Legacy Ford Collection

Ohio man keeps his father’s legacy alive through preservation and expansion of vast collection of Ford cars, trucks and tractors

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by Fred Hendricks

With a goal of maintaining one of the largest private collections of Ford classics in the U.S., Tom Ruple is on a mission to preserve his father’s legacy. The extensive collection was started in 1963 by his father, William Ruple, then owner of a Ford dealership in Bedford, Ohio.

Determined to enhance the collection, Tom has expanded the display while continuing the example set by his father. The collection started with automobiles. Soon, more than 100 cars were housed in a 20,000-square-foot display building.

Today, trucks are interspersed among the rows of cars. To accommodate 35 antique tractors, another building was added. The exhibition areas of both buildings are smartly accented with vintage signs and gas pumps. Lighted automobile and tractor signs add a special glow to Tom’s collection of classic Fords.

red and white tractor

Starting at the beginning

Tom owns and manages 750,000 square feet of warehouse space. As with almost any property, lawn maintenance is part of the territory. When he bought a 1952 Ford Model 8N tractor to tackle the job, Tom found he enjoyed operating the vintage tractor.

“That spurred my interest to find additional antique Ford tractors to complement my car and truck collection,” he says. “I have no farm background, but owning tractors has created an appreciation for antiques.”

Tom’s collection includes some of the rarest Ford tractors, like his 1917 Fordson Model F on steel wheels. According to TractorData, factories in Dearborn, Michigan, and Cork, Ireland, produced 755,278 Model F Fordsons from 1917 to 1928. Ford and Hercules 4-cylinder 20hp engines were used in the Model F, which was rated for a 2-bottom, 14-inch plow.

classic gas pumps

Tractors tailored to special needs

Ford introduced its Hundred Series in 1955. The 600 and 700 models were followed by the 700 and 900 Models in 1956. Tom’s completely restored Model 640 is powered by a 4-cylinder gas engine with a 28hp drawbar rating.

A 1961 Ford Model 601 Workmaster configured as a “high-boy” on 6-foot stilts is another unique piece in Tom’s collection. Aftermarket kits available with 4-1/2-foot or 6-foot stilts lifted the tractor above crops for tasks like spraying or detasseling corn. The 601 Workmaster was equipped with a 4-cylinder engine and rated at 30hp on the drawbar.

Built on a Model 941 chassis, Tom’s low-clearance 1961 Ford Model 4000 Industrial tractor was designed for use at construction sites and material-handling yards. A front bucket loader and backhoe were frequently added for versatility. The tractor had a Select-o-Speed transmission, 3-point hitch, power steering, and pie-shape weights on the rear wheels.

Tom’s 1944 Ford-Ferguson Moto-Tug is a converted Ford Model 2N built for the U.S. military as an aircraft tow tractor. Approximately 10,000 of the converted tractors were used on aircraft carriers, docks, airfields and civilian airports. Only a handful are known to exist.

man standing next to white tractor

Ford’s drive to mechanize agriculture spurred by memories of hard physical labor on the farm

When Albert Einstein famously concluded that “imagination is more important than knowledge,” he probably didn’t have Henry Ford in mind. But he could have. Ford achieved great success by manufacturing an affordable automobile. As a farmer’s son, Ford was no stranger to hard physical labor – and that was the motivation for his efforts to mechanize agriculture.

Ford began developing an experimental tractor in 1907, although the word “tractor” was never applied to his contraption, which was instead called an “automobile plow.” To save on development and production costs, Ford automotive parts were used. Another decade would pass before Ford’s first commercial Ford tractor – the Fordson Model F – rolled off the assembly line.

Despite opposition from Ford Motor Co., Ford tractor development continued. Eventually, when that resistance proved insurmountable, Henry Ford established an independent company to build and market tractors. In 1917, Henry Ford & Son Co. was launched, with the Henry Ford family in control. The company’s tractor was named Fordson, likely in reference to Ford’s son, Edsel.

red dearborn road maintainer

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, food production became a critical concern. Farm tractors were the answer, delivering power and efficiency. Ford employed the same manufacturing methods as those used in production of the Ford automobile to produce an affordable tractor.

The British government’s urgent need for tractors resulted in scaled-up production of the Model F in 1918. When Henry Ford assumed sole control of Ford in 1920, Henry Ford & Son Co. was absorbed by Ford Motor Co. However, the Fordson name continued.

After 1964, the Fordson was discontinued, replaced by the familiar Ford name. In 1986, Ford purchased implement manufacturer Sperry-New Holland, creating Ford-New Holland. When Fiat acquired Ford-New Holland in 1991, an agreement was reached to discontinue the use of the Ford name on all tractors by 2000. From then on, the company’s output carried the New Holland name. After several acquisitions and mergers, in 2013 a new company emerged. With Case-IH added to the mix, it was known as CNH Industrial N.V.

Preserving the Dearborn influence

In 1946, when Ford Motor Co. terminated its production-distribution agreement with Henry Ferguson, Dearborn Motor Corp. was established as the primary distributor of the Ford Model 8N tractor. The new organization also handled a line of implements, parts and farm equipment. Ford Motor Co. purchased Dearborn Motors in 1952 and the tractor business was eventually integrated into Ford’s Tractor and Implement Division.

Tom’s 1952 Road Maintainer was part of the Dearborn implement offering. Powered by a Ford Model 8N tractor, the undermounted 6-foot, 8-inch blade delivered an efficient solution for road maintenance and ground leveling. A rear blade was also available. The unit was hydraulically operated by hand levers from the operator’s seat.

Dearborn manufactured several implements that were rear mounted via 3-point hitch. The equipment was originally designed for the Model 2N, 8N and 9N Ford tractors. Tom’s collection includes several of these restored pieces on display above the tractors.

white scale model tractor

Collecting with confidence

Tom’s approach to building a collection has evolved over the years. Although he says he’s gained a better understanding of Ford tractors, he still appreciates a knowledgeable friend’s advice – advice that sometimes motivates him to buy tractors outside the Ford line. And today he is less likely to buy pieces in need of restoration. “I’ve learned that it’s more cost-effective to acquire them fully restored,” he says.

Sharing the collection with others is a particular pleasure. “It’s enjoyable when someone sees a car or tractor like one their parent or grandparent had,” he says. “Naturally, they get excited when it’s spotted, and that often evolves into an interesting discussion.”

Understandably, Tom’s put his own mark on the collection. “Since taking over the collection, I’ve personalized it with my preferences,” he says. “When I find a model that’s more desirable than one I currently own, I’ll try to swap it out. On occasion, I’ve sold one that doesn’t have significance or hold special interest.”
But he never loses sight of his goal. “It’s important to keep my father’s legacy alive,” he says. FC

red workmaster tractor on stilts

For more information: Group tours of the collection are available. Contact Ruple Antique Cars Inc., 4756 Beidler Rd., Willoughby, Ohio 44094; (440) 942-7745.

Freelance writer Fred Hendricks of Mansfield, Ohio, covers a vast array of subjects relating to agriculture. Email Fred at fwhendricks@gmail.com

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