CLASSIC TRACTORS

By Staff
1 / 12
1925 Case 65 HP.
2 / 12
1939 Ford 9N.
3 / 12
Rumely Oil Pull.
4 / 12
1971 John Deere 4020.
5 / 12
Steiger.
6 / 12
Case 20-40.
7 / 12
1926 Fordson.
8 / 12
Farmall F-20.
9 / 12
John Deere D.
10 / 12
Farmall H.
11 / 12
John Deere A.
12 / 12
1949 Case LA.

Fairmount Farms, Inc. 2200 Fairmount Road, Hampstead, Maryland
21074

I am not sure I really know what the term ‘classic’
means. A trip to the dictionary was only some help. When used as a
noun, it means ‘a work of the highest class and of acknowledged
excellence.’ That makes sense. But how do I relate that to
tractors?

The antique auto boys use the word ‘classic’ for some of
their models. I have some interest in antique autos, having several
old cars in various conditions, from original to restored. I have a
friend who is really into this car thing. Every vehicle he has must
be completely restored right down to the proper bolt and screw. Of
course, he has the ability (and patience) to do all this work
himself. He has this 1921 Packard which he completely restored in
1984. He took it all apart and made a new part for any he could not
fix. Now I ask you, does he have a 1921 Packard or a 1984 car that
looks like a 1921 Packard? I said to him, ‘You know, there is
something to be said for a fifty or sixty-year-old car that is
still in its original condition.’ After a little thought he
answered, ‘Yes, but not much.’ So you see I wasn’t
going to get very far with him with my theory. To further make my
point, I told him about attending an antique auction recently where
they were selling an axe that belonged to Abe Lincoln. ‘Yes
sir,’ the auctioneer went on, ‘this is authentic and
documented as having belonged to none other than Abe Lincoln
himself.’ When questioned about its apparent good condition,
the auctioneer replied, ‘Well it has had in its lifetime three
new handles and a new head.’

Since I am not really ‘into’ the classic auto bit, I am
not sure I know exactly what makes a car a ‘classic.’ I
think there is some committee that votes on it. I do know there are
certain makes, models, or years that are classic and that is that.
We in the tractor hobby don’t go in for all that judging,
points, national Senior and Junior annual winners, and all that
stuff, and boy am I glad! It will be the ruination of our hobby if
we ever start all of that because then the big bucks boys will get
into it. These fellows never had the joy of operating one of these
fantastic marvels of engineering while watching new earth turn over
or while enjoying the smell of new-mown hay. If it happens like in
autos, they will buy up the rarest pieces, over-restore them, and
have a fancy auction at Las Vegas or someplace like that.

Since we have no basis for determining whether a tractor is
‘classic,’ I suppose we each can use our own criteria. I
like it that way. To help make up my list of classic tractors, I
went back to the dictionary meaning of classic: ‘a work of the
highest class and of acknowledged excellence.’ I like that,
too-it’s short and to the point, but says it all. All we need
to apply it to tractors are a few ground rules which, after careful
study, I now present. These are my opinion only- I’m open to
other suggestions.

Suggestions.

What makes a classic tractor?

1. A model or make that represents a significant
breakthrough in the development of the tractor or of a farming
system.

2.  A model that started a trend.

3.  A model that, when judged by the number sold, was very
popular in its time.

4. A model that, because of its popularity and
construction, wore well. It stayed in production for a long time
and became popular with collectors.

Using these rules, I selected my choices for ‘classic
tractors.’ I admit to being somewhat biased by my own
experience and likes and accept that other collectors may not agree
with all of my choices and may have their own favorites which would
be just as appropriate. My selections for ‘classic
tractors’ are:

1.  Case Steam Engines

2.  Rumely Oil Pulls

3.  Case 20-40

4.  Fordson

5.  Farmall-regular and F series

6.  John Deere D

7.  Case L-LA

8.  John Deere A

9.  Farmall H

10. Ford 9N

11. John Deere 4020

12. Steigers

My rationale for including each of the above follows:

1. Case Steam Engines-1869-1925. I originally
was thinking only of gas or oil tractors, but the significant role
of steam in the transition from beast power to iron cannot be
ignored. I selected Case because J. I. was at least one of the
first to use steam to power his threshing machines (I am also
slightly biased because I am a Case collector.). I am not sure if
Case made the most steam engines or not. I do know they must have
made many since there are still many around. Also, it seems that
whenever anyone compares an engine, they use the Case as the
standard. I haven’t picked a specific Case model, but if I had
to I would go with either the 110 HP, probably just because of its
impressive size, or the 30 HP, which I have.

2.  Rumely Oil Pulls-1910-1928. Again, I
am not specifying a certain model. I am not familiar with the
different models; however, I do know that the distinctive style of
the Oil Pull must have been a major force on the power scene from
1910 through the 1920s. Some 56,000 were built during that time. It
represented the type of tractor that, after steam, was responsible
for breaking the virgin prairies of our west. Here in the east, we
older folk still have memories of them on the threshing machine
circuit and on saw mills. They must have been well-built and
engineered because many remain today with their familiar sound that
is music to the ear of an old iron buff. They are also very popular
with collectors. 

3. Case 20-40-1912-1920.I include the
20-40 for some of the same reasons as the OilPull in threshing and
western power (also because it is the favorite in my collection).
It was also the first successful gas (kerosene) tractor built by
Case. It must have been well-engineered for its day as it won
several awards for fuel economy.

4. Fordson-1917-1928. I think everyone
will agree that the Fordson must be included on the list. Henry
Ford did for the farmers with the Fordson what he did for the
general population with the Model T. The Fordson probably was the
one tractor most responsible for doing the horse in. It was small
enough to be handy and powerful enough for many farms. At times
more Fordsons were sold than all other makes combined. From 1917 to
1928 about 740,000 Ford-sons were made in this country. In 1922 one
could be bought for $395. It established the trend to a
small-farmer-size tractor.

5. Farmall-Regular and F series-1924-1939.
If I had to go with a specific model, it would probably be the F20.
Although not the first to offer a tricycle-type tractor, they
certainly popularized it and made it almost the industry standard
for many, many years. Since hard-headed Henry Ford would not change
the design of or modernize his Fordson tractors, the fact that the
Farmall and others that were easier to operate had a little more
power and were more versatile than the Fordson caused Henry to stop
making tractors altogether in the U.S. in 1928.

6.  John Deere D-1924-1954. Probably the
longest production run of any tractor model, the D came out in 1924
and remained with a few changes for thirty years in the John Deere
line-up. In its day it was powerful, rugged, and simple. It remains
a popular collector tractor today. It was the first tractor model
of any consequence to carry the John Deere name and, therefore, it
deserves a place on the list.

7. Case L and LA-1929-1952. I am including
both the L and LA because the LA is really a styled version of the
L. Case chose to change the model designation from L to LA when
they styled it (as opposed to John Deere which stayed with the
‘D’ even when they styled it). The L was a welcome change
from the clumsy cross mounts by Case and the big iron of the other
types of over-45 HP tractors. It had lots of power and agility for
its size and was a particular favorite for belt power.

8. John Deere A-1924-1952. One of the most
popular tractor models in the John Deere line. I could have just as
easily gone with the B, but I just like the A better. Its
popularity in its day, the long production run, and its popularity
today with collectors assure it a place on my list (Heck, it seems
like anything with the John Deere name is popular among collectors
today!).

9. Farmall H-1938-1952. Here again I would
hardly turn my hand for the difference between choosing the Farmall
H or the M. I went with the H because it was the most popular in my
section of the country. Like the John Deere A, the popularity of
the H in its time and the fact that there are still thousands of
them doing chores on farms entitle it to a place on the list.
Although it was under-powered for its size (author’s opinion
only), it was a rugged and simple tractor with a clean,
‘classic’ style.

10. Ford 9N and 2N-1939-1947. Ole Henry
did it again! This time he teamed with Harry Ferguson to come out
with a tractor that would revolutionize the entire tractor market
and to develop an entirely new system of power farming with its
3-point and traction-boosting hitch. After initial skepticism among
farmers and in the industry, it was soon copied and is more or less
standard today. Unfortunately, Henry was again hard-headed and did
not branch out into larger sizes and other innovations soon enough.
However, the tractor well deserves its position as a trend
setter.

11.  John Deere 4020-1964-1972. Anyone who
disagrees with this one on the list has me to contend with. I will
not back down on this one. The 4020 was one of the most popular
tractors of any make during its lifetime. I bought my first one new
in 1966 and a second one in 1972. These two tractors are still my
main farm tractors. The 1966 model pulled 6-bottom plows until we
went to 100% no-till in 1970. It is large enough for those big
jobs, yet handy and economical enough for small jobs. If I was
forced to keep just one tractor to farm with today it would be the
4020. My friends ask me, ‘How come you collect Case and farm
with John Deere?’ I say, ‘I might be sentimental, but I
ain’t stupid.’

12. Steiger-195 7-. I am closing with the
Steiger as a company and not specific models because I am not that
familiar with the models. I am including them for just two reasons.
First, they started a trend that caught on like wildfire in the
industry in high-power tractors by going the 4-wheel drive route.
Second, I admire the way the company started. Two farm boys in
Minnesota needed a large tractor on their farm so they built one in
their dairy barn one winter. After building some for their
neighbors, they started the company and later moved to North Dakota
where they built the largest 4-wheel drive factory in the
world.

There you have it-my list of tractors that qualify as
‘classic.’ I am sure there are others for which you could
make a strong case (Case with a small ‘c’-get it?). I might
even accept a few more on the list. I hope my list will stimulate
discussion, on tractors and their place in our heritage, even if it
sparks some friendly comparison between makes. I hope we can keep
our hobby so that all types of collectors feel free to contribute
their opinions in these friendly discussions. I hope our hobby
remains one in which a kid who likes to fool around with tools can
pick up for a couple of hundred dollars some old clunker that he
happens to find or one like Grandpa said he used to have, do a
valve job on it himself, perhaps spiff it up with a little paint,
take it to a local show, and be just as proud as anyone on the
grounds.

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