The Fraudulent Ford Model B

The Ford Model B spurred development of the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory

| January 2013

  • Ford Model B Ad
    Ads featuring the Ford Model B made many promises, few of which were delivered.
    Photo Courtesy Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum
  • Ford Model B
    No production records are known to exist on the Ford Model B.
    Photo Courtesy Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum

  • Ford Model B Ad
  • Ford Model B

Wilmot 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.

Capitalizing on a name

The 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 their money.

Ford 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.”

Eventually, 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.”



Building a scam

Ewing 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).



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