Gas Engine Magazine

The REAL Fordson, 1918

Fordson Tractor Club, 250 Robinson Road, Cave junction, Oregon

Ford would have made the job of the modern day researcher a bit
easier if he had just completed the MOM run, then converted over to
the Ford-son ‘F’ run to be sold to the American public. But
then, Ford never did anything to make his history easy for anyone.
Instead, typical of the Ford Manufacturing of the Model T days, he
and his engineers would work on components they felt needed
improvement, take the ideas and specs to the supplier, who then
made the necessary changes. The supplier then would only make a few
to see how they would fit and how they worked out. Some of these
‘later’ parts would suddenly appear on earlier model
tractors. Knowing Ford, they were a bit cautious to run off great
numbers until the new parts were fitted onto tractors currently on
the production line and checked out. We can just imagine a small
‘shuttle-bug’ tractor pulling a trailer full of
‘New’ parts being driven up to the section where the part
was bolted to the tractor and the worker being given instructions
to ‘stick it on’. Perhaps these parts were then tested a
short while, or just shipped out to let the farmer do the free
testing. Then, when satisfied that it was either an improvement, or
could do the same job but for less money, then the new part was
made a permanent part of all tractors to be assembled from that
point on. The only thing is that there were many of the
‘older’ parts left over, and knowing Ford wouldn’t
stand for any waste, these were continued to be bolted on at
random, probably mixing in with some of the new parts. This helps
explain the discrepancies between earlier tractors that have later
modifications, and later tractors still retaining the earlier

Obviously the first MOM’s were a great deal different than
the American Fordson ‘F’ at the end of 1918. Enough
differences existed between these two extremes to easily identify
each at a glance. One would look first at the blank radiator and
gas tank. Next the left side of the earliest MOM’s would have a
rear oil filler. Speaking of this rear filler, the parts book says
just the 1,000 engines had this feature, yet some exist today with
over a 1,500 engine number. We have heard of the opposite being
true, that some with an engine number less than 1,000 have the
FRONT filler, although this has yet to be proven with verified
evidence. But it would be possible, just as the above paragraphs on
‘mixing parts’ state. Besides, no doubt some early
defective engines with rear oil fillers may have been taken off the
assembly line (not numbered yet), repaired after a period of time,
put back on the assembly line, and then would receive a later
engine number, perhaps after the production had turned to the front
filler. Certainly Ford would not let a good usable engine or parts
go to waste. At that period in time he was not concerned with the
historical significance of having all tractors at one time
identical to each other. His concern, instead, was to get the
tractors through the production line as fast as possible and
shipped out.

Further, it will have to be admitted that the MOM’s at the
end of their run and the Fordson ‘F’ at the beginning of
its production were pretty close together in looks, except for a
few obvious differences. The Fordson will say ‘Fordson’ on
the front. The gas tank, while stating ‘Henry Ford and Son’
will more than likely have a seam down the middle of the top. The
pressed steel seats, now changed from round to oval holes, will say
‘Fordson’ on the back lip. A brass name-plate with serial
number is now on the Holley carb. (Vaporizer). The cleats on the
rear wheel will be cut down in number from 16 to 14, the angle
irons will be curved slightly, the corners cut off, and they
won’t ‘stand as tall’. No doubt, after seeing the mud
accumulated in the high angle irons of the MOM’s, Ford’s
engineers finally figured a way to lessen it building up. The rear
lip of the MOM fan belt pulley was eliminated as it was found the
belt wouldn’t slip off anyway. The cast-center fans were
replaced with cheaper pressed steel. The gear shifter casting was
extended out and built up straighter to afford a better ‘foot
rest’, and there were many, more similar changes. Some to
improve performance, some to lessen cost. While the early Fordson
‘F’ models had Toggle bolt radiator cover ‘knobs’,
this was replaced by the cheaper Model T type, just as also, was
the gas tank cap replaced by the Model T style. The words ‘For
Gasoline Only’ appeared on the Fordson 1-quart starting tank.
This could not have been used on the English MOM’s as their
word was ‘Petrol’.

Sometimes the early manuals and parts books are helpful to place
these part changes on a chronological scale, however Ford’s
practice of ‘switching parts in the middle of the stream’
sometimes confuses the exact date.

Tom Brent, the Canadian Fordson Club Director, a few years ago
sent out a ‘poll’ along with necessary drawings to see
which early tractors had which parts. From this chart it was
quickly determined that some tractors did have early as well as
late parts, going by the engine numbers. We must remember that
while Ford had a guaranteed cost-per-unit from England and Canada
for the 7,000 order, he realized that when this tractor hit the
American and world markets in direct competition with other tractor
makes that sooner or later he had to meet their competition.
Knowing that the publicity given his tractors at the end of the war
years would tend to sell a lot of Ford-sons to farmers who wanted
to switch from horses, that a time would come when Henry would have
to prove that his tractor was workable and cheap enough for the
farmer to buy. There were two ways to lessen the cost: (1). To have
parts and raw materials cost less, and (2). Speed up the production

No doubt Ford did both of these things as seen from the
‘improvements’ of the Fordson ‘F’ over the MOM.

One thing that still bothers those who do research on the early
Fordson tractor is the use of the words ‘Factories at Dearborn,
Michigan, USA AND Cork, Ireland’. This is found on the manuals
up through 1919 when both the manuals and parts books were still
combined. This wording is not found on the 1920 manuals, which,
while giving ‘Dearborn, Michigan’, also says
‘Distributed by the Ford Motor Company, Highland Park,
Michigan’. This was about the time when Ford bought out his
other stockholders and merged the Henry Ford & Son, Inc. into
the Ford Motor Company. 1921 manuals simply state ‘Ford Motor
Company, Detroit’.

As you may recall, Ford orginally had purchased land in 1916 in
Cork, and had wanted to build his ‘Henry Ford & Son’
tractors there, but England, after trouble running into suppliers
for the English and possible Irish factories, asked Ford to build
them instead in the United States and they’d provide the
shipping. True, the Irish plant was finally built and the first
Irish-built Fordson came off the line for the European Market on
March 7, 1919. But why the use of the words ‘Factories at
Dearborn and Cork’ when there weren’t any MOM’s built
there, nor any Fordson ‘F’ models for the first 18 months
of production, and even 6 months after the Armistice? Notice that
the front page of the ‘M.O.M. (Fordson) Tractor Parts
Book’, (now determined to have been printed March 18, 1918)
states inside: ‘M.O.M. Tractor Assembly Factory, Trafford Park,
Manchester’. So no credit can be given to an earlier producing
Cork factory. How, then, to explain the Cork name? Perhaps in 1918
‘Cork’ was not the address of the actual plant yet, but
instead may have been the ‘Registration’ address of the
British Isles ‘Henry Ford & Son, Ltd.’ (instead of

Also among ‘Over-seas’ place names, it may be remembered
that the last article on the MOM’s mentioned that besides
‘Detroit’ on the early Holley manifold, many MOM’s and
some early 1918’s had also the word ‘Coventry’ on them,
as is the case of the George Shubert early Fordson. Detroit was the
location of the Holley plant (which also was making manifolds and
carbs for the Ford Model T), so the word ‘Coventry’ could
either stand for the town in England where perhaps it had been
though as a possibility of a supplier for the earlier production of
MOM’s in England (same is true of early front axles which have
‘England’ stamped on them)-or perhaps it stands for the
Coventry which at one time was a suburb of Detroit. Holley may have
had a sub-plant there.

However, a recently acquired article from the October 4, 1917
issue of ‘Motor Age’ states: ‘The Holley carburetor and
manifold as used on the ‘Ford & Son’ tractor has been
in use in small quantities on two different types of engines
covering a period of two years. … The British Government, after
having made a series of tests on different types of instruments,
has specified this vaporizer on four different tractors, and a
factory has been built in Coventry to take care of the production
in Europe of this vaporizing system. The ‘Ford’ tractor is
the only American tractor of the four, the other three being

This is probably the real reason for the ‘Coventry’ on
the early manifolds.

The following are some sample questions sent out a few years ago
to determine the characteristics of what was then believed to be
‘Early Ford-sons’ (but now known as also being either some
Canadian MOM’s or the hybrid Henry Ford & Son tractor). Tom
Brent of Canada mailed many of these forms to every owner at that
time who claimed a 1918 Fordson. Some of the questions asked

Does your tractor have ‘Fordson’ on the radiator

Does your tractor have ‘ladder’ type radiator side
castings that have four square holes?

Does your engine have a hump or raised boss at the rear of the
block near the end of the camshaft? (This was possibly intended for
a distributor.)

Does your tractor have a round protrusion located directly above
the drawbar cap?

How is your air washer cover attached to the air washer bowl?
(1) with four ?-28 bolts and nuts (2) with four ?-20 bolts only
(the air washer bowl has threaded holes- found on some early

Do you have a rear or front oil filler?

Is your clutch and belt pulley drive gear held in place on the
transmission drive shaft with two nuts? Or with 2 snap rings?

Does your gas tank have a seam down the center top side?

Does your radiator fan have a cast center?

Does your tractor rear axle and wheel bushings have 10 or 12

With questions such as these several drawings were included to
illustrate the question asked. From the poll many facts emerged
which led to the writing of this series of articles, and provided
much information for the MOM and this section on the REAL

Generally speaking, the early 1918 Fordson can be identified by
the following features. Some are obvious, some are different from
the earlier MOM, and some are identical:


First of all, the Fordson logos have to appear in four (five
with tools) places. These are: Front radiator casting, coilbox,
toolbox, and seat. Original tools included with Fordsons will also
have ‘Fordson’ and not ‘Ford’ logos. When
production turned to the larger hex air washer plugs, these also
will say ‘Fordson’, and are quite rare today.

Dates should be cast into a number of parts, but this was not
universal. Most obvious places would be the inside left of dash and
the left side of the engine block. Other possibilities seen on some
would include the head, right rear quarter of the oil pan, rear
underside of rear axle casting left side, left side near the edge
of the bottom of the front radiator casting, and occasionally,
elsewhere. For a Fordson the beginning date should be no earlier
than April 4, followed by the day, and then ’18’ for the
year. Nearly all dates on the same tractor do not match exactly,
give or take a few days or weeks. This is caused by the placement
of the part in the bin, and whatever particular day it was taken
out for the tractor’s assembly. Note: Some late MOM’s and
Henry Ford & Son units will also have ‘April’ as the
month date (1st three weeks). Brent’s of Canada has dates both
April 4 and April 12 (1st and 2nd weeks in April).

Looking closer at individual early 1918 parts and
characteristics (if original):

Ladder-side radiator castings

6 spoke rear wheels

round rear bushing (later it is a ‘figure 8’)

concave hex front wheel hub caps

coil box switch with key (slanted top) and the early Model T
coil boxes were attached with first brass, and later malleable
steel (NOT ‘cast iron’ as stated in previous article).

early Holley 234 manifold, vaporizer (carb) and float

tool box with small Fordson logos on ‘hip’ roof (later,
a flat roof or lid)

coated (zinc-galvanized) one-hole kerosene tank, ‘Henry Ford
& Son’, Dearborn

1-quart cast iron gas starting tank labeled as such

flat gas tank straps

togglebolt radiator and gas caps

small hex airwasher & gear shift filler plugs

single ?’ pipe thread drain on the pan (sump)

small bosses underside of radiator casting, some tapped

maple wood steering wheel rim

boss at right rear of block (possibly for later

cap screw opposite this boss instead of nut and bolt

small lathe centering hole(?) rear center of axle housing

no grooves on the outer rear axles (for later fender ‘U’

non-reinforced dash, no holes at side for later fender

round hole seat with Fordson logos (later, oval holes)

external choke right side of dash on outside

the letter ‘K’ on front wheels (stands for ‘Kelsey
Wheel Co.’)

possibly flat instead of tapered points on front wheels

3-hole drawbar

There are a few other known characteristics. For example, does
your 1918 air washer have nuts and bolts holding the top on, or cap

The 1918 numbers should range from 11,000 to 34,421. It is
possible that as early an engine number of 7,251 could be
discovered, but doubtful, unless found in England or Canada.

Over the years, Ford Motor Company (Ford Tractor Company?) has
held several ‘Contests’ to find the oldest Fordson in the
United States. Results have been less than satisfactory as neither
the Ford Motor Company nor owners really knew how early was
‘early’. Some of the winners at that time included what was
thought to be the ‘oldest Ford-son in Michigan’, as
sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. This tractor was then owned by
Mr. Merle Sayer of Sunfield, Michigan, It is referred to as a
‘1918’, but actually turned out to be a late 1919 with an
engine serial number of 72254. It did not even have the ladder side
radiator castings! The article stated that the ‘Oldest in the
U. S.’ was found in Maryland.

A few years ago a similar contest was held in New Zealand. The
owner was Ron Sloan, a member of ‘Napier Motors, Limited’
of Dunedin and referred to as a ‘1917-1919’ Ford-son. While
it had ladder radiator side castings, they evidently couldn’t
find the engine number or identifying cast-in dates.

Even Ireland had a contest to find ‘the oldest working
Fordson’. Its owner won a trip to Detroit. But this tractor was
also a 1919. But in 1968 Gas Engine Magazine was sent a photo of
MOM #833 from Michelstown, Cork, Ireland, known at the time as
‘The oldest working Fordson’. But of course it was a MOM

The Fordson Club is now offering a $ 100 cash award (reward?) to
the oldest verified running Fordson ‘F’ in the U.S. or
Canada. It must have original carb, and manifold and run off of the
internal mag and coils. This must be a Fordson, not a MOM or hybrid
Henry Ford and Son, and must have its original engine with legible
engine number and matching casting numbers on the engine, dash,

The success of the Fordson tractor was due to several factors.
First of all, ‘it was the right tractor for the right
time’. Many tractors were coming onto the market in the period
of 1910-1918. Most, however, were huge and cumbersome, and hard to
start. Some still had steam power, log-chain steering, and exposed
external gears. But the Fordson instead was small, compact, very
modern-looking in appearance (it had all enclosed gears and liberal
bearings). Most tractors today still use the Fordson’s basic
design characteristics. So compact was it that the average person
could easily touch the center of the rear and front axle centers
with outstretched hands (63′). The Ford 9N which Ford
manufactured in 1939 is about 8 inches longer in wheel length

The Fordson was introduced to a ballyhoo of publicity, Ford and
his Model T were a trusted name and vehicle. The war was over,
times were good, farmers and especially their sons wanted to
eliminate hard work. Many farm boys had left their parents’
home to get away from farm drudgery. Ford himself was no

Smith ‘Form-a-Tractor’ advertised in 1917 that their
tractor attachment to a Model T could do the work of 4 horses,
which not only cost $ 150 to $250 each, $541 a year to maintain,
and with 20 acres needed just to raise hay for them. On the other
hand for just $255 you could buy the Smith
‘Form-a-tractor’, and not only save money, but do the job
easier. Was the unit succcessful? Let history answer that! At the
same time Ford had been releasing stories to the press of his being
able to produce a Ford car, a Ford truck and a tractor, all for
$200 each! No wonder the American farmer was ready for a tractor,
specifically designed for farming. It is suspected that all of this
advance publicity sold Fordson tractors for many years. In 1927
half of the tractors on American farms were Ford-sons, nearly ? of
a million were manufactured, ‘they infested the land like
grasshoppers’. Yet most Americans today, while remembering the
Model T, ask: ‘What is a Fordson’?

While the tractor got an ugly reputation for rearing over
backwards and ‘hard to start’, most of this bad publicity
was due to some people’s resentment of Ford’s millions, and
the semi-political and legal complications he was involved with at
the time. Just as many farmers were maimed or killed by other makes
of tractors, and still are today! The fault is usually found with
the driver, and not the tractor. The same could be said of the
rumor that Fordsons were hard to start. If done properly, and if in
good mechanical condition, the average farmer had no problem under
average conditions. This author’s grandfather farmed with
horses until he was gored to death by a Jersey bull in 1938. He
could do anything with and for horses, even made his own harnesses.
He never learned to drive a car, but instead his wife (author’s
grandmother) would be driving down the road with this tall 6′
2′ gentleman beside her on the way to church. Give Grandpa a
Fordson and he’d never be able to start it, and probably would
have tipped it over a dozen times. And remember what caused his
untimely death! An animal, not a tractor!

Last year, the ‘Farmland News’ of Archbold, Ohio,
sponsored a ‘Cranker’s Convention on Ford-sons,’ and
collected stories of Ford-sons and their owners in the general
surrounding area.

While it would take another in this series of articles to relate
the fascinating stories by the old timers about their Fordsons,
they all seem to be of the same opinion on several things. One was
that the oil and grease in the Fordsons was just too thick, and
cold weather made starting difficult. Some solved this by even
going to the extent of draining the oil out after a day’s work
when hot, re-heating on the wood stove in the morning and then
pouring back in just before starting. Others built fires under the
Fordsons, others parked over a pile of fresh horse manure. Another
problem was that the magnetos from the factory were sometimes not
properly placed on the flywheel (not close enough). One way to
remedy this was using either a ‘hot-shot’ battery, or some
turned to an after-market ‘crossmount’ high tension

Some typical comments about the Fordsons from the old-timers:

A Fordson made our minister quit farming!

Our Fordson could really kick.

When we had the motor overhauled, it would tear out the rear
end, and vice-versa.

I doubt if any woman ever cranked them on a regular basis.

Our Fordson was as stubborn as a mule.

The Fordson ‘learned’ you how to sit bow-legged.

To start my Fordson, we used my neighbors Sampson (made by
General Motors).

You could get your legs burned, so we sat on the fenders.

The Fordson heavy oil had the consistency of cold liver.

After several minutes of cranking, one sort of lost his wind …
& his religion.

The Fordson was hot on your legs and hard on your ears.

I cranked for hours, then called a mechanic (he started it right

We always parked the Fordson in the shed backwards, because on
cold morning when we cranked it in neutral it started forward
anyway, out into the barnyard.


Nothing could beat a Fordson.
The grinding sound was music to my ears.
Dad paid $75 for our 2nd-hand Fordson, but I got $75,000 worth of
experience keeping it running.
The Fordson was easier to start with a quarter turn than by
spinning (if tuned correctly).
The Fordson would work all day.
The Fordson always excelled on the belt pulley (no loss of power
through the worm gear rear end).
Farming with a Fordson was better than with horses as they could
be pretty aggravating too!
The Fordson made us aware of mechanization for the farmer.
The rear fenders would prevent the Fordson from rearing up
I’m sure glad I owned a Fordson.
Sure the Fordson had faults, but they won the hearts of the
The Fordson worked harder, faster and longer than horses.
One advantage of the Fordson was
that you could either walk or ride, as when plowing, the front
wheel stayed in the furrow.
The Fordson was within the farmers price range.
The Fordson represented a great leap into the future.

For additional comments on hard starting, most Fordson Tractor
Club members who have restored their Fordsons to original have no
trouble in starting them at all. The classic example is the 1918 as
owned by Rodney Smith of Vancouver, Washington. At the annual Puget
Sound show at Lynden, Washington, this tractor appears regularly in
the daily parade. In front of the announcers booth, the driver
turns off the installed switch, dismounts, walks around the
tractor, climbs back on, turns on the switch, and the Fordson
starts right off without even cranking! (Burning carbon in the head
ignites, usually up to a time span of about 18-20 seconds.)

Unfortunately, out of the hundreds of photographs sent to the
Fordson Club Headquarters in Oregon for the Fordson photo albums,
not a single, complete early 1918 Fordson with original parts (in a
clear colored picture) has been seen yet. Perhaps this article will
generate a new interest in finding an early 1918 restored Fordson
with all of its original parts. If one (or more) shows up, perhaps
in conjunction with the $ 100 prize, a follow-up article will be
written emphasizing this Fordson, or even several, if more than one
can be found. Not even the Ford Museum can produce such a tractor.
If you have one of these or know of anyone who does, please contact
the National Director of the Fordson Tractor Club.

There we have the advantages and disadvantages, the benefits and
the evils, the good and the bad of the Fordson Tractor. Ladies and
Gentlemen, on this the 70th anniversary year of the Fordson Tractor
(1918-1988) we now present the REAL Fordson!


  • Published on Nov 1, 1988
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