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Tractors: 1880s to 1980s

Tractors: 1880s to 1980s

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Tractors: 1880s to 1980s

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Nov 20, 2011


Steam, and then cumbersome motor, tractors existed in small numbers before 1914, after which the need to produce more foods using less horse and man power saw the origins of the machine we know today. Thanks to mass production, Ford brought the price down to suit average farmers, and in the 1920s to 1940s numerous rivals brought in such novelties as diesel engines, pneumatic tyres, hydraulic implement lifts and even cost-effective all-wheel drive and weather protection. After the Second World-War, a strong new indigenous tractor industry was led by Ferguson, David Brown, Nuffield and Ford. This book highlights these developments and goes on to show the dramatic improvements of the 1950s and 1960s.
Nov 20, 2011

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Tractors - Nick Baldwin



Yuba of Maryville, California, acquired crawler tractor makers Ball Tread of Detroit in 1912. Its half-tracks rode on partially enclosed steel balls.

THE FARM TRACTOR evolved from steam traction and agricultural engines developed from the 1860s. These steam machines were too heavy for direct cultivation but could haul implements across fields by winch. There were notable attempts in North America to make traction engines less liable to compact the soil or bog down. The Minnis of 1869 had crawler tracks, whilst the Frye (patented in 1896) and such subsequent machines as the Hake, Olmstead, Wood, Leland, Lansing and Creuzbauer had four-wheel drive.

By the 1900s compact and comparatively lightweight 4x2 steamers existed in the USA and Europe for direct ploughing but already their future was threatened by the internal combustion engine. Agricultural steam engines lasted in production until well after the First World War, when there were some seriously competitive low-profile direct cultivation machines from Sentinel, Summerscales, Garrett and Foden in Britain and from Westinghouse, International Harvester (experimentally in the 1920s) and Baker in the USA.

However, it was the internal combustion engine that soon dominated the development of agrimotors, as early tractors were called in Britain and, in US parlance, gasoline traction engines. Instead of spending an hour or more lighting a fire and raising steam, an internal combustion engine running on highly combustible distillate liquid fuel could be put to work in minutes. Its fuel and water weighed far less than steam rivals, and it could be made smaller and lighter with benefits to both construction costs and ground damage.

The first, in 1889, was the American Charter, and several others followed, with Huber awarded credit for the first production series of thirty machines in 1898, based on an earlier Froelich-Van Duzen design. John Froelich had created the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Co, which was reorganised in 1895 and went on to make the 1912 Waterloo Boy tractor that introduced famous plough maker John Deere into the business.

In the absence of a reliable electric ignition system these early vehicles had preheated hot tube ignition until, in 1896, British steam engineer Richard Hornsby applied one of Herbert Akroyd Stuart’s compression ignition oil engines to a tractor. This worked on what one would now call the diesel principle in honour of Dr Rudolph Diesel’s contemporary experiments in Germany. Petter made an oil-engined tractor in Somerset at around the same time, but hardly any market existed for such advanced ideas. Herbert Percy Saunderson began experiments with petrol engines that culminated in front-wheel drive power units for carts and implements in 1904. Eighteen months earlier his Bedfordshire rival Dan Albone came up with a compact three-wheeler known as the Ivel, which was a practical replacement for the heavy draught horse. In 1908 Saunderson countered with a three-wheeler design by which all its wheels were driven, predating the John Deere Dain and Glasgow by some ten years. Deutz in Germany made a very similar machine to the Ivel in 1907, but with four wheels, and a year later came up with a remarkable 40 hp four-wheel drive machine with mounted ploughs at either end. These could be raised and lowered by an on-board power winch with one set of four ploughshares at work to the headland, where the machine simply set off in the opposite direction with the other plough in use. This idea soon found favour in France with Amiot, Auror, Delahaye and others. A French first in 1906 was the Gougis, with a universally jointed shaft transmitting power to implements such as the reaper-binder.

A way of making the steam traction engine more mobile was patented in 1887 by William Leland of Oroville, California. It featured 4x4 and centre pivot steering.

An unusually small steam traction engine working directly on the land in 1905 and more unusual still in having mounted ploughs for two-way working. It was made by Wallis & Steevens of Basingstoke, Hampshire.

William Paterson built this internal combustion engine machine for steam traction engine and threshing machine maker J. I. Case in 1892, but Case did not return to gasoline until 1911.

H. P. Saunderson’s neat

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