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The Rise of Farm Tractor Design

By Leslie C. McManus


Tags: January 2017, First Things, Leslie C. McManus,

First Things

It is hard to imagine today, when designers impart form (and sometimes function) to just about everything, that there was a time when design was really not part of the equation.

The end of that time coincided with the first wave of farm tractors. In this issue of Farm Collector, Robert Pripps explores the rise of industrial design in tractor manufacture.

When practical, working tractors came on the scene, one imagines that the farmer was so relieved to have a machine doing the lion’s share of the work that he scarcely considered what the thing looked like.

In the 1920s and ’30s, innovation was unfolding so rapidly that new products were embraced in a rather primitive manner. Rooms were lit by one light bulb hanging from the center of the ceiling. Knob-and-tube wiring passed through holes cut in joists. Henry Ford’s Model T was available in any color, so long as it was black.

But there is something almost impossibly quaint about the utilitarian items of our past. It’s kind of like the old days of network TV, when it was a safe bet that if “Gunsmoke” was on, everybody you knew was watching. Or the days of party line phones, which were an admitted nuisance, but if you lived in the country, they were everybody’s nuisance.

But then somebody took a bite of the apple and the utilitarian seemed suddenly just the least little bit shabby. On tractors, design splashed onto every surface: Grilles became elegant. Louvers added a bit of automotive flair. Seats, fenders and hood ornaments fairly bloomed with design elements.

Today of course we are awash in design. Scarcely anything is utilitarian anymore. Even things that should be are given bells and whistles to justify a higher price. But good design is a beautiful thing, and when form follows function, better yet.

As we close the books on 2016, I am remembering far-flung friends, old and new. Last summer, a new friend in Wales taught me the phrase Lechyd da! He maintains that it is the Welsh version of “cheers!” There is also the very real possibility that it means, “Your goat is handsome.” No matter how you say it, all of us at Farm Collector send our very best wishes to you this holiday season. Cheers! FC