THE REAL FORDSON STORY

By Staff
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Front view of Henry Ford & Son tractor.
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National Director, Fordson Tractor Club 250 Robinson Rd., Cave
Junction, OR 97523

Thomas G. Brent, Canadian Fordson Branch Director Box 150,
Dewdney, British Columbia, Canada VoM 1H0

 The general lines and front end were quite similar to the
Ford car. The front axle was built up from three flat pieces with
the top plate fashioned, at its center, into an upstanding eye
piece which formed the trunnion bearing support. The axle was held
in position with a triangular radius rod which closely resembled
the ‘wishbone’ employed in the Ford car for this same
purpose.

The question is often asked at Fordson Tractor Club displays:
‘Is a ‘Fordson’ related to a Ford tractor?’ While
the quickest answer is ‘Yes, the Fordson is a fore-runner and
Granddaddy to the Ford and most other modern designed
tractors’,. . .usually a lengthy historical explanation has to
follow for a full understanding of that short answer. To do this
the full answer must contain chronology and evolution of Ford’s
involvement with his early attempts in tractor design starting with
his experiments with steam engines, early car-type tractors, the
first ‘unitized’ tractor, the English
Ministry-of-Munition’s tractors of World War I, the actual
first Fordson ‘F’ of 1918-28, the Irish (Cork-built)
Fordson ‘N’, the English ‘N’, the E-27-N, the
Dexta, the Majors and Super-Majors. On the later Ford Tractor track
would be the Ford-Ferguson 9-N, the 8-N, the NAA (‘Golden
Jubilee’), and the blue Ford tractors of modern times.

Most are not aware that the vintage Fordsons were developed in
four stages, but not until the ‘U-frame’ was developed
could in real Fordson be designed.

The following series of articles will be an attempt for the
first time to trace the evolution of the real Fordson, and using
the calendar to record the changes as they occurred, change by
change, step by step. While a number of excellent stories have been
written on the Fordson, including various authors like Professor
David Lewis, it is hoped that the articles forthcoming will bring
to light some new facts. Some speculation on this historical
development will have to be included especially since production
and records were destroyed by a museum fire at the Henry Ford
Museum in 1970 according to David Crippen, reference Librarian. If
any readers can provide some more correct or just additional
information, they are urged to send documented evidence, or even
just ‘remembered facts to the addresses included.

The articles will include: (1) the car-type and first unitized
tractor, (2) the X-series and MOM’s, (Ministry of Munitions),
and (3) the early 1918 Model ‘F’. While the first article
will actually cover the first two stages, it is felt that a brief
review of the much publicized ‘Model-T’ car-type tractors
will keep Ford’s development in perspective. The reasoning
behind the need for an early 1918 models article is that
many unique features, including some inherited from the MOM model,
soon disappeared, and few samples remain. The rising popularity of
Fordson tractor preservation and restoration (the aim and goal of
the Fordson Tractor Club) has brought forth many unexplainable
changes on 90% of the Fordson F still in existence today. Since
nearly all parts are inter-changeable from 1917-1945, and many
still interchangeable on the E-27-N up to 1952, what were the
factors that caused these changes? Just as the Volks-wagon
‘Beatle’ had most parts that would fit any of the models,
the German car company also had good reasons for the improvements.
From a distance, most Beatles look alike, and the same can almost
be said for the Fordsons from the ‘MOM’, F and N models,
and to some eyes, the E-27-N.

EARLY FORD ‘TRACTORS’

Henry Ford, even as a teen-ager was always interested in farm
machinery. In 1880 he assembled his first mechanical attempt: a
crude self-propelled steam engine ‘tractor’ which ran 40
feet. At age 20, in 1883, he then constructed his first successful
steam engine Tractor (on display at the Ford Museum).

But this and subsequent later models more than convinced Ford
that the internal combustion engine would be the only answer. Many
photographs have circulated on stories of the Ford-sons on the
early gas models, which just proves their importance to early
experimentation.

In 1907, at the age of 44, production problems were leveling off
for Ford at the car plant, and so he turned his attention once
again to the tractor. For this, he called in Joe Galamb, who had
been born in Bulgaria and was one of his chief engineer-designers,
and told him: ‘Joe, we have to build a tractor in three
days.’ (It took them a week). This model built by Galamb, C. J.
Smith and the rest of his crew was the much-pictured vehicle made
from a 1905 Model B engine and transmission, while the rest of the
running gear came from a larger 1907 Model K. Buggy wheels were at
the front, cultivator wheels at the rear. ‘The gas tank was
placed in front of the radiator to prevent the engine from lifting
the front wheels off the ground. Ford wanted this vehicle to pull a
binder in one of his fields, and while the machine did some work,
the motor lacked power and overheated easily.’ This model was
the first of 12 built which Ford called his ‘Automobile
Plow’, or Auto-plow. While the word ‘tractor’ has been
attributed to Hart-Parr, an earlier reference in print was made
during a race between Paris and Rouen, France, in which steam
‘tractors’ pulled carriages.

In 1908, 12 more of these Auto-plows were built. Some evidently
had implement seats and various size front buggy wheels.

In 1909, Ford built two more steam tractors using the same or
similar chassis as the previous gas models. One had a shorter
boiler, the other had a much higher one, making it difficult to see
over the front. These two tanks were cabled down to the frame.
While they did run successfully and one was displayed at the
Michigan State Fair, both attempts again convinced Ford that the
gas engine was the necessary propelling force needed and much
superior to steam, especially for small tractors, the only kind he
ever seemed to be interested in in order to help out the small
farmer.

In 1910, Ford applied for his first tractor patents that would
protect him for many years, even though he may have
‘borrowed’ an idea here and there.

In 1913, Ford decided to build a light tractor on the principle
of the Model T, but using a worm gear (truck) rear end and a
heavier frame. However, these models could not pull a 14 inch plow
over 4 inches deep, with a team of horses bettering the tractor.
These used 15 gallons of water daily and engine bearings needed
tightening every two weeks.

In 1914, Eugene Farkus, another Ford engineer and patternmaker
was taken off the Electric Car Project and immediately put to work
to redesign the Model T auto-plow. Farkus took over the work of
Frank Katz who also had worked hard under Joe Galamb to design the
first Model T car.

So in 1915, with farmer demands surfacing for a cheap, light
tractor, Farkus first re-designed the ‘auto-plow’ to
include a dual-reduction rear end with a simpler worm gear drive.
But some of the same problems persisted: over-heating, ‘too
light’ with rear wheels slipping when pulling a 14 inch plow,
dirt getting into working parts, and the weak planetary
transmisssion. Some ‘changed’ features of the many models
tried out were: bent frame to provide adequate ground clearance;
tractor type steel front wheels with flat-ribbed spokes; two tanks
at the front, one for water, one for gas; hood side-louvers
removed; a sprung bucket seat similar to an earlier
‘Industrial’ model, which was just a shortened Model T with
rubber tires on the front, and with solid rubber tires on the rear
which was built especially for the Ford Motor Company.

The second model, in March, saw a return to the iron-shod front
Model T wheels and a bucket seat now sprung from the rear. The
third model in early summer was even a more refined version which
had a higher-sided rear sprung bucket seat, the rear wheels now
featured barred cleats all angled the same as on later Fordson
models, and a flexible hose connection between the left side water
tank and radiator. Farkus now returned to the tractor-stove front
wheels. These models, evidently totaling 12 in all, weighed about
1,600 pounds. Three are shown in the book Ford Truck Since
1905.

In May of 1915, a newspaper announced that Ford would build a
tractor for $200.00 which would do the work of six horses and would
revolutionize agriculture. In October of this year Ford announced
that he would set up a corporation completely owned by his family
to manufacture this tractor (but he did not incorporate until
later) and he further announced that he planned to sell the tractor
through a mail-order arrangement. Also in October he purchased a
plant site for tractor manufacturing at Michigan Avenue and Brady,
on the site of a previous brickyard in Dearborn.

About this time one unusual vehicle was built called ‘the
Bug’. Using the Model T engine at the rear, the large drive
wheels were up front, with the driver sitting high up over a gas
tank. The steering wheel turned the two small rear wheels a strange
looking tractor indeed.

But during the summer, a casual circumstance changed the course
of tractor history, when a tractor parts salesman called on Joe
Galamb and showed him pictures of the Wallace Cub which had just
come on the market. The Wallace was designed by Bob Hendrickson
with its unit-structure, boiler plate U-frame serving as the oil
pan with its unit-structure, boiler plate U-frame serving as the
oil pan with all gears enclosed. Mr. Ford was evidently greatly
impressed with its simplicity and clean concept and soon had his
engineers at work designing a brand new tractor model with a
three-unit cast-iron body which later became the two-piece MOM and
Fordson underbelly.

Ford issued a new order which may have gone something like this.
‘Let’s forget the car-type tractor. What we need is an
entirely new tractor design, incorporating a unitized frame,
keeping in mind the new trends in tractor design with suitability
to large-scale production.’

By now, Charles Sorenson managed the new tractor plant. He was
known as ‘Cast-iron Charlie’ because of his preference for
cast iron parts. With him was Eugene Farkus who invented the
multiple spine, Joe Galamb who had designed the Model T and earlier
‘Auto-plows’ and Thomas L. Fawick, a talented engineer who
was later to design the twin-disc clutch, a refined over-drive for
Borg-Warner and the ‘Cushion-Power’ rubber engine mountings
later adopted by Chrysler. These four men made up the nucleus of
the design-engineering team, among others.

There was rumored to have been a transition design and model
built using the previous Model T engine (334 x 4). However, no
pictures are known to exist and perhaps this one was a design, a
drawing, only, this ‘possible model’ was evidently made in
October or November and was the first to consider entirely new
concepts. Instead of the Model T planetary transmission, a regular
car or tractor-type of selective-shift transmission was adopted. At
first there were only two gears (32:2 and 77:1) but after the first
few of the new unitized design, this was changed to three forward
speeds and one reverse. Since previous models were underpowered, a
new engine, but still somewhat a larger version of the Model T, was
built for the project by Hercules.

Previously the Dodge Brothers had provided the power train for
Ford cars, but when they started building cars of their own at the
end of 1914, Ford terminated his contract with them and evidently
turned to Hercules for some or all of his engines. So it was a
natural course to have the Hercules Engine Company build a larger
engine for the new unitized tractor.

By 1916, Ford had spent$600,000 on design, engineering and
actual models of tractors. But now, after 90 days of intensive
work, the tractor crew now felt they were finally on the right
track. Six more models were built with the new unitized body
section, but from beginning to end, the design and thinking were
kept open as testing began in earnest with success now seen on the
horizon.

The first of the Hercules-powered engines with the early rear
oil filler was first photographed in March pulling a single bottom
14 inch plow. The new features of this unitized (U-frame) tractor
included a 4′ bore and A’ stroke. The sparkplugs were found
at the right side of the head, two at the front, and two near the
rear. The carburetor was an updraft, probably of Hercules design
and the exhaust was channeled out the rear of the manifold, running
straight down. This first shown model was still a little
‘rough’ and did not show any hood, but did have a small gas
tank on the left front side of the engine. It featured a car-type
radiator shell which was considered as one of the
‘four-parts’ of the unitized design. The other three were
the engine, transmission, and worm-gear rear end. On the front were
7-spoke wheels of flat ribbed steel and fairly large in size. The
rear had 8-spoke steel wheels with cleats that tended to be
standard Ford design for later Fordsons. The steel front axle was
laminated using ‘built-up’ pieces, the steering was on the
left following the pattern of U.S. cars. This or later models had a
Fawick designed water pump which later proved too costly for mass
production, and Ford returned to the Thermo-syphon system:
‘Circulation by percolation’.

By April several different models, similar but with new ideas
incorporated here and there, were to be found on the Ford family
farms working out the bugs. The next model photographed in late May
had now added a hood and side louvers, the steering wheel was now
shifted to the right-hand side which made it easier to follow the
plowing. A larger up-draft carb is shown with the exhaust now
channeled to the front of the manifold and then sent straight down.
This is the first time a name-plate appeared on the front of the
radiator casing, saying ‘Henry Ford and Son’. Probably an
air filter had now been added on the left side as fields were
becoming dusty. The front wheels are now shown with 7-spokes but
much smaller in diameter. A ‘V’ shaped draw-bar was
attached to the axle at both ends to pull the Oliver plows which
Ford seemed to be particularly fond of as he used them throughout
the experimental and production stages. Probably on this model the
stroke was increased to 5′, the same as later Fordsons, and
very likely this one or the following model used the Holley
Vaporizer and manifold in order to take advantage of the price of
kerosene, then 16 a gallon.

According to several Ford historians, two of these new models
were shipped to England for testing in March. If so, it is strange
that a more refined design of these two are pictured in an article
written in a London based magazine. But since they did plow a few
days in the snow, certainly it had to be, at the least, in early
spring, maybe April or early May.

The features as shown in some revealing photographs for the
first times are very modern for a Ford prototype of this time. Some
of them are as follows: There were very ‘standard’ 6-spoke
36′ rear wheels and 6-spoke flat-ribbed steel front wheels.
These were similar to later Fordson production wheels in
appearance. The typical MOM and early Fordson ‘ladder-side’
perforations are evident on the radiator side casings for the first
time, evidently tried for better cooling. On the left side near the
driver’s knee is shown the first air or water filter which had
several unusual ‘attachment-openings’ as if they were
trying out different uses for it. An eight-gallon kerosene tank is
under the hood and no doubt there was an allowance for a small
‘starting tank’ for gas. Headlights were installed on the
front using approximately 6 volts tapped off the built-in magneto
similar to the Model T. These were used for twenty-four hour days
in English testing with each of the two models having a crew of
three men on eight hour shifts plowing non-stop, pulling two-bottom
12′ plows and plowing successfully 8′ deep. The bucket
seats were replaced with large implement pressed steel seats with
round holes no doubt giving the drivers a warm place to sit on cold
spring days and nights over a hot worm-gear rear end. As mentioned,
the plowing was continuous, with the men not stopping even for
meals except one time when it was recorded that one owner of the
land didn’t want them to plow the snow under! This testing was
nonstop for a fortnight, only pausing briefly to take on kerosene,
oil and water. These two unitized prototypes found in England were
8’4′ long, 4’6′ tall and 5’6′ wide. This
compares with production Fordsons which were 8’6′ long,
4’6′ tall and 5’2′ wide.

Bearing with Ford’s pacifist philosophy of the time,
stenciled on each side of the hood in bold Itallic lettering were
the words: ‘Peace-Industry-Prosperity’. Ford could not
resist a wee bit of free advertising and publicity! Since these two
models were dolled up and refined, a high priority must have been
given for ‘show’!

In June of 1916, this new unitized-frame tractor, similar in
appearance *to the two British-tested models, but without the
‘ladder-side’ radiator openings were shown to the American
public for the first time. As far as can be determined by the
photographs, they were a light gray in color as opposed to a darker
color in some previous models tested.

In July, Ford announced that he would make a Ford car, truck and
tractor, with all three selling for $600, that is $200 each. Eight
of these new U-frame models were now busy on the 8,000 acre Ford
farm pulling reapers, binders and other farm equipment typical to
summer harvesting. They were now testing their durabiltiy as
Charles Sorenson had insisted on Chrome-carbon steel alloy over the
Model T’s vanadium steel. He firmly believed that gears could
be oil-hardened, doing away with carbonizing, a much cheaper method
for any mass production assembly line.

Overall this Ford tractor measured eight feet. All moving parts
were completely enclosed and the machine ‘was sturdy and
compact. The engine had a four inch stroke and five inch bore,
giving it a rating of 25 HP.

While the design was still open and the model shown the American
public was the nearly identical ‘dressed-up’ model, minus
lights, as tested and pictured in England, still more innovative
and major changes were to come.

By August, three of these models were entered in the Nebraska
Tractor Trials. One ran on gasoline, a second on distillate and a
third on kerosene. All three performed ‘successfully’
according to Nebraska records. But while these models looked good
to the public, the engineers were busy trying new designs and
alterations which would eliminate the persistent over-heating, too
light weight, ignition, and carburetion, keeping in mind cost
analysis for mass production. The late fall months were spent in
improvements, engineering, and a number of changes which would
eventually become permanent.

Ford was generally satisfied with this model, but he wasn’t
happy with the performance, so he waited on his engineers’ new
experimentations before he was to give the ‘go-ahead’ to
put this tractor into production. He wanted many more refinements,
and some of the new ideas the crew had come up with were so sound
he wanted to make some models using these concepts for further
testing, therefore needing more time. But America’s stronger
involvement in World War I made him realize he was running out of
time. Some fast improvements had to be made, and during the coming
winter months little did he realize the pressure the British
government was to exert on Ford for a production model in the late
spring months, especially with America’s entry into the war on
April 16 of the upcoming year which did indeed force his hand.

Since the general farm season was over, the tractor design and
engineering crew now had around four months to make what they felt
were necessary improvements. It is doubted that even they had any
idea how drastic these changes would be, and how enduring as well,
as some of the new concepts and ideas, and even some new parts and
components which were to be design features used on Fordsons and
other tractors for fifty years into the future!

These and others will be covered in the next series of articles
on ‘MOM and its preliminary prototypes’, especially
including the so-called ‘X’ series.

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