Unanswered Questions for Ford Model B
a Ford Model B tractor produced by charlatan W. Baer Ewing survived and is
today displayed at the Lester F. Larsen Tractor Museum,
But it is no surprise to anyone familiar with the Ford tractor and W. Baer
Ewing that the rare tractor is shrouded in mystery.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
lost to time
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
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.
The Fraudulent Ford Model B
F. Crozier was almost certainly not the only farmer to cuss the Ford Model B
tractor. But turning lemons into lemonade, he was the only one to convert a bad
experience into a consumer protection agency that endures today: the Nebraska
Tractor Test Laboratory in Lincoln.
on a name
story of the Ford Model B tractor begins well before a Nebraska farmer kicked one in his field. W.
Baer Ewing was the driving force behind
establishment of Ford Tractor Co. In Standard Catalog of Farm Tractors,
author and historian C.H. Wendel notes that prior to 1915 Ewing organized
several companies, including Federal Securities Co., Minneapolis, which sold securities in Power
Distribution Co. But when the bonds came due, bondholders had trouble getting
Tractor Co. was another of Ewing’s
enterprises, apparently intended to capitalize on the well-known name of
automaker Henry Ford. “In 1916,” Wendel writes, “virtually anything that had
‘Ford’ on the nameplate found a ready market.”
according to an Aug. 2, 1917, account in the New York Times, witnesses
testifying during an investigation of Ewing’s company revealed that Ewing, in establishing a tractor company, was “largely
interested in a tractor that promised large financial returns. Even if the
company’s business of making and marketing automobiles did not enable it to get
up on its financial feet, it was said, the tractor business would assure it.”
first became interested in the Lion tractor manufactured by Lion Tractor Co., Minneapolis, in 1914-15.
He became associated with D. Maurice Hartsough, inventor of the Lion tractor.
After a short time, Ewing severed his connection
with Hartsough. During that time, the Lion company was entangled in a patent
litigation case. It’s possible that suit (which began in 1915 and was resolved
by 1917) caused Ewing to look elsewhere for a
tractor company he could invest in. Whatever the reason, Ewing’s
relationship with Lion was short-lived.
Ewing later employed a man named Kinkaid to make a
tractor, but the first prototype wasn’t much good, one observer noted, “because
it wouldn’t run in a line.” But it was good enough for Ewing’s
purposes. It’s unknown whether Ewing
deliberately sought out Paul B. Ford or simply stumbled on an opportunity.
However it happened, in the June 1917 edition of Tractor and Gas Engine
Review an article mentioned a young electrician named Paul B. Ford who was
working for a “local concern and knew little or nothing of tractors.” In spite
of Ford’s lack of experience with any type of farm equipment, Ewing invited him
to become part of what Ewing established as
Ford Tractor Co. of South Dakota. At the outset, the company was capitalized
for $1,000,000 ($21,230,000 today).
advertisements published in 1917, Ford Tractor Co. claimed that, “Mr. Paul B.
Ford, inventor and designer of the Ford tractor, has devoted years of his life
to its study. He nurtured the idea until he found men who were willing and able
to convert his ideas into a reality. When Paul B. Ford, of Minneapolis, gave the world the farm tractor
that bears his name, he rendered a great public service to mankind.” In fact,
he did nothing more than lend his name to a tractor built by Kincaid and
heavily influenced by D. Maurice Hartsough’s designs.
a January 1916 edition of Modern Woodman Magazine, the editor wrote,
“Since last July, the Ford tractor that takes its name from Paul Ford, one of
its inventors, has been on the market as an output of Ford Tractor Co. of
Minneapolis. Through the courtesy of Chas. N. Bigelow, head of the agency
department, we show a cut of the tractor. The Ford tractor has been in actual
use in the field all summer. Gasoline or motor spirit can be used, and the
motor is a 16-horsepower, 2-cylinder, 4-cycle, of the opposed type. The
steering principle of this tractor, the company claims, is unique and simple,
as in plowing the right wheel follows the furrow, and with the steering wheel
set, little attention is required of the operator. The Minneapolis
company making this tractor has no connection whatever with the Ford motor
company of Detroit.”
the Modern Woodman editor apparently didn’t know was that Ewing’s tractor company was already in litigation.
According to an Aug. 2, 1917, article in the New York Times, Ford
Tractor Co. of South Dakota “ran along” for one year until about June 1915,
when Ewing apparently “got in a wrangle” with some of his partners. As a result
of the conflict, Ewing was nearly forced out
of the company.
article appearing in Tractor and Gas Engine Review late in 1917 reported
further problems with Ford Tractor Co. “Last summer Ford Tractor Co.
demonstrators … claimed they were making 20 tractors a day. But those who
furnished them with accessories credit them with only 300 for the year.”
article also noted that when Ewing first established the tractor company, he
required dealers to purchase a “block of stock — a practice that few new
concerns care to adopt, not that there is anything particularly wrong about it,
only it is apt to arouse suspicions — and it did in this case, especially among
those who had followed the career of Mr. W. Baer Ewing in his connection with
Federal Securities Co. and Power Distribution Co. of Minneapolis several years
ago.” The article concluded with a warning to investors of the possibility that
the company was probably not what it appeared to be.
dissolution of his initial Ford Tractor Co., Ewing reorganized his tractor
business in Delaware
under the name of Ford Tractor Co. Ltd. The Delaware concern began business on Nov. 8,
1916, with $1,000,000 authorized capital. W. Baer Ewing was president of the
board; C.B. Elliott, vice president; and M.R. Johnston, secretary/treasurer.
John H. Meier, Paul B. Ford, John L. Smith and R.A. Jacobson were directors. In
an initial stock offering, the company extracted $350,000 from approximately
3,000 people, selling about 80,000 shares at $4 to $5 per share.
quickly unraveled. An Aug. 2, 1917, New
York Times headline read, “Emerson Motors
Co. in New Indictment, Five Officers and ‘Ford Tractor’ Heads Accused of
Misusing the Mails, Frauds in Stocks Alleged, Brokers Who Handled Shares Also
Included – Some History of Tractor Concerns.”
Motors Co. was the enterprise devised by Nicholas Field Wilson, who, according
to a November 1918 article in The World’s Work, a monthly business
magazine, sought to get in on one of the nation’s “most lucrative fields for
the get-rich-quick promoter.” Wilson
had already been indicted and sentenced to prison by July 1917 for his
company’s fraudulent activities. He came under further scrutiny when he was
linked to Ford Tractor Co., which by then had its own legal issues. The link
between the two companies was Robert P. Matches & Co., a brokerage firm
that had worked with both Wilson and Ewing.
in 1918, remnants of Ford Tractor Co. were sold at auction. But by then, the
case had taken on a life of its own: Rumors persisted that Ewing had also
organized a tractor company in Canada.
Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with
Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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