Fordson Tractors and the History of Ford Trucks

Ford trucks brought power to the people in applications like golf course maintenance, road construction and street maintenance
By Sam Moore
February 2013
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A Galion Jr. Fordson road roller.
Photo By Sam Moore
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Henry Ford pitched his Model T cars as an inexpensive way for low-income city dwellers and rural folks to become automobile owners, while his Fordson tractors were meant to substitute mechanical power for horseflesh on American farms. Ford believed that using horses for transportation was inefficient and wasteful. He once remarked that he had always disliked horses and mules that ate their fool heads off while working only six months out of the year.

Of course, Ford wasn’t just a philanthropist with the greater good of the people in mind; he was a hardheaded businessman as well. When the early demand for a motorized alternative to haulage led people to convert his cars into makeshift trucks, he began building trucks of his own. He also recognized the additional uses of the Fordson tractor in such non-agricultural fields as golf course maintenance, road construction and street maintenance.

Although Ford offered a “delivery car” that resembled a small sedan delivery truck as early as 1905, and many manufacturers and individuals built commercial bodies on the bare Ford chassis, Ford prohibited his dealers from modifying the cars into trucks.

The official history of Ford trucks began in 1917, when Henry Ford relented and offered a 1-ton truck chassis, although with the exception of the delivery car, truck buyers were responsible for their own cabs and bodies. Ford did not begin to make commercial truck bodies until 1924. His first effort was an open express truck; later Ford produced a platform-stake model. The 1-ton truck was known as the Model TT, although the reason for that designation remains obscure. The TT had a 24-inch longer wheelbase, stronger rear springs, solid rubber rear tires and a heavier worm-drive rear axle, although forward of that it was identical to Ford’s passenger car chassis. In 1925, an optional pickup bed was made available for the Model T Runabout, replacing the rear closed “trunk” with an open box.

Completely Fordized

For several years Ford published a little magazine titled Power and Haulage that touted the use of Fords and Fordsons by public utilities, contractors, road and street departments, and even golf courses and horse racing tracks.

A story in the 1926 edition tells us that Kansas City, Kan., “is Completely Fordized,” with 49 Ford trucks and roadsters and two Fordson tractors in service. A photo shows a 1-ton express truck and a roadster pickup in use by the Kansas City Light, Water & Street Department, while another shows an industrial Fordson with a snug wood and glass cab and hard rubber tires delivering a wagonload of pipe to a construction project.

The city of Long Beach, California used industrial Fordsons to pull double wagonloads of trash to the dump on Signal Hill, while 1-ton trucks with special bodies were used to pick up neighborhood trash.

Thousands of Model TT 1-ton trucks, equipped with aftermarket dump beds made by Galion and other companies, worked on construction jobs all over America. A Washington contractor working on the Pacific Highway used 16 Model TT trucks with dump beds to carry 20,000 yards of sand and gravel, 1-1/2 yards per load, to the concrete mixing plant. The contractor said: “(By) changing to Ford equipment our hauling costs were practically cut in half.”

In 1926, the Tennessee State Road Department was using 445 Ford trucks, 127 Ford cars and 275 Fordson tractors. The equipment superintendent said they were drawn to Ford by the low original and subsequent maintenance costs, as well as the satisfactory way the equipment performed.

Fordson tractors with smooth extension rims replacing steel lugs on the front and rear wheels pulled multiple-gang reel mowers on countless golf courses and country clubs. The 100-foot wide horse racing track at Belmont, N.Y., was kept graded and smoothed between races by five air tire-equipped Fordson tractors, each pulling a 20-foot wide grader. Fordson tractors were used for the same task at Kentucky’s Churchill Downs.

Several manufacturers used the Fordson tractor as the power unit for machines that were used extensively in construction and commercial enterprises. Belle City’s Track Pull and Full Crawler Co.’s Trackson made conversions to turn a Fordson into a full-tracked machine, while Hadfield-Penfield made tracked attachments to replace the rear wheels only. George Haiss Mfg. sold a full-tracked chassis named the Traxion. A Fordson (with the wheels removed) was mounted on top and drove the tracks with roller chains from the rear hubs.

Brookville Locomotive Co. used a Fordson power unit on some of their small gasoline locomotives for quarries, mines, factories and road-building projects.

Fordson tractors help road construction boom

During the 1920s, the call to “Get the farmer out of the mud!” was heard all over the land. Tons of money was made available for the purpose. With so much road construction to do, the old methods were woefully inadequate. A horse-drawn road plow, nothing more than a heavy walking plow, loosened the surface. Horse-drawn slip or wheeled scrapers followed the plows to gather and dump the dirt. One-yard dump wagons pulled by horses or mules were loaded by hand or steam shovel, after which the team plodded to wherever the dirt was needed. Faster, more efficient road grading and earthmoving machines were desperately needed, and many manufacturers were quick to respond.

Road roller conversions built around the Fordson came from Wehr, Good Roads Machinery, Austin-Western and Galion, while the same firms offered road grader attachments for the ubiquitous little tractors.

A front-end loading shovel was sold by Anthony Co., Streator, Ill., while Schramm and several other concerns offered air compressors for use with Fordson tractors to operate air hammers and drills. Backfill or bulldozer blades, scrapers, earth augers, front-mounted rotary brooms and dump carts were advertised for use with Fordson tractors as well.

In 1925, Henry Ford’s younger brother William established Wilford Shovel Co. in Detroit to manufacture a tracked 1/4-yard shovel powered by a Fordson skid unit. These little shovels could be purchased and serviced at the local Ford dealership.

Because of the new Fordson-powered road machines, as well as many others, the farmer in his Model T traveled over better roads on his trips to town. When asked how far he lived from town, he no longer answered in disgust, “Five miles in good weather and 20 when it rains!” And with greater productivity, he was able to attain a greater prosperity — so he could buy a better tractor to replace his old Fordson. FC 

Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by email at letstalkrustyiron@att.net.  


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