Gas Engine Magazine

The REAL Fordson, Part III (MYSTERIOUS MOM MYTH)

By Staff

National Director, Fordson Tractor Club, 250 Robinson Road, Cave
Junction, Oregon 97523 and Thomas G. Brent, Canadian Fordson Branch
Director, Box 150, Dewdney, B.C., Canada V0M 1H0

The following is the second part of a story which began in the
August 1987 issue.

In last month’s story, the 1917 and early 1918 history was
traced during which Henry Ford had set up a complete new
corporation and remodeled an older brick plant to manufacture a
mass-produced tractor for the farmers of the world. After
drastically improving an earlier Farkus-designed
‘uniframe’, a three-piece tractor with the worm gear now on
the bottom went into production, as England desperately needed a
small tractor in great numbers. This was a completely different
tractor than the earlier tested (1916) model, but still not yet the
‘Henry Ford & Son’ tractor, nor the REAL Fordson which
did not appear until April 23, 1918. Instead, this tractor has
become known as the ‘MOM’, as it was originally ordered by
the Ministry Of Munitions, deriving its nickname from the initials
of this branch of the British government set up during WW I to
procure workable farm tractors and equipment.

Originally destined to be produced in England, bombing raids on
London dictated manufacture in the United States where Ford
promised quick mass-production. Amazingly, Ford and his brilliant
engineers shortly came up with a new design and overcame the
tremendous obstacles confronting the production of an entirely new
tractor design.

As per Ford’s intent, a production line was built that would
insure speedy assembly once it was underway, the bugs worked out,
and parts available from various companies who supplied these
parts. Naturally, production started out slowly with just one
produced the first week in October, but by December of 1917, 48
were assembled in one week, or 8-a-day, 1-an-hour. Engine numbers
verified the progress of the production increase as obtained
through official Ford records. January, February and March of the
new year 1918 saw still greatly increased production rates with
January’s production doubled and tripled by February and March.
After a year of making tractors, the ‘Henry Ford & Son’
plant at Dearborn was producing over 150 a day or about 20 an
hour.

But returning to April, a large discrepancy is found in all
production figures, official or otherwise. This was the point in
time in which half of the original tractors (or 3,000) of
Britain’s order for 6,000 units had been manufactured. What
caused this variance in numbers? And why has it been incorrectly
stated that the ‘first 6000 went to England?’ As we
continue with the original research and probe deeper into the
‘Mysterious MOM Myth’, a number of new facts emerge. Also,
to conclude this section of the MOM story, the special
characteristics which define the MOM tractor are pictured as shown
by actual photographs and drawings from the earliest known manuals
and parts books as well as some recently discovered
publications.

Now let’s return to the month of April. By the end of March
as previously mentioned, about half of the MOM’s had been
produced. We can assume from models existing today that these all
had the blank front radiator castings and rear gas tanks, nothing
to identify them as either a ‘Ford and Son Tractor’, and
certainly not a ‘Fordson’. But what about that skip in
production figures in April? Some 3,000 or so seem to be
unaccounted for. To most this simply looks like a typographical
error, that the number on the 2nd line starting with 6901 should
really be 3901, if correct, (which it isn’t). This would then
mean that the numbers would run from 3083 to 7608, or a total of
4,525 in April. This would break down to 1,131 a week, or 190 a
day. If true, this would have been a dramatic increase of about
three times March’s figure, then dropping back to normal
(slightly increased) production in May. Not likely! But on the
other hand, let’s presume these numbers for some reason were
just left out, or skipped. That is, from 3901 to 6901, an even
3,000 numbers eliminated. Now, to re-examine the total without
these 3,000 being produced we have instead 3083 to 3900 or a total
of 1524, which fits in nicely with other months’ gradual
increase of 381 per week, 63 per day, 10 per hour. We must accept
these figures for the overall gradual increase:

Total

Week

Hour

Day

April

3083-3900

817

6901-7607

707

1524

381

63

10

MOM’s Known To Exist

We must then contend that the numbers between 3901 and 6900 (or
3,000 engine numbers) were never issued or never existed. Proof?
Number 3115 exists, number 3872 once belonged to David Bratton of
England and is now owned by Phil Reed of Suffolk, and another which
was manufactured between April 4 and April 12 (casting dates) which
should range between the numbers of the first and second week of
April to read somewhere between 3300-3600 also exists (but
unfortunately the original engine has been replaced). To this time
no motor numbers between 3901 and 6900 have been found …yet! The
reader will want to keep two things in mind: (1) remember these
three motor numbers above, and (2) remember that all histories
state that the ‘first 6,000 Fordson (!) tractors were shipped
to England.’

While Ford had passed the middle goal of half the numbers
intended for England, we still have to come up for some explanation
for the missing 3,000 numbers. One possible explanation is that
these numbers were ‘reserved’ for the originally pro-posed
factory in Cork. Perhaps Ford was revising his plans to set up
production there. It is known that all early (1917-1920) operators
manuals and parts books had printed on either the cover, inside the
cover, or on the part section: ‘Factories in Dearborn,
Michigan, U. S. A., and Cork, Ireland.’ Actually, it wasn’t
until March 7th (or July 4th, 1919, both dates given by Williams)
that Cork actually started producing Fordsons for the European
market. While Ford was trying to get this factory in operation, the
numbering sequence had progressed far beyond 3900 when Irish
production did commence. If July, 1919 is the correct date for the
first Cork-built Fordson, American serial numbers had progressed to
serial number 55305. Rather than use these numbers which would have
been far out of sequence, they were simply dropped or never issued.
The foregoing is merely a theory but one that is certainly
plausible. Until a number shows up between 3900 and 6900, it must
be assumed that the original serial number lists which show this
‘jump’ are correct and not merely typographical errors.

MOM’S

(Currently Known to Exist)

Month…and

Production Numbers

Engine

Number

Owner, Location, Condition

Oct-Nov-Dec 1917 1-259

33

(—————–) England, Restored

January, 1918

307

Phillip Reed, Suffolk, England, Semi-restored

260-616

562

Ben O’Gorman, Co. Kildaire, Ireland, restored

February

833

Rob’t Kennedy, Co. Cork Ireland, semi-restored, runs

617-1731

749

Mike Thomas, Shropshire, Eng., restored, some later parts

833

Rob’t Kennedy, Co. Cork, Ireland, running,
semi-restored?

1303

Ben O’Gorman, Co. Kildaire, Ireland, possibly restored

1460

Sean Hogan, Co. Tipperary, Ireland, poor cond., parts
missing

1497

Vincent Sheridan, Limerick, Ireland, being restored, poor cond.,
parts missing

March, 1918

1857

Science Museum, London, restored

1732-3082

2302

Derek Meller, Cheshire, Eng., some later parts, restored

2550

Tony Tooker, Washington, USA, cond. unknown, later parts
added

2632

(—————–) Manitoba Canada later parts added

April, 1918 3115 Museum, Canada

3083-3900 and

3300-

Tom Brent, British Columbia, Canada,

6901-7607

3600

later engine, being restored

3872

Phil Reed, England, (formerly David Bretton), restored

7079

(—————–) Manitoba Canada, later parts

Others

Unknown

Location, Condition

(—————–) Scotland restorer) (Allan Condie has photos)
restored front wheels

  ‘

Bicton Gardens Museum, England, restored (?)

  ‘

Josiah Parkes & Sons, Ltd., England. Known to exist in 1926,
photo in A Fordson Dealer’s Portfolio by David Bate, publisher
Allan Condie

  ‘   ‘

(‘Others’)???

Also as shown above by the various charts, the monthly
tabulations should show a steady progression in factory output from
October, 1917 to October 1918 as would be expected in the
production of a new machine such as the Fordson. As pointed out
before, if you were to include serial numbers 3900-6900 in this
tabulation, it would show an increase of more than 300% for April,
1918, and a subsequent drop in production to 43% in May. This seems
highly unlikely. Thus it is almost certain that serial numbers
3900-6900 were never issued, nor stamped on engines produced.

Because there were 3,000 serial numbers never issued, and not
suggested in any previous history, it leads to some interesting
‘adjustments’ that must be made. We know that it was
originally intended for the first 6,000 to be shipped to Britain.
If serial numbers 3900-6900 had been issued then the tractor
bearing the number 6,000 would have been the last one in the first
batch of MOM tractors. However, because 3,000 serial numbers were
never issued, the tractor bearing serial number 9,000 (nine
thousand) was actually the sixth thousandth tractor produced.
(9,000 serial numbers minus 3,000 serial numbers never issued
equals 6,000 serial numbers).

In other words:

3000th

MOM produced has s/n……

3000

3900th

MOM produced had s/n……

3900

3901st

MOM produced had s/n……

6091

3902nd

MOM produced had s/n……

6902

Etc.

One suggestion is that this ‘saving of numbers’ could
have come from the Hercules Motor Corporation at Canton, Ohio which
provided all of the Fordson (and MOM) engines up through 1920 or
so. Then Ford bought out all the other stockholders and moved the
Fordson plant from Dearborn (Highland Park) to Detroit, and started
making his own engines. It has been historically stated, and we
must reiterate again and again, that ‘the first 6,000 Henry
Ford & Son Tractors (which we refer to as MOM’s in this
article) absolutely were shipped overseas by April.’ This
statement is part of the MOM myth. However, by examining a few
numbers it can be seen that this is simply not possible. What would
have been the final tractor in the initial MOM batch of 6,000 is
the one that had to be stamped with the serial number 9,000. And if
you check the serial number of the Henry Ford & Son official
production lists, it can be seen that tractor #9,000 was produced
in May 1918, and by simpler interpolation it may be determined that
this tractor could not have been made before the 3rd week in
May.

Indeed, one well read source stated that ‘a further
consignment was manufactured and arrived in July’. These of
course were not real MOM’s, but by now were real
Ford-son’s! Yet all histories say that ‘All 6,000 MOM’s
were shipped to England and then Ford turned to production for the
American market which had a substantial number of outstanding
orders!’ According to the tractor at the Ford Museum in
Dearborn, the real Fordson ‘F’ Number one was produced on
April 23 for Luther Burbank. Number two came off the line for
Thomas Edison, with other friends of Fords like Arthur Brisbane and
the Vanderbilts receiving the first 10.

Yet, here comes a ‘bigger rub.’ There is documented
evidence to show that tractors were being shipped to Canada in
early April 1918. Returning to engine numbers 3115 and the tractor
known to be between 3300-3600, (or 3900?) it is astonishing to find
that these two tractors have now been found in Canada! This latter
belongs to Thomas G. Brent, the Canadian director of the Fordson
Tractor Club.

But before we turn to the ‘Canadian Connection’, lets
digressabitto the early months of 1918 in order to continue the
‘Mysterious MOM Myth’. On February 18, when approximately
1,500 tractors had been manufactured (but not all shipped), Ford
answered a telegram from Perry for a proposed request for 5,000
more (above the original order for 5,000). But Ford cabled back
that a ‘final answer would be sent March 15.’ He did,
however, accept at this time an additional order for 1,000 more to
be delivered after the original 5,000 to now make a commitment of
6,000.

A photo has been printed many times showing the delivery of the
first MOM, reportedly to have been painted all white. Accumulated
evidence (original paint flecks, early color pictures in magazines,
black and white photos that do not show a dramatic difference in
colors between the wheels and body) seem to indicate that the
production colors of the MOM were a darker gray (possibly close to
an Army drab greyish brown) with the wheels being a dull red oxide,
and perhaps were even the typical ‘primer’ color of
today.

The picture, however, shows it with dark red wheels and with a
custom made canvas cover hiding the body portion. Of course it
could have been painted white after arrival overseas. The
stenciling on the cover reads: ‘Ministry of Munitions (MOM),
Agricultural Tractor Factory, Trafford Park, Manchester,
England.’ A rather strange message for tractors that had been
intended to have been built in Cork, Ireland, or Daggenham,
England, but were actually assembled in Dearborn, Michigan! Still
these words had reasonable meaning as we can soon see.

Incidentally, this Manchester plant had probably been used in
1916 and 1917 to assemble the earlier Farkus uniframe prototype
that prompted Britain’s decision to build Ford’s tractor
(later having Ford build them instead). This same ‘Tractor
Assembly Factory’ had also been used to assemble a few tractors
to be demonstrated in France, but France wasn’t interested in
1916.

By now the MOM tractors were being shipped to England in
increasing numbers, wherever space on convoy vessels was available.
One writer of this time noted that ‘Not one tractor (MOM) was
lost to enemy action’ (submarines).

As mentioned earlier, the fall harvest time had long been past
when the first MOM’s had arrived in England, or even rolled off
the assembly line for that matter. But the British were anxious to
have a good supply available for the spring tilling. As pointed out
before, part of the Mysterious MOM Myth is that ‘All of the
5,000 (6,000?) tractors were delivered to England by April 23’,
the date Ford is reported to have put out the first American
‘F’ model, the REAL Fordson for the American market. But
just examining the production number figures for the total of April
adds up to only 4,606. So it was impossible to have finished even
the first 5,000 ordered by April 23rd, with one week in the month
still to go, and the number assembled at approximately 4225 by this
date. (4,606 minus 381, the last week’s production number).

We now turn to some documented evidence, as well as some
behind-the-scenes historical perspective. At first the MOM tractors
were shipped fully assembled, but Ford and the shippers soon
discovered that it would be easier to handle the tractors if they
were shipped ‘partly assembled’, even if this meant only to
remove the wheels and crate the rest of the tractor. Besides, these
crates would provide England with miscellaneous, much needed lumber
for the war effort just as Ford earlier had used boards from crates
with parts shipped to the Ford Motor Company as Model T running
boards! We can ascertain these crated units were shipped by rail in
England directly to the ‘Agricultural Tractor Factory’,
Trafford Park, Manchester, where the wheels were placed on, the
tractors were serviced, tested for starting and perhaps even filled
with oil, gas and kerosene (English: paraffin) at this time. Then
they could quickly be shipped to distribution points for quick use,
with a goodly number going to Ireland, and some to Scotland.

On February 28, 1918, 10 days after Ford promised an additional
1,000 added to the original 5,000 order, he sent a cablegram to
Lord Northcliffe which read: ‘We have shipped 1,800 assembled
tractors, and parts for another 1,800 knocked down.’ This is a
total of 3,600 when only 1,731 had actually been assembled by the
end of February. The only way to account for these if the cablegram
is correctly dated is that Ford just had parts taken out of the
factory supply bins and shipped, possibly to be used for spare
parts which experience from earlier testing told him would soon be
needed. It could be that some of these 1,800 had come from the
‘missing’ 3,000 that was skipped in the April numbering
system! To check the production records, even by the end of March,
only 3082 were accounted for. Unfortunately we do not have much
historical information on the ‘Tractor Assembly Factory’ at
Trafford Park, Manchester but again note that the M.O.M. (Fordson)
Tractor Parts Book states just that at the bottom of the preface
page. It says simply: ‘M.O.M. Tractor Assembly Factory’. It
must then appear obvious that at least some tractors were assembled
there!

While mentioning earlier that all MOM’s ‘convoyed’
to Great Britain arrived safely, still there was a shortage of
shipping space with so many other war materials crossing over,
especially now that the U.S. was in the conflict. Even after the
first 3,000 or so were shipped on every available space in British
ships, Ford could see that his increasing rate of production would
soon cause an excessive number to pile up on the docks of Baltimore
and Philadelphia awaiting shipment. With little space available on
British ships in sight by mid-April, Ford felt justified in
announcing (in that preceding March) that his tractor would soon be
available for the American farmers who were caught up in the
publicity and were clamoring for them. But with the war now on,
they would first have to go to their County War Boards and get a
special permit. To get this permit, ‘to purchase’, they
must first promise to keep the tractor in constant operation on
their farms, and County Agents would be visiting them to see that
they got the utmost out of the tractor! Ford had even set a price
for delivery: $750. Since the unit cost $567.14 at the time,
ordinary arithmetic shows a nice profit of $182.86 on each tractor.
Also, according to Reynold Wik’s book: ‘Henry Ford and
Grass Roots America’, most of the leading agricultural states
were each given a quota of 1,000 tractors. Since Ford by now had a
long list of American orders for his tractors, and England was not
taking the MOM’s fast enough, there were several possibilities
open to him. First, why not quickly supply the outstanding order of
1,000 tractors just to the north in Canada?

In his Feb. 28th telegram concerning the ‘1,800 shipped and
parts for another 1,800 knocked down, with more on the docks ready
to be picked up, he threatened: ‘If not handled in 30 days,
they (tractors) would be sold in Canada and the United States’.
Yet as early as March 15, 1918, the Committee of the Canadian Privy
Council had before them a report from the acting Minister of
Agriculture stating that he had received a request from the Canada
Food Board, that the sum of twenty thousand dollars be placed to
their credit for the purchase of ‘Ford’ tractors. The
Minister recommended that ‘Under and in virtue of the
provisions of the War Measures Act, 1914, the sum of twenty
thousand dollars be appropriated out of the moneys in the
consolidated Revenue Fund of Canada for the purchase of the above
mentioned tractors and other expenses incidental to these
purchases.’ So Canada was ready and willing to receive the
tractors at any time.

As early as February 11, Charles E. Sorenson had confirmed to D.
A. Dunning of the Canada Food Board, Ottawa, that Henry Ford &
Son would start delivery of 1,000 tractors ordered earlier by April
1st at the rate of 25 per day, and a possible second 1,000 if
wanted, which had been mentioned as a possibility in the original
order. On the 13th day of February, Dunning replied that they would
accept the first 1,000 units and would advise a bit later upon
completion of delivery if they wanted the 2nd order filled. On Feb.
18, Dunning sent a 2nd letter setting up distribution details for
various tractors to cross the border. At this time the tractors on
hand and those still being produced at the factory were pure MOM
units with no logos on the front radiator nor on the rear of the
gas tank. The name ‘Fordson’ still hadn’t come into
use. Realizing the publicity he could get, Ford then had a stencil
made up that read ‘Henry Ford and Son’ curving around the
rounded top edge of the radiator casting. The first shipment of a
few examples may have gone over to Canada with or without this
stenciling to be used for demonstration testing and training. In
any case, time has erased any proof with the paint long rusted off.
So how soon did these tractors arrive in Canada? Some of early
manufacture have been found! Of course they were probably delayed
from the time of manufacture to actual delivery awaiting shipment
to England, but, when these piled up, they were diverted to Canada
instead. Found in Canada, among possibly others, are the blank
radiator casting tractors #2632 and #3115. These were directly off
the MOM assembly line. While unit #2632 has not been verified,
#3115 has been! Evidently tractor #2635 would have been finished by
the 4th week of March, and #3115 by the first week in April. Also,
#3400-3600 in Canada (with replacement engine) was off the line in
the 2nd week in April, but does have the ‘Fordson’ logos on
the radiator and tank. Although it has a Henry Ford & Son on
the front and a tank with lettering, other early features indicate
that this was among the very first to come out with the Fordson
identification. We can then presume that Ford was beginning to
change-over from the MOM to the REAL Fordson in order to start
fulfilling American orders in early April. Since these three, and
three others known to have been manufactured in late March or early
April have been found in the northern tier of the United States ;
(evidently migrating southwards over the last 70 years) we can
easily verify ; that the ‘first 6,000’ did not go to
England, especially when further evidence states that the last of
the original order was not delivered until July. J Motor numbers of
some units in England verify these dates also, as well as later
models having Fordson logos and early 1918 Fordson F features.

Just as Great Britain had its ‘farm-plowing’ program and
its Ministry of Munitions, Canada also had its own ‘Canada Food
Board’ with the slogan: ‘Food Will Win the War’, and
its official agency was known as the ‘Greater Production
Program’. This was the agency under the Canadian Dept. of
Agriculture that had closely observed a plowing demonstration of
various tractors, but were highly impressed by the ‘Henry Ford
and Son’ tractor which ‘pulled two plows, handled easily,
traveled briskly, and exposed no moving parts’. So the first
1,000 were ordered for ‘around $800’ (actually $795, which
allowed for transportation costs over the American price). In Power
on the Plains it was stated that these tractors known as the
‘Greater Production Fleet’, would be sold to Canadian
farmers for cost plus freight. In addition, ‘the Government
(GPF) had secured options for another 1,000 tractors’. Before
the end of the year 1,132 were actually brought into Canada.

In conclusion, it can safely be said that some actual MOM units
were sent to Canada in early April. As a matter of fact, the final
agreement reached between the Canadian Government and Henry Ford
specified deliveries would begin April 1. With some of March’s
production that were backlogged and early April’s production of
true MOM units were known to be Canadian-bound, a mixture of MOMs
in the first three weeks of April (some 200 tractors representing a
little more than the first three weeks’ production of April)
were ‘split’ between Canada and England. Therefore the
total REAL Henry Ford & Son MOM tractors were probably not much
over 3,200 in number (first three weeks in April), and absolutely
not the ‘6,000 all sent to England’.

But after April 23rd, when the first REAL Fordsons rolled off
the production lines at Dearborn, the MOM’s were no more! Some
of these REAL Fordsons with early serial numbers have shown up in
both Canada and England, with not too many delivered until after
April 23rd to the American farmers except the first 10, a special
model with special engine numbers made up for publicity purposes.
However, after Britain and Canada were supplied with enough to keep
them happy, the orders from American dealers and farmers then
started to be filled. This part of the story will continue in Part
IV of the REAL Fordson, the ‘Early 1918 Models.’

Next>>

  • Published on Sep 1, 1987
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