REFLECTIONS

A BRIEF WORD


| January/February 1994



Garden Tractor

29/1/1A

Bob Tennant

We're completing this column in early November, and all of you should have it in your hands before Christmas. Our best wishes to each of you for the Holiday Season, and our highest hopes to each of you for the New Year of 1994! Also our thanks to everyone for their support over the years. It has been a great joy to edit this column...we wish we could thank each of you personally, and please receive this as a very personal note of thanks!

At the moment we're doing some research on the chronology of farm tractor development, and it brings many interesting thoughts to mind. For example, the development of farm power came about first through the steam traction engine, essentially because steam power was developed long before the internal combustion engine. Much of this development work in steam power evolved with the locomotive. Thus came the reverse gear that permitted power in either forward or reverse travel. Differential gearing wasn't applied to driving axles before the 1880s, and early steering gears were a simple adaptation of the common bolster axle. 'Auto-guide' steering developed primarily because of the automobile, and was rarely applied to steam traction engines.

Early tractor development consisted primarily of adapting an internal combustion engine to a steam engine chassis. Yet the tractor was developed in a remarkably short time from a huge, clumsy behemoth to a lightweight and rather refined piece of equipment. The unit frame design first emerged with the Wallis Cub in about 1912 or 1913, and row-crop tractors became a reality with the IHC Farmall in the 1920s. Despite these developments, most farm equipment experts of the 1920s felt that steam power would keep a niche in the overall picture of farm power, but this idea was pretty much discarded by the early 1930s.

About 1906 the book, Self-Propelled Vehicles by Homans noted that it seemed unlikely that pneumatic tires would ever be popular, or even successful. Almost before the book was printed, this notion was proved incorrect, and pneumatic tires were standard equipment for automotive applications. Trucks and heavy equipment were available with pneumatic tires by the 1920s, with the farm tractor following by about 1930. With pneumatic tires, the farm tractor industry was revolutionized. Added to this new option were others that include a power lift system, electric starting, streamlined hood designs, and a comfortable seat.

After World War Two, many new technologies were applied to the American farm tractor. Included were live pto systems, hydraulics, and power steering. Diesel power was making giant strides during the 1930s and 1940s, and emerged as a practical design during the 1950s. By 1970, few farm tractors were built with a gasoline engine, since the diesel now had captured most of the market.

How easy it is to forget that the farm tractor has, in a practical sense, only been on the scene for about eighty years. Compare this to the centuries before when tractor power was nonexistent, and it becomes very obvious that the farm tractor has forever changed the industrialized world!