RUSTY IRON REVISITED
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In the original article, I expressed doubt that GM was interested in getting into the tractor business after World War II. However, that assumption may be incorrect. That reassessment is based upon a remark in Colin Fraser's book, Tractor Pioneer: The Life of Harry Ferguson.
Most antique tractor buffs have heard of the famous 'handshake agreement' between Henry Ford and Harry Ferguson that launched the Ford tractor with Ferguson three-point hitch system in 1939. In late 1946, after almost 300,000 Ford-Ferguson tractors had been produced, Henry Ford II notified Ferguson that after June 1947 the Ford Motor Co. would no longer furnish tractors to the Ferguson Co. It was a severe blow to Ferguson. Even though the Ferguson Model TE-20 tractor was being manufactured in England by the Standard Motor Co., Ferguson desperately needed a U.S. manufacturer.
Fraser writes, '... the Ferguson management contacted almost every company in North America that might possibly be in a position to take on the manufacture. The list of companies reads like a who's who of American business, but ultimately the concerns showing genuine interest were whittled down to a very small handful, among them Willys, Overland, Kaiser-Frazer and General Motors.'
A meeting was arranged between Harry Ferguson and the executives of GM, including company President Charles Wilson, to discuss a possible deal between GM and Ferguson. During the meeting, Fraser writes, Mr. Ferguson was so argumentative and intractable that GM dropped the idea of building the Ferguson tractor.
The aborted Ferguson contract at least proves that GM was seriously thinking of manufacturing tractors during the mid-1940s and may've given some encouragement to Nutter's tractor-building dreams - although how they would've known about the rural Kentucky farmer and equipment designer is unclear.
It's likely that the Chevrolet dealer in Georgetown - where Nutter undoubtedly purchased parts - tipped off the home office that Nutter had built a tractor using Chevrolet components, and GM sent an engineer to Kentucky to evaluate the machine.
Unfortunately, the whole truth about Dale Hall's unusual 'Chevy' tractor may never be known. Like many mysteries surrounding farm equipment manufacturers of long ago, the more answers one gets, the more questions are raised.
- Sam Moore
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