Small but Mighty: The Ransomes M.G. Crawler

The M.G. crawler remains popular with British collectors, despite production ceasing in the 1960s.

mg crawler

A Ransomes M.G.6 crawler tractor with hydraulic lift.

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In 1789, a British brass and iron founder, Robert Ransome, began to cast iron plowshares in Ipswich. Cast iron shares wore quickly and required sharpening by heating and hammering the edge, a process that could be repeated only a few times.

An accidental spill of molten iron on a cold surface resulted in Ransome’s discovery of chilled iron, which made much tougher shares that retained their edge longer. Ransome parlayed this into the Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies Co. By 1900, the company was making a variety of agricultural machinery, such as plows, harrows, hay tools, threshing machines and cultivators, as well as stationary, portable and traction steam engines. Other products included iron bridges and a range of railroad products.

In 1832, the firm began building lawn mowers under the 1830 Edwin Beard Budding patent and soon was making lawn mowers of every size, including horse-drawn models. During the late 1800s, a steam-powered lawn mower was developed and, in 1902, Ransomes produced the first commercially available gas-powered mower, and lawn and estate mowers became an important part of their business.

Smaller turns out to be better

After failed attempts to make a heavy gas tractor in 1903 and 1919, Ransomes hit pay dirt in 1936 with the tiny, tracked motor garden cultivator. The Ransomes M.G. (motor garden) cultivator, later called the M.G.2, was powered by a 600cc air-cooled, 1-cylinder Sturmey Archer “T” engine that put out 6 hp, had a dry sump with a separate tank for the lubricating oil, and cost £135 in 1936.

Sturmey Archer was, and still is (although the firm is now owned by Chinese interests) well known for their bicycle gear change sets, but also built engines and gearboxes for motorcycles during the 1920s. The Great Depression hit the company hard, and engine manufacture ceased around 1930. It’s unclear who made the S-A badged engines used by Ransomes; perhaps they built them under license.

The M.G.’s 6-inch wide rubber-jointed tracks were made by Roadless and were driven by a 4-to-1 reduction gearbox through a centrifugal clutch that automatically engaged the drive to the tracks when the engine speed reached 500 rpm. A simple transmission provided one forward and one reverse gear with a top speed in either direction of 2 mph. Steering was by two hand levers operating band brakes on the track drive shafts. The M.G.2 had a 1-foot ground clearance; track width could be set at 2 feet, 4 inches; 2 feet, 7 inches; and 2 feet, 10 inches for work in various row widths.

Advertised as being able to do the work of a team of horses, the Ransomes M.G.2 was built from 1936 to 1948, which included the war years when Ransomes was heavily involved in war work. Some 3,000 of the little crawlers were made during this time.

Refining an instant classic

The M.G.5 was introduced in 1948 and was very similar to the preceding model except for the slightly more powerful engine. The new tractor was powered by an air-cooled Ransomes 600cc, 1-cylinder dry sump engine. The M.G.5 also was slightly heavier than the M.G.2, tipping the scale at 12-1/2 cwt (1,400 lbs.), with a price tag of £250.

A shroud over the engine replaced the large round cooling fan, while the fuel tank was now under the seat with a fuel pump. An impulse magneto made starting the engine easier and speed was increased by a whopping 1/4 mph.

The M.G.5 had a hand-lift tool frame and a swinging drawbar at the rear, same as the M.G.2. But now, an optional hydraulic lift arrangement (made by R.J. Neville Co. in New South Wales, Australia) was available for installation by the dealer, bringing the cost of the tractor up to nearly £340

In 1953, the M.G.5 was replaced by the M.G.6, which had the same engine, but a new 3-speed transmission that gave speeds of 1-1/8, 2-1/4, and 4 mph in either direction. In addition, Ransomes now offered their own hydraulic linkage as an option. With the hand-lift toolbar, the M.G.6 cost £305, while the hydraulic option added £52 to the price. Other options included rubber or hardwood track pads, and small front support wheels to keep the front overhang from digging in at the bottom of steep slopes. In 1956 an 8-1/2 hp air-cooled diesel engine was made available.

Implements for every job

A wide range of implements built especially for M.G. crawlers was offered by Ransomes. These included a 4-foot “Ramdozer” front blade that could be angled 30 degrees in either direction and fitted with hydraulic or hand lift.

For mowing lawns, there was a 30-inch reel-type mower, while for golf courses or large estates, a hitch was available that allowed three of these mowers to be ganged together for a 7-foot cut. Of course any pull-type cutter bar hay mower of 3-foot-6-inch cut could be pulled as well.

There was a 3-foot double disc harrow and a 20-foot boom sprayer with the pump belt-driven from a pulley on the tractor’s PTO.

The rear-mounted toolbar, with either hand- or hydraulic-lift, could be fitted with rigid or spring cultivator tines with a variety of points, shovels, sweeps, ridging bodies or potato plows. One- to five-row seeders could also be mounted on the tool bar for seeding “from the smallest seeds up to peas and French beans.”

A front-mounted toolbar could be fitted, giving the operator a good view of the machine and allowing for close cultivation.

Mounted two-way, single-bottom and two-bottom plows were available for the M.G., with 8-, 10- or 12-inch bottoms. In addition, the Ransomes line of pulled plows was available with 8-, 10- or 12-inch bottoms. The sales brochure optimistically showed a 3-bottom with 10-inch plows. Maybe – in very light soil.

Howards made a 24-inch wide Rotovator tiller for the M.G., while Donald Engineering, Ltd., offered a cut-off saw bench (belt-driven from the PTO) that could be mounted on the rear of the little tractor. Another firm made a belt-driven, mounted air compressor that was handy for spraying paint or running air tools, such as air hammers and pneumatic hedge trimmers.

Small crawlers big with collectors

The M.G.6 was discontinued in 1960 after about 5,000 of them had been made. It was replaced by the M.G.40, which was very similar the M.G.6 except it had an upgraded Ransomes air-cooled 36-cubic-inch engine with a wet-sump, while a Drayton diesel of similar size was an option.

A variation of the M.G.40 was the Industrial Tractor Wheeled (ITW) introduced in 1956. Heavy roller chains drove the front wheels, and steering was similar to skid-steered machines. Some M.G.40 crawlers were modified by reversing the position of the seat and steering levers, and mounting a loader bucket or dumper box on what was now the front of the tractor.;

By the time M.G. tractor production ceased in the mid-1960s, some 15,000 of the little machines had been built. They remain popular with collectors in Great Britain. FC


The author gratefully acknowledges Jaime Trojek for permission to use the last four illustrations from the Ransomes M.G.5 sales brochure that appears on his website at: www.oldirongardentractors.com

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.