| January 2003

Ivel tops field of English old-iron 'firsts'

The year 2002 marked the 100th anniversary of the Ivel Agricultural Motor, considered by most British historians to be the first successful farm tractor built in the British Isles. The inventor, Dan Albone, was born Sept. 12, 1860, in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, a small village on the Ivel River, 50 miles north of London. Dan's father, Edward, was a market gardener, and Dan was the youngest of eight children.

Early on, the boy exhibited an interest in mechanical things, especially after he was given an old bicycle at the age of 9. Soon, he got into bicycle racing, and at 13, built his own bike. In his early teens, he apprenticed with a local engineering and millwright firm, and soon afterward, he began building bicycles on his own in a shed behind his home.

In 1880, Albone established the Ivel Cycle Works, famed throughout Great Britain for its Ivel Racing Bicycles. Biggleswade, where the bicycles were made, became known as the home of modern safety bicycles, and modern cycle road racing and touring.

Sometime in the 1890s, Albone put one of the newfangled gasoline engines into a tricycle-type frame, and followed that quickly with a two-wheeled motorcycle. He also built a few Ivel motorcars that were equipped with his own ball bearings, which he had been using for some time in wheels he built for horse-drawn vehicles.

About 1900, Albone began experimenting with a farm tractor called the Ivel Agricultural Motor. He patented his prototype in early 1902 and successfully tested the tractor that summer on local farms. Among the dignitaries and farmers in attendance at one of the tests was a member of Parliament named Lord Compton, who pronounced the tractor a great success after it pulled a hay mower through the field for more than an hour and a half without any breakdowns.

Another observer was so taken by the tractor that he offered to buy the machine on the spot, remarking that'... it was a splendid thing,' and that he 'always believed in having such things at once if they were good.'