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The big book of Massey Tractors

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What does the history of Massey-Harris and Massey-Ferguson look like? Robert N. Pripps and Andrew Morland would like to show you. The Big Book of Massey Tractors, with text by Pripps and photography by Morland, tells the story.

They begin at the Ontario blacksmith shop operated by Daniel Massey in the mid-1800s, and move systematically through the early years of implements, harvesters, steam traction engines and finally tractors, finishing up in the 1980s. Their effort is a case study in agricultural mechanization and corporate development, and their focus stays on the machines that did the work.

Many years before the Massey-Harris GP was introduced, the Massey company built steam traction engines in concert with another firm and sold them under the Sawyer-Massey name. A few early units powered by internal combustion also were produced and were as primitive as the other monsters of the day. They were not a huge success in the market; Pripps and Morland offer informed insights.

The Massey-Harris company then tried to ease into the tractor business by connecting to or buying out existing manufacturers, such as the Bull tractor (an ancestor of today's Toro lawn equipment supplier), the Parrett tractor and the Wallis tractor, which was a product of one of two J.I. Case companies in Racine, Wis. The existence of two competing companies named Case in the same city caused terrible headaches in brand identity and order rights. The Rig Book sorts it all out.

At the end of WWI, Henry Ford introduced mass production, vicious competition and cut-throat prices into the market. Even mighty IH reeled, but responded in 1924 with the Farmall, a tractor that could cultivate as well as plow, plant and harvest. Fordson sales diminished, and all the other tractor builders rushed to design a competitive 'general purpose' tractor. Massey-Harris' candidate had the advantage of four-wheel drive; it was the Massey-Harris GP, the first tractor designed by the Massey-Harris Co.

Henry Ford had abandoned the tractor market after delaying too long in climbing aboard the general-purpose band wagon. But after WWII, a brilliant British engineer named Harry Ferguson offered Ford a superb design that prevented tractors from rearing over and also allowed unparalleled interchangeability in implement attachment - the famous 'Ferguson system.' Their agreement was sealed by a handshake. After protracted, off-again-on-again negotiations, Massey-Harris purchased/merged with Ferguson's company in 1953. Initially called the Massey-Harris-Ferguson Co., the firm became simply Massey-Ferguson by 1958.

Pripps and Morland trace its creation and development to the 1980s, when many implement makers succumbed or reorganized. With its international diversification Massey-Ferguson survived, entering the new millennium in a competitive position.

Complementing Pripps writing and Morland's images, which are international in scope, are such tidbits as competitive tractor comparisons, historic photographs and pieces of company literature - including selections from buyers' guides to children's books - all presented in pleasing graphic form. Anyone with a serious interest in Massey-Harris or Massey-Ferguson will want this volume.

The Big Book of Massey-Tractors, text by Robert N. Pripps and photography by Andrew Morland, published by Voyageur Press Inc., Stillwater, Minn. 2001; ISBN: 0-89658-461-5, 209 pages, hard cover, $39.95. Available from Farm Collector Books.

Robert Williams, son and grandson of Texas farmers, is a agricultural historian. His book, Fordson, Farmall and Poppin' Johnny, was published in 1987 by the University of Illinois Press.

'Like Cyrus Hall McCormick and William Deering; Massey and Harris were destined to become biter rivals until their ultimate merger that created the Massey-Harris Co.'

Robert N. Pripps