Harnessing Power: The Ferguson 3-Point Hitch

Harry Ferguson’s 3-point hitch remains an enduring milestone in engineering.

| January 2018

Ferguson's 3 point hitch.

Chuck Lyons is restoring this 1940 Ford-Ferguson. The tractor has smooth hubs, a cast aluminum grille, small generator, non-pressurized radiator and a dealer-installed OEM above-hood air intake.

Photo by Chuck Lyons
The history of agriculture is the story of “doing it better.” Why? Simply because “doing it better” meant producing more food for less effort expended. The result: Your wife and kids were better fed, and you got an occasional moment to enjoy life without your belly grumbling.

Perhaps the most significant of these “doing it better” changes was the shift from animal power to mechanical horsepower. But from the dawn of tractor farming, methods for attaching implements to tractors cried for innovation.

Most horse-powered implements were “tag along,” simply connected to the horse and team by means of the universal horse harness (the hitch) trailing behind the team (the power source) and transmitting pull via a single pin, and if needed, steering the implement via a wooden tongue connected to the animals’ necks.

At the beginning, tractor implements were almost universally similarly connected as with horses. A single pivoting pin through a clevis made the connection, transmitted the “pull,” and allowed the power source to swing side-to-side ahead, pulling the implement to the side for steering.

But this system presented several drawbacks. The ability to travel backward was limited (it’s tough to “push a string,” right?), there was almost no ability to steer many types of implements when moving backward, and there was limited control over the position of the working implement behind the power source.

Most importantly, in such a scenario, tractors could rear up in front (particularly when pulling up hills), flip over backward, and, more often than anyone likes to recall, crush the operator. (In a case of dark humor, the popular Fordson tractor of 1917 was said to have killed more young farmers than did the first World War.)