Ironically, a Ford Model B tractor produced by charlatan W. Baer Ewing survived and is today displayed at the Lester F. Larsen Tractor Museum, Lincoln, Neb. But it is no surprise to anyone familiar with the Ford tractor and W. Baer Ewing that the rare tractor is shrouded in mystery.
An enlarged version of a vintage advertisement for the Ford Model B, complete with a drawing of the machine, is displayed next to the tractor at the Larsen museum. But a former curator at the museum, Dr. Louis I. Leviticus, assigned a curious date to the tractor, based on information he received at the time it was donated. “The material which arrived with the tractor tends to show that the year of its manufacture was 1909,” Leviticus wrote.
Roland Spenst, who donated the tractor to the museum, said at the time of the donation that he had purchased the tractor in 1912 from Howard Erlendson, who said he bought the tractor new in 1909. Erlendson had actually purchased three Ford Model B tractors, two of which were used for parts.
Dating by design
In a December 1990 letter, Spenst included detail about the Model B’s design. He noted that, “the 1909 tractor model didn’t have brakes on the differential to help steer the tractor. A later 1912 Ford Model B included the brakes. The 1909 model ignition system had a battery coil design. The 1912 model was a Kingston magneto. I changed the magneto on my 1909 model for an International Harvester magneto.
“The 1909 model Ford B also had no cover on the gears, whereas the 1912 model included a cast iron cover. The 1909 model had a cone-type clutch; the 1912 model had an expanding clutch in the flywheel. I replaced the cone-clutch on my 1909 model for an expanding flywheel clutch.”
Spenst’s letter also described the drawbar of the 1909 model as triangular; the 1912 model’s drawbar was U-shaped. The 1909 model had a thermo-siphon cooling system, he wrote; the 1912 model came with a water pump.
Answer lost to time
“The big question is,” Leviticus mused in later writings, “was it a Ford tractor already in 1909 or did it have another name which was later changed to Ford when Ewing’s Minneapolis company bought the technology and incorporated the Minneapolis Ford name? D. Maurice Hartsough was one of the builders of the Bull tractor. In 1913 Hartsough’s company produced the Little Bull, which bears resemblance to the Ford B. Conceivably, they made other models with similar designs. There was quite a bit of confusion in the sale and renaming of companies in the early 1900s. So, was there a Ford tractor before 1915, or not?”
The Ford Model B at the museum has a triangular bar (dating to 1909), no brakes on the differential (or anywhere) (also 1909), no covered gears (1909) and a thermo-siphon cooling system (1909). “It does still have the International Harvester magneto and signs which came with it, giving the manufacturing date of 1909,” Leviticus wrote. “But we don’t have the luxury of having Mr. Spenst with us to tell the story of his tractor in more detail.” FC
For more information: Lester F. Larson Tractor Test and Power Museum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, PO Box 830833, 35th and Fair St., Lincoln, NE 68583; phone (402) 472-8389; Tractor Test and Power Museum.
Read more about the Ford Model B in The Fraudulent Ford Model B and Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory Offered Early Consumer Protection.