Sorting Out the Many Flavors of Fordsons
A 1917 MOM, as the very earliest Fordsons became known, in its proper gray. Note rear oil filler. This Fordson carries engine s/n 562.
Over and over, year after year, in antique tractor publication after publication, the color of tractors has been discussed, argued and debated. The color of the particular make of tractor seems to be very important to various owners or tractor clubs. We have all heard stories about green tractors, red tractors, gray tractors, Persian orange tractors, gray tractors with red bellies - the colors and arguments go on as to even the correct shade of these colors and the exact date they changed from one color to the other.
When restored, many antique tractors have much better paint jobs than original, but still colors vary from tractor to tractor. While some owners keep 'as original,' with perhaps a bit of working rust, others slap on a cheap paint job just to overcome the rust. The choice is left up to the individual.
Henry Ford started tractor production in October 1917 of tractors without a name, at first simply called 'Ford's Tractors.' Later, the first 2000 or so became known as Ford's 'MOM' tractors. These initials stand for 'Ministry of Munitions,' the British War Agency that took over these tractors and distributed them to the English farmers. But in early February 1918, the 'Henry Ford and Son' corporation's name was shortened to 'Fordson,' and on Feb. 18, the first cablegram was sent by Ford in the U.S. to England's War Board using this shortened 'Fordson' signature. Shortly after this date, the name 'Fordson' was inserted with a fill-in piece in the previously 'black' front Fordson radiator casting. For a few months, MOM parts were used up and 'Fordson' parts replaced them. These months of production are referred to as 'Hybrid Fordsons.' The first real Fordson was introduced to the American farmer on April 23, 1918.
The original MOM's sometimes appear a darkish green-gray with primer-red wheels. But as the years progressed, the gray seemed to get lighter and lighter. At that time, Ford just bought batches of paint from the cheapest supplier, so the gray paint on Fordsons from 1918-1928 seems to vary from year to year.
In 1928 Ford, with an obsolete tractor on his hands, and needing room in the River Rouge factory to build the new Model A Ford, turned his tractor interests over to Great Britain. From 1929-1931 the 'Irish' Fordson was built at Cork, Ireland, in the factory used for a couple of years (starting in 1919) to assemble American Fordsons for the European market. Some reports say that the first few Irish Fordsons were the traditional gray with black wheels, but this black-wheeled Fordson soon was returned to red wheels.
In 1932 the Fordson factory at Dagenham was complete and the new improved English Fordson colors became a dark blue body with orange wheels.
A war-time Fordson from England showing the switch from orange to green. Due to the tractor's high visibility, it was a target for German Stuka dive-bombers.
An orange Fordson from 1938. This was the color Ford switched from to help English farmers avoid detection from German Stuka dive-bombers.
However, in 1938, with a new oil filter and other improvements, the color was switched to an orange body with blue lettering. But in 1939, with the advent of World War II, the story is that Stuka dive-bombers, returning from forays over England, and with a bomb or two left, searched out these bright orange Fordsons on their return and blew them up, so another color change came. Immediately, all Fordsons were painted a green color to blend in with the green fields. After the war, Fordson returned shortly to the blue body with orange wheels, until the Fordson Major Diesels were introduced in 1953 with a new, lighter blue colored body with lighter orange wheels. Finally, until the end of Fordson production, the wheels became the light gray of the Ford tractors of the same years. Actually, the Fordson Super Major of 1964 was the same tractor as the Ford 5000 (same color, same tractor).
While most antique tractor restorers try to duplicate the original colors, a few have fun in painting them the color of their own choice. At tractor shows one might occasionally find a purple John Deere or a Lavender Farmall.
Contact Fordson enthusiast Jack Heald, national director, Fordson Tractor Club, at: 250 Robinson Rd., Cave Jct., OR 97523, (541)592-3203.