Origin of the Row-Crop Tractor: The Farmall Regular

International Harvester's McCormick-Deering Farmall led the row crop tractor revolution

| June 2007

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    This 1916 engineering photo shows the limited-production Motor Cultivator with addition of heavy center weights in the cultivator wheels. The center weights may have been added to strengthen the wheels, but there is also evidence they were an effort to overcome the tendency of the Motor Cultivator to tip sideways on hills.||Image ID 22771 courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society McCormick-IH Archives.
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    Plowing with a Farmall Regular can be pure joy. This particular tractor is equipped with a special gasoline manifold routing the exhaust pipe vertically through the hood.
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    An Iowa farmer tries out a pre-production Farmall with a McCormick-Deering PTO-powered binder in tow near Des Moines, Iowa. Judging from the vertical exhaust, this tractor is a very early kerosene burner. The manifold on these early tractors channeled exhaust out the bottom and the vertical stack was attached with a U-shaped coupling.||Image ID 24836 courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society McCormick-IH Archives.
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    An experimental Farmall tractor with mounted lister plows photographed on Oct. 4, 1923. This tractor, equipped with a gasoline manifold (exiting through the hood), lacks the small cylindrical starting fuel tank and has the early tall intake with cloth covering on the end.||Image ID 24696 courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society McCormick-IH Archives.
  • Row-crop Farmall 7
    Engine exhaust on all but very early production Regulars was routed down through a small cast iron muffler. The combination manifold routed hot exhaust over the intake passages, which warmed the atomized air-kerosene intake mixture and improved combustion.
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    Painting tractors white to get attention wasn't only done in the 1950s. In 1926, this white Regular made the rounds at fairs across the country and made a fine display when outfitted as it is here with placards and signs. Image ID 25622 courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society McCormick-IH Archives.
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    Farmers harvesting corn with a pre-production Regular at the C.M. Hick farm near Altoona, Iowa, on Dec. 4, 1924. Image ID 23602 courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society McCormick-IH Archives.
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    Left front view of a Regular owned and restored by Jeff Wenner, Williamsport, Pa. The choke control rod leads to the front of the tractor since that is where the crank-starter is located. The Regular was not available with electric start.
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    Rear view of a narrow-tread Regular's countershaft housing and drop-box final drives. The vertical lever at right adjusts the side-hill hitch drawbar's swing angle.
  • Row-crop Farmall 11
    Walt Whitmire, Butler, Pa., is this Regular's proud owner. The front rubber is mounted on a pair of cutoff wheels. This tractor also has a right-side farm shop-made brake pedal.
  • Row-crop Farmall 12
    This beautifully restored narrow-tread Regular offers a fine example of how the tractor might have looked fresh off the assembly line. The front wheels would have had a raised rim and the rears would have had lugs in place of the rubber sheeting, which owner Paul Ganzel, Toledo, Ohio, installed so family members could drive the tractor in parades.
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    Right side engine detail. The single-speed governor housing is the tank-like structure at the lower right next to the magneto.
  • Row-crop Farmall 14
    This nicely preserved Regular has the optional non-adjustable wide-front axle, which required installation of the later enclosed (or duckbill-style) steering gear and bolster. The tractor is part of Mike Androvich's extensive northwest Ohio collection.
  • Row-crop Farmall 13
    This Regular is equipped with the optional right brake lever. Paul Ganzel owns and restored this beauty.
  • Row-crop Farmall 15
    This rear view of Walt Whitmire's Regular offers a fine view of the tractor's U-shaped drawbar, drop-box-style final drives and truck axle-like countershaft housing. The differential is tucked behind the hemispherical cover located directly below the seat. Note also the small gasoline tank perched on the main fuel tank. This tractor was designed to start on gasoline. When warmed sufficiently, it was switched to kerosene.

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In the early teens of the 20th century, most tractors were still designed as prime movers for pulling tools like trailing plows, field cultivators, reapers and mowing machines.

It was generally accepted that, although tractors could ease those burdensome tasks, the farmer still needed to maintain a team of horses to handle the precision work of cultivating and planting since even the smaller and more affordable tractors of the day were plainly not suited to row crop work.

In 1915, the year International Harvester tested its first known experimental motorized cultivator, the concept of a general purpose row crop tractor had not yet gone mainstream, but it was soon put to the test.

Developing the concept

Early iterations of Harvester’s Motor Cultivator featured a tricycle design with two wheels in front and a single wheel in back for steering and power (the engine sat atop the wheel’s spindle and turned with it). Some company engineers felt sure their concept warranted further development, but difficulties related to the cultivator’s high center of gravity and minimal drawbar functionality doomed it to a short life. In 1919, even though demand for Motor Cultivators remained strong, Harvester brass decided to scrap their limited production Motor Cultivator program ... but not the concept.

By 1920, Harvester engineers were thinking about a general purpose tractor/motor cultivator that led them away from the single rear drive wheel to a live front-axle design (with chain drive from axle end to the wheels) with a transverse frame-mounted engine powering the two front wheels through a conventional differential. As before, steering was accomplished with a single wheel, still located in back, but similarly designed machines were soon built with the two drive wheels in the rear and the single steered wheel in front.



Eventually, the experimental tractor’s transversely mounted engine was replaced with a longitudinally mounted unit, which helped balance the machine and inadvertently led to development of the conventional PTO for powering driven implements. Still uncertain about which way to go, engineers continued this tractor’s development as a bidirectional machine.

Operators of bidirectional prototypes were particularly fond of the now-conventional configuration that placed a pair of drive wheels in the rear because they discovered front-mounted cultivator adjustments were then easily made with the steering wheel. By late 1921, Harvester took that nimble maneuverability one step further and linked specially designed pivoting cultivator gangs directly to the steering system, which made position adjustments while traveling down the row even more responsive. Cable-operated left- and right-steering brakes were added to facilitate sharp end-of-row turns using only the steering wheel to create what came to be known internally as the “heavy Farmall tractor.”



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