Red Tractors Down Under: International Harvester Company of Australia

Red Tractors first made an appearance down under in 1852 and became one of the island-nation's premier brands.

Farmall AM

The Farmall AM was a row-crop version of the AW-6 sold with standard front and rear axles, radiator shutters, heat control, swinging drawbar, exhaust muffler, 6.0x16 front tires, two front- and rear-wheel weights, and rear tires sized 13.5x32 or 11x38. The tractor sold for $2,556.

Photo courtesy Sarah Galloway collection

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Red Tractors 1958-2013 (Octane Press, 2013) is an authoritative and unparalleled look at the tractors built by International Harvester Company and Case IH. Author Lee Klancher leads a research team that has collected more than 380 pages and 700 images, documenting these beloved machines built in America and abroad. In this multi-part series, Farm Collector shares the first chapter of Red Tractor, "1958-1959 The Hinsdale Connection". This final excerpt covers the Australian tractors produced by International Harvester Company.

You can purchase this book from the Farm Collector store: Red Tractors 1958-2013.

In 1852 the first McCormick reaper arrived in Australia, 21 years after Cyrus Hall McCormick had demonstrated his reaper to a skeptical gathering at his father’s farm near Steele’s Tavern, Virginia.

Two separate organizations, one selling McCormick and one Deering, formed in Australia in 1884. In 1903, a year after the Deering and McCormick merger that formed International Harvester, International Harvester of America (IHCA) registered for trading in Australia. By 1904 not only was the company selling their own farm implements, engines, and vehicles, but they were also sole agents in Australia for Buffalo Pitts steam engines, Chattanooga reversible disc plows, Cockshutt plows, Deere plows, Oliver plows, Sanders disc plows, and Zealandia milking machines.

IHCA headquarters were established in Melbourne in 1904. All International Harvester goods were sold from this building, as were their agency lines. Many other buildings in and around Melbourne were occupied as the company’s needs expanded into motor-truck assembly, service, spare parts, showrooms, and other aspects of operating a large company.

IHCA assembled most of their imported components into tractors in Spotswood, a small suburb just outside of Melbourne. The company sent these imported implements and tractors from Spotswood all over Australia until Geelong Works was opened in 1939.

On June 26, 1912, International Harvester Company of Australia Pty. Ltd. was created. A memo stated that as of “July 1, 1912, all the assets owned in Australia prior to that date, have been purchased by International Harvester Company of Australia (IHA). This includes all the Company real estate, personal property, promissory notes and accounts and its rights and benefits under all contracts, agreements and leases.”

The success of importing machinery lasted until the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s when the Australian government imposed heavy import duties on farm machinery. As this was IHA’s main trade, sales were greatly affected and resulted in renewed efforts to find and establish their own factory. Until this time, parts for implements, as well as whole implements, had been made for IH at several different locations. These arrangements created a potential problem as manufacturers were not above copying IH designs and selling them as their own, with few, if any, changes.

In January 1937, a team of four IH executives from Australia and the United States scoured the country looking for a suitable place to build the IH factory. The major criteria for a good site were quality roads and rail and water access. The Geelong site was purchased on September 29, 1937, and construction was underway soon after the first sod was turned on July 19, 1938. In December 1938, four months after construction started on the Geelong Works, the first iron was poured at the foundry. The plant officially opened May 22, 1939 and employed 216 people.

Company headquarters were also relocated in 1939, to City Road, South Melbourne. This consolidated the company’s many facilities scattered around the Melbourne area into one location with convenient access. The newly leased premises were within half a mile of the main city center.

Early in 1940, the Commonwealth Government exercised its right to utilize the services of the plant and its workforce. Geelong Works became a large contributor to the war effort, manufacturing guns, tanks, shells, aircraft, and other materiel, though Geelong continued to produce lines of farm equipment to help feed the thousands of soldiers overseas. Engineers at the works were able to develop equipment for large-scale vegetable production during the war. As a result, many new lines of vegetable equipment were available in Australia. At the end of the war, Geelong Works was reverted to an agricultural manufacturer. The company realized that Australia was a country with huge potential and poised for a gigantic industrial revolution.

In 1947, plans were completed and construction begun to double the size of the factory, by now manufacturing tractors, trucks, and power units. In addition, the headquarters in Melbourne were purchased in 1948, ending a ten-year lease.

That same year saw the start of another expansion to the International Harvester line. Fifty-six acres were purchased in Dandenong for the manufacture of passenger, military, and over-the-road trucks. Dandenong became the second IH plant in Australia and home to truck manufacture.

During all this expansion, work continued for employees building implements, tractors, and other equipment. Tractors still were imported from overseas, although the works now had the ability to cast some of their own parts using dies from the United States. For a tractor to qualify for Australian-made status, a certain percentage of its components had to be locally designed and made. On April 15, 1948, the first Australian-made tractor, the AW-6, rolled off the production line. It was soon found in every part of Australia and New Zealand and working on every imaginable project, from agriculture to road construction to heavy industry.

On the truck side, demand was so great that the trucks were temporarily produced at Melbourne’s City Road headquarters while the Dandenong site was prepared. The first mass-produced Australian-made truck came off a temporary assembly line on August 3, 1950. On August 4, 1950, a ceremony to begin construction of the Dandenong Works—the city’s first major industry—took place. Construction moved quickly and an official opening ceremony was held on June 27, 1952—four months after the first trucks begun production at the plant.

Back at Geelong, another great moment was celebrated on September 11, 1952, when the 10,000th tractor was built at the works. A Super AW-6 tractor was driven off the assembly line by Minister for Trade and Customs Sir John McEwen. The first Australian diesel-powered tractor, a Super AWD-6 was built in 1954.

Improvements were continually made at Geelong as technology improved and demands increased. With the peak number of employees in 1952 of 2,578, an industrial relations center was established in 1954 to look after employee needs. Soon after, a medical center was added and a company doctor appointed. Another major upgrade came in 1956 with the opening of a new cafeteria that seated 560 people and served employees hot three-course meals. Mr. H. McKim recalls that even if you brought your own lunch you were expected to eat in the cafeteria. Thus IHA maintained a family atmosphere.

International Harvester expanded again on July 14, 1958, when it took possession of Fowler Engineering Pty. Ltd. for the manufacture of construction and earthmoving equipment in Australia. The smallest of the three works at just over 7 acres, Port Melbourne Works was just a hundred yards from the wharf on the Yarra River.

Focusing mainly on small production runs, Port Melbourne was the assembly or manufacture site for more than 100 types of products. Bulldozers, bullgraders, skid shovels and clamshells, Drott units, and other equipment previously made at Geelong were transferred here. (Manufacturing also included cranes, diggers, and loaders previously made by Fowlers.) This expansion allowed for several new machines, such as the Hough Payloader and International Payhauler, to be made at the works. A wider range of Australian-made IH products and more employment opportunities strengthened the company’s policy of providing more equipment for Australian transport, agriculture, and industry.

Alongside three manufacturing facilities building products were separate engineering departments for drawing and testing all the products. The need for one location became evident and building of the Product Engineering Centre began in 1961 across the road from Geelong Works on 10 acres purchased in 1955.

The Australian-Made Machines

In July 1948, the Australian-made Farmall M expanded the line of locally made tractors. Four years later, on September 11, 1952, the 10,000th tractor, an AW-6, came off the production line at Geelong.

McCormick International AW-6

For a tractor to be considered Australian-built, a certain percentage of it had to be built or cast in-house. The first Australian-built tractor was modeled on the American W-6, which was made in the States from 1940 to 1953 and sold in Australia as early as 1942. The first Australian-made W-6 rolled off the line at Geelong Works on April 15, 1948. Prior to this, all tractors has been imported and assembled, first at Spotswood, then at Harvester House in Melbourne, and finally at Geelong.

Early W-6s featured a cast-iron oil pan and a deep fan cowling, and lacked the A prefix. The W-6s and AW-6s were built until June 1953. The 10,000th Australian-built IH tractor was an AW-6 that rolled off the line at Geelong on September 11, 1952.

McCormick International Super AW-6

On February 4, 1953, the first Super AW-6 was undergoing testing trials pulling an Australian-made GL-200 header harvester in a barley crop. The Super AW-6 was released later in the year, on July 29, 1953, in Atherton, Queensland, and sold until June 1958 when it was replaced by the AW-7.

Not only was the Super AW-6 a new tractor in its power range, but it offered many features new to McCormick International tractors, including the AC-264 engine, a chassis with attaching points for direct-mounted equipment, a heavier ribbed rear frame, a two-piece rear frame cover to ensure simple installation of three-point linkage and inspection of final drive, and demountable steel rims. Super AW-6s also featured the same channel-iron frame as the AM tractors. This kept costs to a minimum and helped with the fit of implements to both the W-6 and M series.

McCormick International Super AWD-6

The Super AWD-6, introduced October 22, 1953, and sold until June 1958, was the first diesel tractor manufactured in Australia for International Harvester. This versatile tractor’s 50-horsepower engine (the AD-264) provided ample power plus economy, meeting the requirements of most Australian farms and filling a long-awaited need.

Farmall AM

The Farmall AM was Australia’s first factory-produced row-crop tractor. Introduced on July 20, 1948, at a Victorian dealer conference, it replaced the American-built Farmall M. (The American M and H were offered during the war until the Australian plant was able to make more castings.) The Farmall AM was popular with cane and tobacco farmers for its high visibility and row clearance for front- and mid-mounted attachments.

Farmall Super AM

The McCormick International Farmall Super AM led represented new and higher standards. Introduced on July 28, 1953, the Super AM is the most powerful kerosene built to date, with 18 percent more power than the Farmall AM. It was replaced in March 1958 with the AM-7K.

Farmall Super AMD

The increasing demand for a diesel-powered Farmall tractor resulted in the development and manufacture in Australia of the Farmall Super AMD. Released December 18, 1953, and built until July 1957, its 50-horsepower engine (the AD-264) provided ample power for most farm requirements.

There can be some confusion identifying early Australian M tractors. Like their American-made counterparts, their decals simply show an M and serial numbers starting with the prefix FBK. The Super AM serial prefix may have “AM” without “Super” on the AM decal. Some early Super AM tractors have “SAM” decals but only “AM” on the serial number tag. Rest assured it is indeed a Super AM tractor if it has the AC-264 engine. The diesel tractor had AMD decals and sported the AD-264 engine. The AM tractor was available only in kerosene, and used the AC-248 engine until July 1953.

McCormick International AOS-6

The AOS-6 (Australian Orchard Special) was a modified W-6 with an AC-248 engine. Introduced June 3, 1953, it was built until July 1959. Great in apple, citrus, and fruit orchards, and in vineyards with its low profile, narrow frame, lowered seat, and smaller tires, the AOS-6 was also available as a Standard version. Following the success of demonstrator models as promotional tools in the United States in 1951, the first AOS-6 tractors were painted white. The earliest reference to the white tractors is dated September 8, 1953. Although it is unknown how many tractors were painted this way, R. Devlin, former chief product engineer for IH, recalls that quite a few white AOS-6s came off the line. He wasn’t excited about the white paint because grease from clothing or hands and oil showed easily on it. He was glad when the salesmen decided to return to the more forgiving red paint.

McCormick International AW-7

Introduced in 1957, the McCormick International AW-7 replaced the AW-6. The official presentation for the AW-7 was held in Perth, Western Australia, on July 20, 1957. The official release of the kerosene version followed in March 1958.

It was available until 1961 with either the diesel (50 horsepower) or kerosene (45 horsepower) engine. The most interesting feature about this big all-purpose farm tractor was its power steering, which allowed the big unit to handle like a small car. The paint scheme was red, including tire rims and weights, with a white grille, cast-aluminum badge, and backgrounds for hood side emblems.

Farmall AM-7

Replacing the Farmall AM and the Farmall AMD were the AM-7K (kerosene) and AM-7D (diesel). Introduced with little fanfare, these tractors were simply updated versions of the AM and AMD. The AM-7D was introduced in July 1957, and the AM-7K was released on March 28, 1958. The AM-7K used the AC-264 motor, while the AM-7D, likewise, retained the AD-264 motor. The paint scheme changed slightly, with a white grille and white background on the cast-aluminum badges. Neither tractor was for sale after 1961. FC

Read more from Red Tractors 1958-2013 in:

• International Harvester Company Reveals Return of the Large Tractor at Burr Ridge Farm
• International 460 Ushers in New Era for International Harvester Company
• The Next Generation of Red Tractors: The 40 and 60 Series
• The International 460 and the Evolution of Red Tractors
• The Farmall M and the Red Tractors of Great Britain
• International Harvester Invests in Germany       
IHC and McCormick Deering: The Red Tractors of France

Reprinted with permission from Red Tractors 1958-2013: The Authoritative Guide to International Harvester and Case-IH Farm Tractors in the Modern Era by Lee Klancher and published by Octane Press, 2013. Buy the book from our store: Red Tractors 1958-2013.