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Historic Farm Machines: The Farmall Tractor

Author Photo
By The Gas Engine Magazine Editors | Jan 1, 1968

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The original Farmall tractor enabled a farmer with a 200 acre spread to replace up to 18 horses and two to three men. It could plow seven to nineacres a day or mow 50-60 acres a day.
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Rear view of the original Farmall. 
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If it isn't a McCormick-Deering, it isn't a Farmall. The F-30 was introduced in 1931. It was the three-plow size and intended for farms in the 200 acre to 300 acre range.
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Table shows technical specifications for the Farmall F-12, F-14, F-20, and F-30.

This slogan characterized the beginning of International
Harvester’s dominance over the all-purpose farm tractor field
in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Eliminating the need for horses,
even in row crops, was the concept behind the Farmall tractor first
sold in 1924 and mass produced in 1925.

The concept and the tractor itself was many years in
developing, starting about 1915. In planning the Farmall, IH
officials demanded that it be lightweight. It weighed about 3,300
pounds, in sharp contrast to the 21,700-pound Mogul in 1911. Above
all, the Farmall had to be able to cultivate corn and other row
crops and do belt work.

Because the tractors were being built by hand, the 1924 sale price of
$825 resulted in a considerable loss to the company. In 1939, the cost
of an F-20 equipped with rubber front and rear was $1,190.

The original Farmall was capable of pulling a plow with two
14-inch bottoms, was designed to meet the requirements of farms in
the quarter-section class. There were many conditions under which
it could pull three bottoms. Horsepower ratings were avoided, but
in Oklahoma, where a rating was required, it was classed as 9
horsepower. In Canada, it was rated 9 on the drawbar, 18 on the
pulley.

One man with a Farmall could intensively farm up to 200 acres;
replace up to 18 horses and two to three men; plow seven to nine
acres a day; double disk 18 to 25 acres a day; drill 45 acres a
day; plant 50 acres a day; cultivate 30 to 50 acres a day; or mow
50 to 60 acres a day.

In 1931, the original Farmall was superseded by two Farmall
tractors, the F-20 and F-30. The F-20 compared with the 2-plow
original Farmall. The F-30 was the three-plow size, meeting the
requirements of farms in the 200 to 300-acre class or smaller farms
where power demand was greater because of soil conditions.

First sold in 1932, for the smaller farm, the F-12 was rated for
one 16-inch plow bottom or two 10-inch bottoms. The F-14 replaced
it in 1938.

Early Farmalls were painted gray with red wheels. But beginning
Nov. 1, 1936, Farmalls were painted all red, which was considered a
safety factor since Farmall tractors were by then moving freely on
public roads.

Comparisons of Farmalls and mules in raising cotton in Arkansas
showed that costs were cut $5.51 an acre by the Farmall. A
comparison published in 1932 indicated that the cost of raising an
acre of wheat with horses would be $2.78 an acre more than with a
tractor, even if horse feed could be obtained free.

Other big advantages were convenience and savings in time.
Nebraska farmer George G. Gowen, claimed he could “do all the
maintenance on my Farmall and have it going in the time it formerly
took for my horses to take a drink of water.”

From 1922, when 100 were built for testing but not for sale,
through 1925, a total of only 1,114 Farmall tractors were produced
at the IH Chicago Tractor Works. Only 26 were built in 1923. Most
of the early ones were tested by and sold to farmers in Texas.

In October 1926, all-out production was started at the Rock
Island, IL, plant named Farmall Works, which was purchased from
the Moline Plow Company. in 1924. Through 1938, total Farmall tractor
sales reached 420,460.

Because the tractors were being built by hand,
the 1924 sale price of $825 resulted in a considerable loss to the
company. In 1939, the cost of an F-20 equipped with rubber front
and rear was $1,190.

In 1939, the ‘F’ Farmall line was superseded by the
‘A’, ‘B’, ‘H’, and ‘M’.

Gas Engine Magazine

Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines