color in some previous models tested.

In July, Ford announced that he would make a Ford car, truck and tractor, with all three selling for $600, that is $200 each. Eight of these new U-frame models were now busy on the 8,000 acre Ford farm pulling reapers, binders and other farm equipment typical to summer harvesting. They were now testing their durabiltiy as Charles Sorenson had insisted on Chrome-carbon steel alloy over the Model T's vanadium steel. He firmly believed that gears could be oil-hardened, doing away with carbonizing, a much cheaper method for any mass production assembly line.

Overall this Ford tractor measured eight feet. All moving parts were completely enclosed and the machine 'was sturdy and compact. The engine had a four inch stroke and five inch bore, giving it a rating of 25 HP.

While the design was still open and the model shown the American public was the nearly identical 'dressed-up' model, minus lights, as tested and pictured in England, still more innovative and major changes were to come.

By August, three of these models were entered in the Nebraska Tractor Trials. One ran on gasoline, a second on distillate and a third on kerosene. All three performed 'successfully' according to Nebraska records. But while these models looked good to the public, the engineers were busy trying new designs and alterations which would eliminate the persistent over-heating, too light weight, ignition, and carburetion, keeping in mind cost analysis for mass production. The late fall months were spent in improvements, engineering, and a number of changes which would eventually become permanent.

Ford was generally satisfied with this model, but he wasn't happy with the performance, so he waited on his engineers' new experimentations before he was to give the 'go-ahead' to put this tractor into production. He wanted many more refinements, and some of the new ideas the crew had come up with were so sound he wanted to make some models using these concepts for further testing, therefore needing more time. But America's stronger involvement in World War I made him realize he was running out of time. Some fast improvements had to be made, and during the coming winter months little did he realize the pressure the British government was to exert on Ford for a production model in the late spring months, especially with America's entry into the war on April 16 of the upcoming year which did indeed force his hand.

Since the general farm season was over, the tractor design and engineering crew now had around four months to make what they felt were necessary improvements. It is doubted that even they had any idea how drastic these changes would be, and how enduring as well, as some of the new concepts and ideas, and even some new parts and components which were to be design features used on Fordsons and other tractors for fifty years into the future!

These and others will be covered in the next series of articles on 'MOM and its preliminary prototypes', especially including the so-called 'X' series.