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
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
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
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
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
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.