(first posted 2/21/2015) Two men, both of Irish descent, both christened Henry at birth and both raised by a mother named Mary. Each fathered a single child. Raised in rural, agricultural areas, they were both considered to be mechanical geniuses. One was an agnostic and the other believed in reincarnation. Both were involved in aviation and each raced automobiles under the numbers “99” or “999.” Neither could read blueprints well and both hated horses.
Dear readers: This story takes a while to tell, so you might want to grab a cuppa before you start…
Henry George (“Harry”) Ferguson was born November 4, 1884, on his parents’ farm in County Down (Northern Ireland). Harry was fourth of eleven children and was raised in a strict Plymouth Brethren home. Stopping school at age 14, he found himself ill-suited to the rigors of work on the family farm, being of small stature. Constant clashes with his father over religious and other matters led him to plan to emigrate to Canada in 1902, at age 18, but his older brother Joe instead talked him into working in his motor and cycle shop in Belfast. Harry, a bit full of himself, promptly crashed the first automobile he ever drove (along with its owner) right through a shop window.
Early driving skills notwithstanding, Harry quickly became known for his talent with engines, and took up motorcycle racing as a way to promote the business, soon earning himself the nickname “The Mad Mechanic.” Fascinated with the exploits of the Wright brothers, he attended air shows in Reims and Blackpool with friend and future employee John Williams, where they took measurements off various aircraft. He subsequently built an aeroplane in 1908 and managed a flight of 130 yards on December 31, 1909, becoming the first Irishman to take to the air. Harry’s aviation exploits came to an end in 1913 upon his marriage to Maureen Watson, daughter of another strict Plymouth Brethren family (who looked somewhat unfavorably on the match).
After friction with his brother Joe over a girl (and perhaps jealousy over Harry’s growing fame), Harry left and opened his own business, in Belfast, in 1911, initially called May Street Motors and renamed in 1914 to Harry Ferguson, Ltd. He employed his friend John as well as a talented engineer named Willie Sands, who would become Harry’s right-hand man for decades. Marques offered included the British Vauxhall and French Darracq motorcars. Perhaps seeking new thrills after having given up aviating, Harry also involved himself in gun-running for the Ulster Volunteer Force (an anti-Catholic organization) in 1913-14, which finally earned him begrudging respect from Maureen’s Protestant parents.
Harry’s first business involvement with tractors (a conjunction of the phrase “traction motors”) came when, with The Great War looming, the Irish Board of Agriculture appointed him to oversee tractor maintenance and records for all of Ireland as part of the effort to rapidly increase food production. Harry started selling Waterloo Boy Model N tractors imported from Iowa, USA and offered in Britain as the “Overtime.” John Williams had joined the RFC, so it was left to Harry and Willie to perform tractor and plowing demonstrations as part of the educational efforts they made with Irish farmers.
In the course of the demonstration tours, Ferguson, who already had several patents under his belt, realized that there were numerous drawbacks to the practice of using tractors as a motorized horse substitute for drawbar (pulled) implements. Ferguson felt the main problem was not with the tractor, but rather with the heavy and crude plows of the day. With Sands, he set about to create a lightweight “wheel-less plow,” which could be easily raised and lowered by a system of linkages and springs, making it much easier to maneuver around the field.
Ferguson’s two-bottom (two-row) Belfast Plow was patented in late 1917, and was designed to be attached to a Ford Model T with an Eros Tractor Conversion, one of over forty-five conversion kits available on the market. Stepping back for a moment, at the start of WWI, it was estimated there were 500 tractors in all of Britain. The need for rapid increases in food production through mechanization meant many more were needed, which now brings us to take a closer look at Henry Ford…
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Great read thanks, a friend of mine has a 47 Ferguson one of the first with a Standard engine it still uses the Continental bellhousing #1600 or so he also has and uses a Fordson Dexta diesel which is a near mirror image of the later Ferguson 35 which he also has some of for comparism Ive looked, Ford got around those patents ok and kept making tractors, 57 35hp in front the 47 in back with incorrect red bonnet the 47 is unrestored but complete and running well.
There was all sorts of modifications available for the Ford 8N/9N tractor. I’ve seen bench seats and offset steering wheels. I’ve seen flathead V8 motors installed. I’ve seen full fenders front and rear. I’ve seen 8 speed transmissions. I’ve seen small race-car-like bolt-on windshields and front bumpers.
With the Fergy you can swap the cylinder head twin carbs and manifolds dizzy etc from a TR2/3 Triumph sports car but having driven a 35 Fergy as fast as it will go a souped up one would be scary in the braking and steering departments but yeah Ive seen a few V8 conversions done too.
Perhaps the ultimate 8N mods…..
well, I saw one pic at your link with a bench seat but no offset steering wheel. I cannot find any pics on the internet of an 8N with a full set of fenders. I like the 6 cylinder conversion. I do not remember seeing that before.
Here you go. These were aftermarket “orchard special” kits to prevent the tires from damaging low hanging fruit.
I find it necessary to point out that orchard tractors later became factory options, usually a Standard or Low Utility with an orchard cowling. One of the largest and (given my preference for the New Generation) the most handsome was the JD 3020.
I had heard that the TR2/3 engine was basically a tractor engine. Looks like that turns out to be true. Ed did a terrific job with this easy to read history lesson. Very well done.
I could write a whole ‘nother long article just on N Series implements, accessories and mods! Marv Baumann (link) is well known in Ford “N” circles – he’s done around ten engine swaps in the 8N, including a turbine-powered N. Funk conversions were popular back in the day, as were flathead V8 conversions – a number of kits were available to enable both.
“I could write a whole ‘nother long article just on N Series implements, accessories and mods! ”
I wish you would.
I am especially interested in the mods that make the ford N appear more car-like and road-worthy at speed in inclement weather. LIke I stated earlier, I’ve seen ’em with front bumpers, a bench seat, windshield, and full fenders.
My Ferguson owning friend has quite a few accessories implements and other stuff for his tractors one of the wrecks he intends to scrap has a rotary hoe transmission which will be saved he has a couple of NZ designed fixes for the hydraulics too
The first wheeled vehicle to reach the South Pole was a Ferguson tractor driven by Kiwi Sir Ed Hillary, his convoy was fitted with track kits and rudimentry cabs.
As a small clarification, the idea of the “Formula Ferguson” 4WD car was not actually Harry Ferguson’s, although he did agree to bankroll the project in 1950 and was enthusiastic about it. The concept came from former racing drivers Tony Rolt and Freddie Dixon, who went to Ferguson and convinced him to help them develop the idea. After Ferguson died, his successor, Tony Sheldon, eventually decided the project wasn’t going anywhere and sold the research company to GKN around 1970–71. (Rolt, incidentally, was co-inventor of the viscous coupling.)
Another automotive tie-in to this story is that one of the engineers involved in developing the transmissions for Ford’s tractors was Howard W. Simpson, who later invented the “Simpson gearset” used in many automatic transmission (including TorqueFlite and the THM).
Ed, what a tremendous piece of work! I had long been curious about the specifics of Ford’s early tractor business, and you have covered it in a definitive way.
My maternal grandfather grew up on a small farm in northwest Ohio. His heart was more into mechanical things than farming, and was quite skilled with machinery. My mother recalls that he had a Fordson tractor in the 30s, which got him out of the horses, which he detested as well. At some point, he replaced the Fordson with an N series Ford, but I’m not sure which one. The N was his sole tractor until he was forcibly retired by poor health at about the age of 56.
Modern farming requires so many vehicle, including tractors and combines that run into six figures. My grandfather did it all with a Ford tractor and a hitch-equipped sedan. 2 tractors and 2 sedans (35 Ford V8 and a 51 Kaiser) got him through his last 20+ years of farming.
It was not uncommon for a farmer to run ~400 acres with a pair of Ns. I plowed down 11 acres of corn stubble a few years ago (putting alfalfa hay back on the field), and it took me two weeks to do it, plowing a few hours every night after work. My rear was quite sore from that steel pan seat (not to mention half-frozen, given I did this in late November) – farming today is a completely different animal. You basically sit in a cab that’s nicer than your luxury pickup, push a button, and let the GPS take over. Personally, I like to smell the freshly turned earth!
Here’s a video I made doing all that plowing: http://youtu.be/etG9mR6O21U
My sole correction to your article: definitely worth two cups of coffee. 🙂
Wow, Ed, that was magnificent! This site is what got me interested in tractors in the first place and I’ve really enjoyed seeing the Fords over the last few years in various settings, this article really explained their significance and popularity. Thank you!
A spectacular post, Ed. Answers many questions I’ve had over the years about the Ferguson-Ford connection.
That was excellent. Like most that will read this, I knew nothing about the history of the 2N/8N but was around one in my childhood. Very interesting read–thanks!!
From Gun running for the UVF to having Henry Ford use his Patents, without permission
What can I say..There IS justice in this world after all !!!!!
Ed, my compliments, what an interesting read !
Two of my second cousins run a dairy farm and as long as I can remember they are very loyal Ford tractor owners, although my family and relatives are all Catholics. That needs some explanation….Until roughly the mid seventies Catholic farmers mainly drove (German) Fendts and Protestant farmers drove Fords, due to geografic and historic reasons. From the east (Germany) to the west (North Sea) there’s a river delta in my country. Wide rivers, with just a few bridges to cross back then. South of the rivers was Catholic area, north of them was Protestant area. And the Fendt importer and dealers were down south, while the Ford dealership was up north. So there you go.
Meanwhile this has all changed of course. Although recently I’ve heard of a very strict Protestant farmer who still refuses to buy seeds coming from Catholic growers.
Anyway, my second cousins still have two Fords that still work hard, daily. A 4WD 8000 series and a much older 2WD 4000 series. The smaller one has just a rollbar and steel roof, no full cab. I remember they bought the 8000 series new, that must have been at least 25 years ago. Very neat, bright blue and white and with a roaring 6 cylinder diesel. Especially when it’s pulling a plough through the clay.
New Holland, still blue and white, is a very popular brand right now. New Holland (just like Case and Steyr) belongs to the Fiat Group and uses Fiat powerplant components, known as FPT.
Their yellow combines are also very renowned, I believe these are built in Belgium.
Fascinating side-story, Johannes – thanks for sharing it! Funny how something as simple as geography (a river) can impact how people bought product.
So, it’s kind of like Krebsbach Chevrolet and Bunsen Motors (Ford) in Lake Wobegon.
Here (USA) New Holland is red and yellow, or at least haying equipment is.
I bale with a 1950s New Holland 68 Hayliner (red and yellow once upon a time).
It’s rather fascinating to see that tractor brands all have their own colors, often used many decades in a row.
Say “Ford-blue” and everybody knows exactly which shade of blue you’re talking about. John Deere, Fendt and Deutz-Fahr are all green, yet in the brand’s typical own shade. Although recent Deutz-Fahr tractors have a lighter and brighter shade of green than the old air cooled Deutz tractors.
Hmmm…reading what I just typed it looks like some light case of professional deformation.
The tractors are blue and white, which was a pick up from the later Ford livery. I do like that little retro tractor, though it would be a tight fit in my Brooklyn apartment!
NH’s implements are red and yellow – New Holland is in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and they did a big business in manure spreaders, amongst other things – and they could be pulled by tractor or team.
Ed – fantastic article – you’ve filled in a some big gaps in my knowledge, especially on the Ferguson side. One question – after Ford stopped producing Fordsons in the US, I believe they important some each year from Cork for loyal customers and dealers. Is that the case?
Yes, Fordsons were continued to be imported from Cork after 1928, but were limited to 1,500 a month. The Sherman brothers were the leading distributor in the US.
Interesting side-note, a lot of 9/2/8Ns were repainted blue and white after Ford changed the color scheme. The thought is that dealers did this to help resale value on used Ns. My ’50 was blue and white when I bought it (and had at least 4 layers of paint under that!).
Fergusons sent in to the dealers for servicing were often returned with red bonnet and guards after the tie up with Massey any trade ins were repainted so where my Father worked and resold as Massey Fergusons.
I laugh whenever I see a Ford tractor like the one on top. When I was 13, I messed around with a tractor like that at a stable with nobody around.
What a great article–I have a few customers who restore tractors as a hobby maybe I know something they don’t now
Amazing story, thanks for sharing!
Ed, this is a top-notch article. Thank you!
Your top photograph I have seen in the metal on numerous occasions while growing up. My great-uncle had an old Ferguson tractor; it was built in the late ’40s to very early ’50s so I suspect it is one of the TO models.
My father had three Ford tractors while I grew up. I’m not sure of the models, but he kept upgrading from a 3 speed to a 4 speed to the 5 speed he has now had for nearly 30 years. The 5 speed was built in the late ’50s; the previous one was so close to the Ford in the top picture.
The Ferguson is still around in the possession of an uncle who still uses it with some regularity. The resemblance between the two always had me curious and it is only now that I have learned the story about these two terrific tractors.
I have to ‘lift the curtain’ and confess the lead image is a photoshop – the 8N and farm are mine (separate photos), but I had to find a Fergie shot from just the right angle to make it work. It’s a play off the movie poster for When Harry Met Sally.
Although my Dad is John Deere salesman and gave me my dyed in the wool enthusiasm for all things John Deere but the extended relatives (who were all quite elderly given that my grandmother was the youngest girl in a large family) had small 40 acre farms that they were working more out of habit in their retirement than a job.
They had a collection of Ford N, Fordson, Farmall, and Allis Chalmers tractors. I appreciate the rugged simplicity of Ford N-series tractors and they are still most likely to be the one I’d buy to have antique tractor around to work hard and admire. Looking at NM Craigslist the N-series aren’t that hard to find.
One of the best resources to use if you’re considering buying an N Series is John Smith’s “Old Ford Tractors” site (link). Like any old vehicle, fresh paint can cover a multitude of sins, and John’s info helps you know what to look for. John lives about 30 minutes from me, and his restored tractors and cars are Pebble Beach level work. I’ve bought a number of parts from him to keep my ’50 8N running.
Wonderful write-up Ed, it fills in some of the engineering pieces I had not known. My fondness for this machine dates back to my first tractor-driving job, driving the hay fork rope to lift bales of hay into my uncle’s and father’s barns during haying season. The Fergusen system on the Ford tractor pulled so far above its weight that Fords outsold other tractors until the first tractor horsepower wars in the mid-fifties. I think everyone should learn how to drive a manual shift vehicle on a Ford Model 8N. They are also quite simple machines and relatively small, so someone who wants to get into the tractor restoring hobby can easily start out on an 8N.
One nice little piece of history I can add is that the original “Fordson” name came about when a small manufacturer had previously used the Ford name for their own, inferior machine, and Henry had to use something different for his own tractor. That other Ford tractor was purchased by a Nebraska legislator, who was so disappointed in its performance than he co-sponsored the bill that authorized the formation of what became the Nebraska Tractor Tests, which have since certified the performance of all tractors sold in this country.
I taught our niece how to drive a manual when she stayed with us over the summer a few years ago, and started her out on the 8N.
Great write-up. My first tractor ride ever was on the back of an N, when I was eight. The following year I started driving it, along with the other tractors at the Yoders’ farm. The N felt like a sports car compared to the big row-crop Farmalls.
The three-speed was a bit limiting; I was crimping hay, and second was too slow for me, so I put it into third (meant for the road only), mighty fast and bumpy, with the crimper bouncing around out back. Mr. Yoder was surprised when I finished so quickly. 🙂
I tried raking hay in fourth on my 8N once and had I had fillings, it would have rattled them out in one pass around the field. Not to mention it knocked all the leaf off the hay (the part you want to keep).
A friend has an 8N with a Sherman “step up” transmission that will do around 22 mph in “high-high” gear. On an 8N, that’s “Ludicrous Speed!”
Excellent and well researched article Ed. Surely business deals with handshakes and coin tosses are a rarity today.
I’m still a bit unclear on how the three point hitch prevents the tractor from rotating back if the plow strikes a rock. Looks like the two lower points are below the centerline of the back axle, and the pulling force would create a moment that would push the front wheels down. But in the case of a rock strike would the upper link go into compression, which would counteract the rest of the overturning moment?
But in the case of a rock strike would the upper link go into compression, which would counteract the rest of the overturning moment?
Correct. The reason the tractor wants to flip over (despite the pulling force being beneath the CG) is that, if the rear wheels have good traction, the force trying to turn them has to go somewhere. When the wheel can’t turn (because, traction), that motion is imparted back through the axle to the tractor itself and it flips. The three point linkage also works to lift weight off the rear wheels when an obstruction is hit (top link in compression as you noted): less traction results and the wheels spin. No flipover. Conversely, the hitch also puts *more* weight on the rear wheels when it is pulling smoothly, which is why you can run a two-bottom plow with a 25hp, 2,400 lb. tractor. 85 ft.lb. torque helps, too!
EDIT – I was going to add that it’s a common safety practice when first moving a tractor in below-freezing weather to back up a foot or so first in case the rear wheels have frozen to the ground (which would potentially cause a flip-over if you tried to go forward first).
My farm experience is limited to detassling hybrid corn for a few summers, I’ve never driven a tractor…
You have my sympathy. Not a fun job!
Right at the end of your plowing video you can see the plow “sliding” over a slight obstruction, with the hitch articulating up and the tractor remaining level-maybe that will help people to see how elegantly simple a solution the 3-point hitch was (and thus, so difficult for other manufacturers to find a way around). If the tip of the plow caught an obstruction, the force would be transferred to the top link and push the tractor down. The 8N was small enough that if this happened you would just bog down. Then you would just stop, lift the plow, back up, set the plow back down over the obstruction, and keep going. Drawn plows eventually had a trip mechanism on the tongue of the plow, and later mounted plows had trip mechanisms on each plowshare for this, and even automatic hydraulic re-set mechanisms. Much less jarring. And chances of you breaking a hydraulic line on a drawn plow before you could stop. That was a mess.
The 2N was a notorious flipper in part because the tow bar was relatively high and close to the centerline of the tractor axle-putting it in a good position to allow the tractor to rotate about its axle. Other tractors compensated by attaching their tow bars lower and further back, but they still had to rely totally on the weight of the tractor over the drive wheels to provide traction to a trailing implement. The 3-point hitch converted plow drag into downward pressure over the rear wheels-why you don’t see old Fords with wheel weights, they didn’t need them. One of those win-wins that, when you look at it you think why didn’t I think of that. But that’s why they call it genius-to see a solution that is is right in front of you that other people can’t.
Ed, we need to get you a seat cover and a Heat-Houser for the Ford, so you can go out and plow in the Fall again! The Fordson had a worm drive rear axle that ran hot, so at least your seat was warm; the 8N, not so much.
What a well-researched (and brilliantly edited) article! OK, stupid question–maybe I missed it in the article, but is this the same Ferguson company that supplied 4WD for the Jensen Interceptor FF?
LOL! Yes, on this being the same Ferguson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferguson_Research
I had the exact same thoughts about both the quality of the article and the FF system used in the Jensen Interceptor.
Ferguson’s impact on the automotive industry was impressively far-reaching. I knew about Ferguson/Massey-Ferguson tractors, the Fordson/Ferguson connection, and the Ferguson FF system, but for some reason never connected them to the same person!
And the Ferguson Formula Mustang with full-time AWD and ABS !
Speaking of Ferguson four-wheel-drive, perhaps the oddest Ferguson tractor ever, the Ferguson Dual Drive TED40. Although not the handiwork of Mr. Ferguson, it did utilize two of his fine machines.
…same concept, the (Ford) Doe 130, built by Ernest Doe & Sons from the UK.
Fordsons were configured that way back in the 50s with the diesel Super Majors that mid 60s F5000 model is merely an update.
I did some searching on the web. In the fifties farmer George Pryor from Essex (UK) built a “double tractor” based on 2 Fordsons. Ernest Doe & Sons had a Fordson dealership and built an improved version, also based on 2 Fordsons (Power Major), and that one was introduced in 1958. Later they used 2 Fords 5000.
Yup. These are all pretty wild, but I understand that they worked very well in the era before four-wheel-drive tractors were widely available from the manufacturers. Of course the downside was twice as many engines to maintain and higher fuel consumption, although I suspect that relatively cheap gas or diesel back then made that less of an issue than it is today.
That’s right Gene, these were built to gain a lot of power and traction.
As a kid I was always very impressed when I saw a mighty Ford County model. Below one of the last Counties. The ones I saw in the seventies were the older ones, still with the rounded rear fenders, without a cab. Used back then in earth moving.
That’s quite the beast, Johannes.
Taking a turn.
That’s the stuff, Johannes. 😀
My uncles and I are looking at doing this with 2 case dc tractors. i was wondering if you had some detailed pictures of the 2 tractors attachment and such. if you have any information on the details of these
John, I don’t have any detailed information. The tractor is called the Doe 130, built by Ernest Doe & Sons from the UK, as mentioned above.
A bit of Googling / Google Image Search might help you further.
I ran across the TED40 in my reading – fascinating… this article could easily have been three times as long, there’s so many side stories that go along with both Ford and Ferguson.
Proof that farmers are darned resourceful.
Yes; Tony Rolt and Freddy Dixon got Ferguson (one of them knew him, I gather) to set up a research company for them. Rolt and Derek Gardner of Ferguson later invented the viscous coupling, used in many later AWD systems.
Thanks to that small 2009 retro Red Belly tractor I remembered the special 1989 Ford 7810 Silver Jubilee edition. In that year Ford had built tractors in the UK Basildon Essex plant for 25 years.
They made only 500 of them. Not very popular back then, some dealers even repainted them in Ford blue ! Now, of course, this Jubilee edition is a collectors’ item.
I’ve only see such a silver Ford once so far, many years ago. It towed a silage trailer.
Nice! The Boomer 8N is only ‘retro’ tractor ever made, to my knowledge.
I just learned that in the same era as the Boomer 8N, New Holland also had an F480 model. Inspired by the old Fiat 480 model and in the classic Fiat colors: orange, white and brown. It even has some sort of retro-looking seat, just like the Boomer.
Cute little tractor. Used by fruit growers and horticulturists I assume.
It’s only logical that, 25 years later, a Golden Jubilee edition was also introduced.
(With a nice video !)
As I mentioned above New Holland is all Fiat. I don’t know if CNH machinery is also available with Cummins power in North America.
Neat! No so much ‘retro’ as giving a nod to the 1953 Golden Jubilee… needs one of these badges:
That badge alone is already a collectors’ item ! Really neat.
I went to New Holland’s USA website. I clicked on several big and small farm tractor models and I only saw FPT (Fiat Powertrain Technologies) engines.
So I assume CNH only uses their own powerplant components worldwide. Vertical integration so to say.
There are just a few major global players in farm tractor land. So just like in trucking a few big guys rule the world.
-AGCO Group (Fendt, Massey Ferguson, Valtra, Challenger).
-CNH Global N.V. (Case IH, New Holland, Steyr).
-SAME Deutz-Fahr (SAME, Deutz-Fahr, Lamborghini, Hürlimann).
So at least the name Ferguson is still on the tractor, unlike Ford, unfortunately.
Really great article with compelling research. I saw all of these names growing up in farm country and you let me link them all. The similarities between the Ford and the International cub at my place are striking. The Ferguson linkage, not at all.
I guess these are free of the ravages of road salt so we will probably see them for years. If you read farm show magazine you can see all sorts of alterations still paying for themselves. The most striking that I remember was a Ford tractor with a Buick V6 (3.8) engine conversion. Probably enough variety there for another article.
Really good job.
Here’s one with a flathead V8, tilt hood, duals and 4WD assist. Probably won’t be doing much plowing, though!
Wonderful article Ed.
When tractors replaced livestock for motive power, it increased the farmers income by at least a third overnight. A 600 acre farm would have 100 acres for pasture to feed the animals during the growing season. Another 100 acres grew the winter feed that was bailed and stored.
Sell off the live stock, now you have the whole 600 acres to plant. This caused a glut of food in the US in the 1920’s and into the ’30s. Of course the price paid the farmer crashed, so he wasn’t doing any better than when he had the animals…but for a short time it was great..
Yes. And now we are at the point where if we tried to return to animals and purely organic crops(like the Amish) there would not be enough arable land to feed all of them and all the people. You have touched one of my nerves. I get sick of the ignorant arrogant do-gooders preaching their perceived superior opinions regarding food and the environment.
My grandfather had an old Ford tractor (I want to say an 8n?) that he passed down to my father. The tractor was equipped with a loader, and was from all accounts a nice compliment to the International Harvester Farm all 656 that we still use. Apparently it was a fairly light little tractor, and actually trying to use loader attachment could prove problematic… My father has a few fun stories about that old tractor! Sadly, by the time I came along, the old Ford had fallen into disrepair, and didn’t run well at all. My clearest memory of it was the year it spent in our repair shop with the engine torn apart. I believe my father finally got tired of working on it, so he sold it to a neighbor down the road. Last I knew the tractor had been fully restored, and the red and gray paint made for quite a looker of a tractor. At least this story has a happy ending, right?
Growing up in suburban Detroit in the late ’70s, I worked Summers on a four-man crew whose job was to take care of all the baseball diamonds in town — about 15 to 20.
On days that followed rain, two guys would divide up the diamonds and go out on successors to the 8N, which were Ford 2000s.
We would loosen up the infield with a Super Gill Pulverizer
Let the wind and sun dry it out for awhile, then go back in the afternoon and smooth it by dragging a grate behind the tractor. There was a real trick to knowing when the infield was too soft to get on, how tight to make the circles while pulverizing, how to avoid standing water and buried base pegs, and so on.
The tractor was great. Fast enough in 4th gear to get from one diamond to another on city streets, 3rd gear for “beating up” the wet ground, 2nd for dragging.
Thirty five years later, I could go back and do the job tomorrow. You never forget the perfect summer job :^)
BTW the other two guys would go around and chalk the 1st and 3rd base lines. On the diamonds the little kids played on, we used to see who could make the lines the straightest without a string line.
Ed, great writeup, you hit home with me. I grew up on a dairy farm in eastern Pennsylvania. Dad started farming with a 1948 Ferguson TO-20. I vaguely remember a Ford N series which he traded in 1960 for a new Ferguson 35 Deluxe which was the main tractor for many years. Both Fergusons were kept throughout his farming tenure until retirement. He added a used International 504 to the fleet in the late 60’s. I grew up riding with him and later learning to drive the 35. The 35 had a silver decal on side of the hood proudly proclaiming The Ferguson System. Dad gave me a brief overview of the system but your article really explains it in depth. Thanks for the memories,
Wow. Just wow. A fascinating story, and well told Ed. Thanks very much for taking this on! A terrific read.
Thanks for the 2N pics you sent so long ago – sorry it took so long to finally use one!
My father had an 8N that was his pride and joy. He even received a monthly 8N newsletter. He passed away 3 weeks ago and the tractor is sitting in the garage next to my 1921 Model T. I guess its mine now, though I don’t really have a use for it. Its funny that he had plenty of money, but he liked his 8N in beat-up (patina’d) condition. Although its mechanically sound, I guess I could restore the cosmetics. That’s a reason to keep it!
This is a great article. I’d heard parts of the story before, but this brought it all together for me. I wish I could have emailed it to my dad, he would have enjoyed it.
Neat story – thanks for sharing. If you decide to use or restore your Dad’s 8N, head over to the Yesterday’s Tractors 9/2/8N Forum (link) and lurk a bit or ask questions.
While I restored my ’50 8N, I borrowed another ’50 from a “real” farming friend who mainly used it to move hay racks around. It was definitely “patinaed!”
My friends tractors are in as used condition only the gold/grey 35 appears restored because it was aquired after it caught fire, One of the few faults Fergy Teas TOs etc had was the fuel tank above the engine, Flat lander farm boys like Harry and Henry clever though they might appear missed a crucial thing called hills and on hills the gas will leak from the filler cap and run down onto the hot exhaust or magneto distributor what ever and boom up she goes Trevor, A fix was locally engineered and fitted to the majority of these machines consisting of light gauge steel angle pieces sweated to the outer edge of the fuel tank which directed fuel drips away from the engine not all tractors were retrofitted especially on flat going like where I currently live though in the region where I grew up almost every Fergy was done due to the hilly going, Mt dad was company secretary of a Fergy & GM dealership his theory was the cost of doing every tractor was poopooed by Henry always the cheapskate he knew of the potential problem through the design deficiencies on the Model A he had to rectify before production but the aftermarket fix was done by the dealers free of charge.
What an excellent, well-written article–even to a city boy like myself!
Great story great writing.
Totally understandable to this citykid with uncalloused hands. Totally epic in scope and personal in detail. A thoroughly great read. What an accomplishment Ed.
Ed, thanks for this. I grew up in a rural town in Israel and these – and the slightly later Fords and M-Fs – were everywhere. One of the other schoolkids’ dad had a yellow (industrial) M-F 135 (?) and for a laugh they changed the gearsets so that the thing was capable of a terrifying 35 MPH… The first sportstractor, I suppose. And yes, farming life was very different back then – my grandpa had orange groves and I remember dad’s stories well enough to appreciate what back-breaking work it was (even for those who had a tractor); my father had to give that up after being injured during Israel’s War of Independence – there way no way he could run the groves with his type of injury back then. Nowadays it would be a very different matter, what with all the automation we have…
I had my “cuppa” and the most interesting and educational read of the day.
Another interesting photo I found researching this article…
I wonder did Fiat build a version of these, or just something very similar?
Fiat launched its very successful 25R tractor in 1951. As far as I know there’s no direct Ford-connection.
I found the photo here:
GREAT article, Ed. I was always curious about the nuances of the relationship that led to this unique business relationship.
Here’s my 1956 601 that still enjoys working for a living.
When Henry (Junior) said adios to Harry. Must have been frustrating to Harry when over 500,000 were produced between 1947-52…
This article led me down a path that became something of a lifestyle change. I have since rebuilt the engines of two 8Ns, worked a 9N in a number of capacities from plowing to mowing and recently traveled all the way to Florida to rescue a 1950 8N from being sold for scrap. Thanks, Ed!
Awesome! My work here is done… (c:
Terrific article, thank you. My dad bought a worn out 1949 Ferguson TEA 20 in 1974 for our hobby rural property. This poor thing needed an overhaul, as it had excess blowby, low oil pressure, slipping clutch, and rotting wiring. I swear it had never been washed and had years of caked on oil and grease.
I started work on it as a kid, replacing the water pump, engine bearings, and converted it to 12 volt. Later I found the differential gear set was smashed, a mess of broken internal webbing, broken gear teeth and shards of metal. I patched it up best I could and parked it. The tractor needed so much repair it was virtually worthless as-is and beyond my teenage means. I eventually gave it to a friend as a project.
As a kid I enjoyed comparing the Ferguson to a neighbors 8N, as they were obviously identical or so similar in many respects. Years later I bought my own 8N as a restoration project. It’s pleasant because everything one could possibly need, all parts and information are easily available.
Thank you for apiece of history so eruditely presented. As one not familiar with farm equipment, this is quite a comprehensive introduction to two great men in the field.
What a piece of work, Mr Ed. Belated congratulations to you. I knew a bit about Harry Ferguson before, but only vague notions about the link to Fordsons. I just thought they looked similar!
The Fergies were a bit hit here in Oz too, and they’re still very much in use. I attach a link from 2019 to a newspaper in country south-west of the State of New South Wales (an area called the Riverina district, think lots of iririgated fruit production in pretty dry flatlands). Note the numbers still in use on some farms 60 + years on – mind boggling!
One curiosity is the engine in the Fordson being closely related to the V8: I wonder why it’s not crossflow also?
I wonder why it’s not crossflow also?
How could a side-valve (flathead) engine be crossflow? Well, I guess you could call a T head engine crossflow, but those went obsolete pretty early on.
The Ford V8 was decidedly not a crossflow. The exhaust valves and ports were right next to the intakes, but then the exhaust ports snake around the cylinders to the far side of the block, and exit there. The center port is siamised and tunnels through the block between the two middle cylinders, heating them in the process. That in essence is the whole thermal management issue with the Ford flathead V8.
The other two exhaust ports tunnel in front and behind the front and rear cylinders, which doesn’t exactly help matters.
Cadillac had it right, putting the exhaust manifold in the center along with the intake on their fathead V8s. But that made the manifolds a bit complicated too.
Yes, I’ve misunderstood “machined on the same line”: ofcourse the block itself can’t be half the V8 (though it looks like that WAS done in the early ’60’s with the oddball Pontiac Trophy four). And crossflow is indeed the wrong term, as I was thinking of the carb on one side and exhaust on the other in the V8, but the gases hardly flow across the chamber in that engine!
So valves, pistons, cylinders, bore-size (maybe) and probably even the head shared, but not the block itself, and that last is my basic error – forgetting that porting MUST be in the block on a side-valve. Makes sense that all that could be done on the same line.
I’m not an expert but looking at the engine blocks, it’s quite clear that the tractor four is very similar to half a V8, and has the same cylinder spacing and other characteristics. It just doesn’t have the ports that snake around to the other side.
Here’s the tractor block:
Here’s the V8 block.
But it seems you’ve already figured it out: unlike an ohv block, the ports are cast into the flathead block, so clearly they’re different. But it’s not hard to change certain aspects of the casting. And clearly these tow engines are very much related.
The center exhaust port is quite visible in this shot.
I admit to knowing very little of the history of Ford and Ferguson, knowing a little more about Standard and Ferguson.
But what a tale, and what a telling of it. Terrific, and on the re-read list. How did I miss this in 2015?
Thanks Ed – great work.
I enjoyed this article very much. It brings back old memories. I have driven the Ferguson (late 1940’s model), 8N/9N, and the 1953 Jubilee. All were used in farm work when I was about 14 years old. My father purchased the Jubilee in 1953 and I moved it to my acreage in 1980. I thought the emblem would be the Jubilee one but when I looked about a year ago, I was disappointed to find something else and maybe I do not have the Jubilee model. It is a round emblem this the letters 800 at the top, the word Ford in a circle below and below that a wheat head with leaves of the stalk. All of this is within a larger Circle. There must have been different models in 1953. A picture of my tractor is attached. Any comments will be appreciated.
It’s most likely you have one of the earliest of the 850 or 860 models. The 800 series was started in 1954, but it’s possible that a 1953 early delivery happened. Or, you have a Jubilee, and over the years it has acquired an 800 series hood and emblem. Since it has been with you since new, most likely an 800 type. The shifter is the key to figure it out. Jubilee has the standard H pattern with 4 speeds, single throw stick. 800 series 860 uses the vertical gated arced shifter, with R and 1st at the top, and sequential gears both down and forward or back. May have 5 speeds. If the shifter goes up and down in Neutral, that is an 800 tractor.
A very nice novella of the marriage of Ford and Fergie. I have a few tidbits to add. Ferguson was a master engineer and inventor. Many of his patents long expired are used in some form even today. He invented one of the first roadable AWD units, and it was licensed to a French car maker, and also the Jensen auto company. Jensen added the Ferguson transaxle to the Interceptor, and called it the FF. Only produced in RHD versions, it is an iconic model of a more iconic brand. He also helped developed one of the first anti-skid brake systems called the Maxarat, which was taken up by Dunlop UK, after initial design by Fergie. The Maxaret system used on aircraft allowed for much improved safe braking distances and landing weights, on the order of 30% improvement!
As for Ford losing $25M on the 9N/2N production, I have a very hard time believing this. Aside from the Edsel, all the Fords, and Bennet kept a very sharp pencil when costs were involved. It’s highly unlikely that Ford allowed for a loss of $25M repeatedly on their tractor production. Plus, on the engine side, the forged casting for the model T, and the 2N were done in the same casting house, with very little difference between them. Just a heavier side wall block, and some reinforced areas around the bellhousing. The majority of the brake parts, transmission, and even the hydraulic PTO were part of standard truck production for commercial Ford trucks. This is one of those situations where the accountant, when asked ‘how much is 2+2?’ replies: “whatever you want it to be, sir.”
I’ve had my red belly 8N for 36 years. It’s been a long, long time since it drove a 2 bottom plow, and all I ever did was gentleman farming of small patches. I bought an 860 with power steering, a front loader, and live PTO a few years back, and of course, now realize what a primitive little tool the 8N was. Still, the 8N will brush hog the runway verges, and finish mow the runway proper if it isn’t too wet. The 8N always starts on a few turns, it always stops when I push hard on the pedals, and it steers, and drags with no complaint. Make sure the overrunning clutch is free, and it’s relatively safe until a grade is encountered. The early Ford tractors have the same reputation as the J3 Piper Cub. It will ‘just barely kill you’.