National Director, Fordson Tractor Club, 250 Robinson Rd Cave Jet, Oregon 97523
A biography has been published in England on the life of Harry Ferguson, self-taught inventive genius, considered the most talented farm mechanical engineer of his time. A small booklet, by Colin E. Booth of the UK, has also contributed to the Ferguson story with the 'Ferguson Album', as published by Allen Con-die's Vintage Tractor Publications of Scotland. This joins Condie's series of Albums on subjects such as: International, Case, John Deere, Marshal, David Brown, and, of course, Fordson. Each of these modern tractors owes its current three-point hydraulic lift to the inventive mind of Harry Ferguson.
Ferguson's mechanical ability (which paralleled Henry Ford's) led him to invent a unique light-weight plow to mount on the back of model T Fords which had been converted into tractor-like vehicles, made by Eros, Make-A-Tractor Company of Minnesota, and others. The design enabled the driver to lift the plow from his seat using balance springs and a lever. By the time the plow was marketed in 1917, the production of the Fordson for the U.S. and world markets saw its 1918 demise.
A New Plow for Fordsons
After selling his stock of plows, Ferguson turned his inventive mind to designing a new plow for Fordson tractors in the early 1920's. To prevent the tractor from rearing up when hitting an obstacle, he invented a system he called the 'duplex' linkage, which had two parallel link sone mounted above the other to form a semi-rigid brace between the tractor and plow. These links not only pulled the plow down to its working depth, but more importantly, placed the plow's weight and the plowing forces, directly on the tractor. Being 'wheel-less', the plow's weight was kept at a minimum, and allowed plowing close to fences.
In the beginning these plows were manufactured for the American market by Roderick Lean Manufacturing Co., of Mansfield, Ohio. After this company's bankruptcy in 1924, Ferguson then contacted the two Sherman brothers, Eber and George, and in December, 1925, Ferguson-Sherman Incorporated was formed to manufacture the plows in Evansville, Indiana.
(The Fordson Tractor Club's library has an original owner's manual of each of these company's production, and it is interesting to note that both companies are still in business today.)
Improving the Plow
Harry's fertile mind did not stop with the design of the original Ferguson plow. He spent many months working out 'bugs' with his plow, first eliminating the depth wheel by developing a 'floating skid' running along the furrow bottom and connecting to the duplex linkage so that, as the tractor wheels crossed uneven ground projections, the plow went up or down accordingly, keeping a common depth.
Next, Ferguson turned his productive talents toward finding a better way to lift and control the plow. First he tried an electric motor, then he came up with a mechanical system driven from the belt pulley through a pair of cone clutches. Eventually, he turned to a hydraulic system mounted on the back of a Fordson tractor on a test model. As this was about to go into production, Henry Ford discontinued manufacturing the Fordson in America in 1928, and shipped all dies and parts to Cork, Ireland where a plant had operated for the European market in the early 1920's. Here a new (but transition model N) was manufactured for a couple years until the new Dagenham, England plant was completed.
Ferguson returned to Ireland, and there continued to improve his new hydraulic system. Also he changed his 'duplex' system (2-point) which allowed some side-sway on hillsides, to a 3-link system with a single lower link, and two upper links. The linkage was now mounted on the tractor and not on the implement.
The 'Black Ferguson'
Several English and American companies, including Allis Chalmers, became interested in his 'new' design. When all negotiations fell through, Ferguson decided to build his own tractor to demonstrate the new three-point hydraulic system. In 1932, he had his garage in Belfast start making a tractor to incorporate his new features. Similar to a Fordson, it was painted black and therefore became known as the 'Black Ferguson'. This one-of-a-kind tractor is now on display at the Science Museum in London.
While the tractor was being designed and built at Belfast, Harry did not let his mind stop here. Instead he continued to make even more improvements. First he designed a new pump to be built onto the back of the 'Black Ferguson', then he reversed the linkage, placing the single link on top, with the other two links below, just as we know the three-point system today. However, the hydraulic lift would operate only when the tractor was in gear.
Powered by a Hercules engine, this 'Black Ferguson' was completed in 1933. Ferguson then tried to find an Irish industrialist to produce this new tractor with the integral. 3-point hydraulic lift. Failing to arouse interest in Ireland, he contacted the David Brown Company of England who had made some parts for the Black Ferguson, including the transmission.
Ferguson-Brown 'A' Introduced
By 1935, a working agreement was reached with Brown to produce the Ferguson-Brown 'A' which came on the market in 1936. At that time this innovative tractor sold for 244 English pounds, with special 3-point attachments such as: '10' inch two-bottom plow, cultivator, spring tooth harrow, 3-row ditcher (and others), selling for 26 pounds each. The pound then was about the equivalent of two American dollars, making the tractor worth about $500, and each implement about $50.
Frerguson then formed a distributing company named Harry Ferguson-Huddersfield Ltd.. Because the special attachments had to be purchased with the Ferguson-Brown 'A' for full efficiency, the farmer could not advantageously convert his already owned horse-drawn implements and sales lagged.
The Ferguson-Brown 'A', used the Coventry Climax engine in the first 500 models, then used a David Brown engine for the remainder. The total production run was about 1500. The tractor closely resembled the 'Black-Ferguson' with minor changes in wheel design, engine and transmission.
When the first Ferguson-Browr 'A' s were manufactured in Huddersfield (West York), they did not have a PTO and it became evident that this versatile tool would boost sales. So early in the designing, Ferguson and his engineers came up with a new gearbox to include a PTO drive, (and pulley) and one prototype was actually built in early 1936. This prototype bears the serial number 3. Evidently it was shipped in 1950 from England to Ireland where it was re-discovered after lying around for some 15 years. This prototype, or experimental model, has an off-set gear lever in addition to the PTO, and one interesting feature is the steel transmission. One of the weaknesses of the Ferguson ' A' was that the production models used alloy castings for the gearbox and transmission housing. It is too bad this steel-transmission housing with the PTO was never produced. It was another case of a 'Tractor That Never Was'. This No. 3 is currently owned by a Mr. Gilbert Patterson of Cranfield Road, Kilkeel, Ireland.
It is of interest, that although history books record these tractors with the name 'Ferguson-Brown', the nameplates and brass serial number plates give only the name Ferguson, and state simply that they were manufactured by the David Brown Company. However, the later 1939 Detroit-built 9-N's were more accurately called 'Ford Tractors with the Ferguson System'.
Meanwhile, back in England, the David Brown Company wanted to make a larger and more powerful tractor, a philosophy that Ferguson opposed. This disagreement ended his association with the Brown firm which began producing its own tractor, the VAC 1, and later models. Brown tractors are still made today.
A New Ford Connection In
1938, Ferguson shipped a full-sized tractor model 'A' (along with a working toy model), after making an appointment to demonstrate his new hydraulic system. When the two men met, a table was set up on Henry's front lawn, and Ferguson demonstrated his revolutionary new system using the toy model. Then he climbed aboard the full-size tractor and started making a furrow across Henry's lawn, showing how simple it was to plow with the touch of a lever. Ford was so fascinated by this unique system that he didn't mind seeing his lawn disappearing, furrow after furrow.
Immediately after this remarkable demonstration, the famous 'handshake' agreement took place. Ford had wanted to re-enter the tractor business, and, with the advent of the war, possibly he saw the need for a small efficient tractor that could be driven by women and children. With this handshake then was born the gem of an idea for the Ford-Ferguson 9-N which was put into production in 1939.
Again, as in Brown's case, Ford was just to manufacture the tractor; Ferguson would team up once again with Sherman to form the Ferguson-Sherman Manufacturing Company, to make and market the specially designed 3-point attachments.
Eventually, this arrangement bothered Ford, and in 1947-48 he introduced the 4-speed 8-N (known as the 'red-belly'), using Ferguson's system, and manufacturing his own implements. This resulted in the famous law suit in which Ferguson was eventually awarded ten million dollars for patent infringement. Ford simply tacked an extra $25 onto the price of each 8-N to recoup his loss.
In the meantime, Ferguson had returned to England in 1946 and joined forces with the Standard Motor Company to manufacture the TE-20 (the 'E' standing for England), and the TO-20 (the 'O' standing for Overseas) for the American market which was then shipped back to the states. The first TE-20's used Continental engines, but by 1947, the Standard engine was used. Most T)'s used the Continental.
Oddly enough, the TO and TE were 'clones' of the 8-N (or 9-N), and it is surprising that 'ol' Henry' did not counter-sue Ferguson for his tractor design.
Eventually, Ferguson merged with the Massey-Harris Company to form Massey-Ferguson as it is known today.
The Ferguson-Brown 'A' shown here is owned (and restored) by Derek Mellor, a mechanical farm engineer who lives at 192 Batham Gate Road, Peak Dale, Cheshire, England. He takes a great deal of pride in showing this tractor along with a nicely restored 1918 Fordson at various Vintage Tractor Rallies each year in England. Mr. Mellor enters many plowing matches and it is a pleasure to see the early hydraulic 3-point system working perfectly. Some of the pictures included were taken at the First Fordson Rally, held in October,, 1981 at Bothamsall, Nottingham, England. (Jack Heald, National Director of the Fordson Tractor Club is shown in one picture piloting the 'A').
The 2nd annual Fordson Rally may be held in the fall of 1985 in England, with the possibility that a special tour will be arranged for about 20 interested travelers to take in the Rally and other weekend shows as well as tours to museums, plowing matches and many historical sights in England.