Unanswered Questions for Ford Model B

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Photo Courtesy Lester F. Larson Tractor Test and Power Museum
The Ford Model B on display at the Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum.

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.

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