Farm Collector Blogs > Looking Back

Tractor Farming in the 1920s

by Sam Moore

Tags: looking back, Sam Moore, tractors, 19th century farming,

I recently came across an article in the October 24th, 1925, Pennsylvania Farmer about the use of tractor power on a Pennsylvania livestock farm. The story described the tractor’s use on the 350 acre Greer Stock Farm in Lawrence County (not far from where your humble correspondent grew up) and mentioned that the tractor operator’s name was George Hackathron, although the make of the machine was never revealed.

The author points out that the tractor has been worked into the general farming scheme along with the draft horses. Some jobs were done entirely by the tractor, but on others it was sent into the field with the horses and was used “... merely as a supplementary form of power.”

The tractor was used “... in tillage work, for plowing, discing and harrowing land before the crops are put into the ground. It pulls two fourteen-inch plows without difficulty. The land on the farm is generally rolling and the tractor seems to have no difficulty in negotiating the hills.”

The article goes on to say, “But the work of the iron horse is not limited to tillage operations by any means. At wheat cutting time the tractor is hitched to a seven foot grain binder and there it has been found to work splendidly during the long hot days of harvest. There is no necessity for changing teams in the middle of the day.”

At haying time the tractor pulled the hayloader and wagon around the field “ a pretty good rate of speed and loads a wagon in a very few minutes.” Horses were used for hauling the loaded wagons to the barns, but the speed of loading was said to be “...a mighty valuable thing when there are storm clouds gathering and a lot of hay is still on the ground.”

The Greer farm had its own twenty-two inch threshing machine which was powered by the tractor. This job could thus be done at the “... time when threshing should be done in order that the grain can be put into the bins in the best of condition ...” without having to wait on the busy custom thresherman.

After threshing, three large silos had to be filled to provide feed for the Greer’s sixty-five head of purebred Shorthorn cattle, and this job “... gives the tractor work for quite a few days.”

After the silos were filled, corn had to be husked and shelled, and then ground into livestock feed. “The tractor is used to operate the husker and the sheller and when the corn is all shelled it is dumped into the grinder and worked up into feed.”

The Greer family ran a pretty progressive operation for 1925. The author says, “Plenty of power for the work to be done is one of the slogans on the Greer Farm.” Besides the tractor, there were several gasoline engines used for pumping water.

They also had a large 5-ton motor truck that was used for hauling limestone and livestock. The Greer Stock Farm apparently showed the Shorthorns at various fairs and the truck was used to “... take a number of show animals around the fair circuit in the fall of the year.”

The article says, “... the Greer farm is nothing at all if it isn’t well limed.” Four or five carloads of raw limestone were applied every year and the truck was used to haul this “... amendment to the soil” that produced “... heavy stands of clover and alfalfa.”

The author mentions the “... fine, not new but strictly modern” farm buildings. “Every stable is provided with an overhead manure and litter carrier which facilitates cleaning out the stalls, and loading the manure into the two spreaders.”

There also was an implement and machine shed where “... every machine is kept under cover when not in use and the excellent condition of the implements at all times speaks very well for this system of operation.”

In 1925 it was still several years until International Harvester introduced the row-crop Farmall and most eastern farmers believed that tractors were only for the large farms “out west.” It was probably enlightening for them to read of an eastern farm making so much use of a tractor.

1925 Model T with Cows

Although this Model T Ford truck is hardly a 5-ton model, and the cows aren’t Shorthorns, the illustration shows how cattle were transported by truck in the 1920s. (From an ad for the Muncie auxiliary transmission for the Model T truck on the cover of Farm Mechanics magazine for September, 1926. In the author’s collection.)