Gerhardt owns tractor

Fordson 1 and 2. Gerhardt owns tractor on left, Walter the one on the right.

Carol Berkland

Content Tools

Route 2, Greenleaf, Wisconsin 54126

My brother, Gerhardt, and I had long been interested in owning an old Fordson tractor. In June of 1981 we attended a farm auction that listed an old Fordson. The minute we saw it, we knew here was a real oldie like we had never seen before. What set it apart from later models was the so-called ladder side radiator shell (see pictures). It had four openings on each side, probably for better cooling.

Before being put up for sale, they belted it up to another tractor to get the old girl started. The Fordson did run, but not very good, midst a cloud of smoke.

My brother started bidding on it, but dropped out at about $750.00. Everyone knows what they say about hindsight, and of course we were sorry to say the least, when a friend of ours bought it for $775.00. There were a lot of extras including a manifold, 'not cracked,' some coil boxes, valves, spark plugs and a few other odds and ends. Also, the original owners manual.

In July, Gerhardt met our friend and asked him if he would consider selling the Fordson. He said he would, all he wanted was to get his money out of it. How lucky can you get? That's how we got our first Fordson.

Meanwhile we heard about the Fordson House in Escanaba, Michigan. A trip to the Fordson House helped us out with parts we needed- also Fordson Grey and Red paint. They stock a lot of Fordson parts.

We have shown our Fordson at our Chilton, Wisconsin Steam and Engine Show every year since, and in several parades. A few other things about this Fordson: there is no serial number on the block, very likely the block was replaced at one time; the rear wheels have 14 spokes (originally, Fordsons had 12 spokes). We removed the spade lugs (not original) and bolted on rubber cut from rear tractor tires so we can travel on blacktop roads and in parades.

A Tale of Fordson #2

In October of '83 I received a notice of an auction near Appleton, Wisconsin. It listed a large number of old tractors, many makes and models in various states of repair or disrepair. Some were just piles of parts on the ground.

Appleton is about 30 miles from where we live, so we took a look around two days before the sale. What we found was in pretty rough shape. The crank was bent so we could not try to turn it over. The gas tank was riddled with holes rusted through, steering wheel rim missing, no coils, coil box and tool box rusted out, manifold cracked-get the picture? Knowing we could get parts from the Fordson House gave us the courage to buy this old girl.

This one has a serial number on the block, #17301, and it has 12 spoke rear wheels. The serial number indicates it is a 1918 model. After unloading it, we gave it a pull and found it was not rusted tight-good news! As far as the engine was concerned, it was in good shape, pistons and cylinder walls clean as a whistle, no cracks in head or block. The overhaul consisted of new rings, reseating valve seats, refacing valves and taking up bearings. Evidently this Fordson did not get TLC as the wheels showed it had settled into the ground about a foot for many years. Basically it was a repeat of Fordson #1, cleaning, painting, waiting for parts and reassembling. The whole project was a real challenge.

Startup day made it all worthwhile. We learned that in cranking a Fordson care must be taken because no one knows how the timing is. So we pulled up on the crank and when it fired early we adjusted the timer accordingly. After the engine got a charge of gas, it took off.

We bought this Fordson October 8th and had it painted and running early in December. I have an Oliver 2, 12' bottom plow, so with permission of a neighbor I used the Fordson and my Oliver plow and did some plowing-a real treat. I might say we did not have a tractor until 1938, so our interest in Fordsons stemmed from hearing them whine in the fields in the neighborhood.

I believe Fordson tractors were way ahead of other makes in 1917. Fordsons had auto steering, fully enclosed gears, four cylinder engines, and a very compact design. Other tractors of that day had chain steering- common to steam engines-also open gears or chain drive, one or two cylinder engines. Most had either one or two gears forward and one reverse, very slow moving. Fordsons on the other hand had three forward gears. Third gear travels about eight miles an hour-some ride!

Fordson had a reputation for having problems with their clutch not disengaging. I heard an old-timer tell how he was going to hitch on to a springtooth harrow. The clutch would not release, so he backed right over it. Then he got it into low gear and drove over the harrow a second time.

We would like to hear from other owners of Fordsons with 'ladder side' radiators.