Ivel tops field of English old-iron 'firsts'
The year 2002 marked the 100th anniversary of the Ivel Agricultural Motor, considered by most British historians to be the first successful farm tractor built in the British Isles. The inventor, Dan Albone, was born Sept. 12, 1860, in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, a small village on the Ivel River, 50 miles north of London. Dan's father, Edward, was a market gardener, and Dan was the youngest of eight children.
Early on, the boy exhibited an interest in mechanical things, especially after he was given an old bicycle at the age of 9. Soon, he got into bicycle racing, and at 13, built his own bike. In his early teens, he apprenticed with a local engineering and millwright firm, and soon afterward, he began building bicycles on his own in a shed behind his home.
In 1880, Albone established the Ivel Cycle Works, famed throughout Great Britain for its Ivel Racing Bicycles. Biggleswade, where the bicycles were made, became known as the home of modern safety bicycles, and modern cycle road racing and touring.
Sometime in the 1890s, Albone put one of the newfangled gasoline engines into a tricycle-type frame, and followed that quickly with a two-wheeled motorcycle. He also built a few Ivel motorcars that were equipped with his own ball bearings, which he had been using for some time in wheels he built for horse-drawn vehicles.
About 1900, Albone began experimenting with a farm tractor called the Ivel Agricultural Motor. He patented his prototype in early 1902 and successfully tested the tractor that summer on local farms. Among the dignitaries and farmers in attendance at one of the tests was a member of Parliament named Lord Compton, who pronounced the tractor a great success after it pulled a hay mower through the field for more than an hour and a half without any breakdowns.
Another observer was so taken by the tractor that he offered to buy the machine on the spot, remarking that'... it was a splendid thing,' and that he 'always believed in having such things at once if they were good.'
On Dec. 12, 1902, Ivel Agricultural Motors, Ltd., was incorporated to build the new tractor, and production began in January 1903. The Ivel was a tricycle type, with a single wheel in front and two larger drive wheels at the rear. In those days of heavy, awkward steam and gas traction engines, the Ivel's 2-ton weight seemed positively nimble, yet it was capable of pulling a three-bottom plow. An 8-hp, two-cylinder, horizontally opposed engine of 6-inch bore and stroke powered the machine. The engines, which may have been built by either Aster or Payne & Bates, used atmospheric intake valves, burned petrol (gasoline), and were hopper cooled, with the water in the large, square tank at the driver's left elbow. The stack on top of the tank is to keep the water from spilling out on hillsides.
Ignition on the early machines was achieved by a glass battery, a vibrating coil and spark plugs. Later models used the battery and coil for starting, but switched over to a magneto after the engine was running. Power was transmitted to the rear wheels through a friction cone clutch, a single forward and reverse transmission and then, a chain drive. Steering was accomplished by a gear and chain on the vertical steering wheel shaft that pulled cables running to the T-bar at the top of the front wheel fork.
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