Fordson Tractors and the History of Ford Trucks

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A Galion Jr. Fordson road roller.
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A Wilford power shovel at the National Pike show in Brownsville, Pa.
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A Fordson-powered Brookville locomotive at work in a quarry.
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A Fordson golf course tractor owned by Melvin Bailey, New Stanton, Pa.
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A Wehr power grader built around a Fordson equipped with tracks.
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A Fordson mows the lawn at Grosse Pointe Country Club in Detroit.

Henry Ford pitched his Model
T cars as an inexpensive way for low-income city dwellers and rural folks to
become automobile owners, while his Fordson tractors were meant to substitute
mechanical power for horseflesh on American farms. Ford believed that using
horses for transportation was inefficient and wasteful. He once remarked that
he had always disliked horses and mules that ate their fool heads off while
working only six months out of the year.

Of course, Ford wasn’t just
a philanthropist with the greater good of the people in mind; he was a
hardheaded businessman as well. When the early demand for a motorized
alternative to haulage led people to convert his cars into makeshift trucks, he
began building trucks of his own. He also recognized the additional uses of the
Fordson tractor in such non-agricultural fields as golf course maintenance,
road construction and street maintenance.

Although Ford offered a
“delivery car” that resembled a small sedan delivery truck as early as 1905, and
many manufacturers and individuals built commercial bodies on the bare Ford
chassis, Ford prohibited his dealers from modifying the cars into trucks.

The official history of Ford trucks began in 1917, when Henry Ford
relented and offered a 1-ton truck chassis, although with the exception of the delivery
car, truck buyers were responsible for their own cabs and bodies. Ford did not
begin to make commercial truck bodies until 1924. His first effort was an open
express truck; later Ford produced a platform-stake model. The 1-ton truck was
known as the Model TT, although the reason for that designation remains
obscure. The TT had a 24-inch longer wheelbase, stronger rear springs, solid
rubber rear tires and a heavier worm-drive rear axle, although forward of that
it was identical to Ford’s passenger car chassis. In 1925, an optional pickup
bed was made available for the Model T Runabout, replacing the rear closed
“trunk” with an open box.

Completely Fordized

For several years Ford
published a little magazine titled Power and Haulage that touted the use
of Fords and Fordsons by public utilities, contractors, road and street
departments, and even golf courses and horse racing tracks.

A story in the 1926 edition
tells us that Kansas City, Kan., “is Completely Fordized,” with 49 Ford
trucks and roadsters and two Fordson tractors in service. A photo shows a 1-ton
express truck and a roadster pickup in use by the Kansas City Light, Water
& Street Department, while another shows an industrial Fordson with a snug
wood and glass cab and hard rubber tires delivering a wagonload of pipe to a
construction project.

The city of Long
Beach, California
used industrial Fordsons to pull double wagonloads of trash to the dump on
Signal Hill, while 1-ton trucks with special bodies were used to pick up
neighborhood trash.

Thousands of Model TT 1-ton
trucks, equipped with aftermarket dump beds made by Galion and other companies,
worked on construction jobs all over America. A Washington contractor working on the Pacific Highway
used 16 Model TT trucks with dump beds to carry 20,000 yards of sand and
gravel, 1-1/2 yards per load, to the concrete mixing plant. The contractor
said: “(By) changing to Ford equipment our hauling costs were practically cut
in half.”

In 1926, the Tennessee State
Road Department was using 445 Ford trucks, 127 Ford cars and 275 Fordson
tractors. The equipment superintendent said they were drawn to Ford by the low
original and subsequent maintenance costs, as well as the satisfactory way the
equipment performed.

Fordson tractors with smooth
extension rims replacing steel lugs on the front and rear wheels pulled
multiple-gang reel mowers on countless golf courses and country clubs. The
100-foot wide horse racing track at Belmont,
N.Y., was kept graded and
smoothed between races by five air tire-equipped Fordson tractors, each pulling
a 20-foot wide grader. Fordson tractors were used for the same task at Kentucky’s Churchill
Downs.

Several manufacturers used
the Fordson tractor as the power unit for machines that were used extensively
in construction and commercial enterprises. Belle City’s
Track Pull and Full Crawler Co.’s Trackson made conversions to turn a Fordson
into a full-tracked machine, while Hadfield-Penfield made tracked attachments
to replace the rear wheels only. George Haiss Mfg. sold a full-tracked chassis
named the Traxion. A Fordson (with the wheels removed) was mounted on top and
drove the tracks with roller chains from the rear hubs.

Brookville Locomotive Co.
used a Fordson power unit on some of their small gasoline locomotives for
quarries, mines, factories and road-building projects.

Fordson tractors help road
construction boom

During the 1920s, the call
to “Get the farmer out of the mud!” was heard all over the land. Tons of money
was made available for the purpose. With so much road construction to do, the
old methods were woefully inadequate. A horse-drawn road plow, nothing more
than a heavy walking plow, loosened the surface. Horse-drawn slip or wheeled
scrapers followed the plows to gather and dump the dirt. One-yard dump wagons
pulled by horses or mules were loaded by hand or steam shovel, after which the
team plodded to wherever the dirt was needed. Faster, more efficient road
grading and earthmoving machines were desperately needed, and many
manufacturers were quick to respond.

Road roller conversions
built around the Fordson came from Wehr, Good Roads Machinery, Austin-Western
and Galion, while the same firms offered road grader attachments for the
ubiquitous little tractors.

A front-end loading shovel
was sold by Anthony Co., Streator,
Ill., while Schramm and several
other concerns offered air compressors for use with Fordson tractors to
operate air hammers and drills. Backfill or bulldozer blades, scrapers, earth
augers, front-mounted rotary brooms and dump carts were advertised for use with
Fordson tractors as well.

In 1925, Henry Ford’s
younger brother William established Wilford Shovel Co. in Detroit to manufacture a tracked 1/4-yard
shovel powered by a Fordson skid unit. These little shovels could be purchased
and serviced at the local Ford dealership.

Because of the new
Fordson-powered road machines, as well as many others, the farmer in his Model
T traveled over better roads on his trips to town. When asked how far he lived
from town, he no longer answered in disgust, “Five miles in good weather and 20
when it rains!” And with greater productivity, he was able to attain a greater
prosperity — so he could buy a better tractor to replace his old Fordson. FC

Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now
lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors,
implements and related items. Contact Sam by email at
letstalkrustyiron@att.net.

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