Farm Collector Blogs > Looking Back

Revisiting the Tongue Truck

Sam MooreI wonder how many of today’s farmers, if asked whether they knew what a tongue truck was, would answer yes. In the days of real horse power these farm implement accessories were common on most farms.

Tongue trucks were often used, not only with horse-drawn mowers and grain binders, but with disc harrows, corn planters, corn binders, potato diggers and even dump rakes. Most two-wheeled, horse-drawn machines are designed with the seat sticking out behind the axle, thus allowing the operator’s weight and the law of leverage to help offset the weight of the implement on the horse’s shoulders. Tongue trucks are also used to lessen this weight on the horses, but they have other important benefits as well.

Many of these implements require a specific and constant position in relation to the ground in order to do their best work. Once the machine is adjusted properly, a tongue truck that supports the front of the machine, maintains this critical operating position without regard to the natural movement of the team. A tongue truck also eliminates the variations in implement operating position caused by different sized teams, while the length of the traces, as well as the adjustment of the breast straps, can best be made to suit the load, without worrying about any effect on the implement’s optimum operating position.

On some implements with stiff poles, particularly those with considerable side draft, such as corn and grain binders and mowing machines, the use of a tongue truck eliminates the sore shoulders caused by the whipping of the tongue against the horses.

A tongue on a disc harrow makes discing very hard on the horses, due to the twisting and bucking of the implement which whips the pole against the team almost constantly. For this reason, disc harrows can be equipped with a tongue truck, thus relieving the team of neck weight and any side draft, as well as eliminating the necessity for the team to pry the machine around when turning. On a disc harrow, a front truck is often used without a tongue and the evener is attached to a clevis that steers the truck wheels. However, a tongue attached to the truck gives the team much more leverage for turning the disc at the corners.

Deering grain binder

A Deering grain binder with a tongue truck.

As can be seen from the attached illustrations, the tongue truck is bolted to the front end of a stub tongue so it supports the front of the implement. The pole is then attached to the truck in such a manner that it steers the wheels and guides the implement as the team turns. The eveners usually are attached directly to the truck itself, and the pole is used only to steer the device.

The tongue truck ordinarily consists of two 15 to 20-inch, steel wheels set fairly close together on a flexible frame that allows the wheels and axle to pivot horizontally as well as to swivel to the right or left. The horizontal pivot feature allows the wheels to follow the ground and keeps the truck steady and the implement tracking properly.

An important benefit of a tongue truck on a hay or grain cutting machine, such as a mower or a grain binder, is that the steerable truck allows easier square turns and full swaths at the corners.

Some seed planting implements where planting depth is critical, such as the John Deere No. 999 corn planter could be furnished with a single wheeled front truck. In this arrangement, the front wheel supports the front of the planter and the tongue is free to pivot up and down while the team negotiates uneven ground. This not only assures that the planter stays level for uniform planting depth and check pattern, but relieves the horses of neck weight as well The front planter wheel is mounted as a caster, allowing it to follow the machine as it is steered by the team.

This reminds me of a story, I think I may have told before.

An acquaintance named Melvin once told me of an experience he had as a young boy on his father’s farm. The father had been an active farmer until being badly enough injured in an accident that he gave up farming and went into a business where he needed a truck. He bought a used, early 1940s Ford 1-ton pickup that the family always referred to as “the ton truck.”

The father then advertised the no-longer-needed farm machinery, which included a grain binder, for sale. One day a farmer came to look at the grain binder, which led to Melvin’s embarrassing interlude. Melvin’s father wasn’t home but the boy, feeling quite important, undertook to show the machine to the prospective buyer. After a careful examination of the binder and a lot of questions, which Melvin endeavored to answer, the farmer, who intended to use the machine with horses, asked, “Do you have a tongue truck?”

Melvin had never heard of a tongue truck and heard the question as, “Do you have a ton truck?” “Yes!” He answered, and proudly led the way to a shed where he pointed to the Ford. After a bit of confusion on both sides, it turned out there was no tongue truck for the binder and the disappointed buyer left empty handed.

– Sam Moore

John Deere corn planter

A Deere 999 corn planter with a tongue truck.