The turbulent Sixties left little undisturbed, including the American farm tractor
Very few facets of American life, even the farm equipment industry, were immune from challenge or change in the 1960s, as evidenced in American Farm Tractors in the 1960s by Chester Peterson, Jr., and Rod Beemer.
Deere & Company’s New Generation tractors equipped with their many industry firsts; International Harvester’s 4300, ‘the World’s Most Powerful Four-Wheel-Drive Agricultural Tractor’; and Massey-Ferguson’s MF-1100 were representative of how the farm equipment industry met the challenges of developing bigger, more powerful tractors for the changing needs of the American farmer. Farmers were working ever larger tracts of land in the 1960s and needed fast, powerful tractors that could help them plant, cultivate and harvest crops in the same timely manner as smaller acreages.
Using interesting text, interviews, anecdotes, vivid color photographs and product literature, American Farm Tractors in the 1960s show cases the many innovations and styling changes of 1960s tractors from Deere & Company, International Harvester, J.I. Case, Allis-Chalmers, Massey-Ferguson, Ford, White Farm Equipment and other farm tractor manufacturers of the time. Each chapter features a brief but engaging history on each of the manufacturers, including candid discussion of their ups and downs and developments leading up to the 1960s and carrying over to the 1970s.
The book’s large, colorful and vivid photographs also provide excellent detail on the leading tractors of the time, and are representative of Chester Peterson’s body of work.
Vintage tractor enthusiasts can easily turn to the chapter on their favorite maker for a view of their preferred tractors, and for an entertaining, informative read. But, following the book from start to finish provides a better understanding of how tractor manufacturers built upon engineering achievements from inside and outside their companies.
Sixties tractor innovations focused primarily on ever-greater horsepower. The authors point out that by the end of the decade, a farmer ‘could take home any number of 100-plus horsepower tractors from the dealer’s showroom floor.’ A few manufacturers even offered limited production of tractors in the 300-horsepower class.
It is appropriate that the authors open with a discussion of John Deere’s New Generation tractors because, in addition to high horsepower-to-weight ratio, these machines (introduced in 1960) featured several industry firsts, stimulating a decade of tractor innovations. The New Generation tractors featured hydraulic power brakes, closed-center hydraulics, lower-link sensing on the three-point hitch system and hydrostatic power steering. The tractor line’s engineers credited the New Generation’s hydraulic pump and system for helping Deere ‘leap-frog years ahead of the competition.’
Competitors did not sit still, however. The tractor manufacturers of the day were always looking to ‘up the ante,’ and their efforts make for interesting reading. So does the book’s treatment of a Deere ‘legend’ in which the company kept its development of the New Generation of multi-cylinder tractors secret for an astounding seven years.
The most interesting part of this particular story is that Deere & Company had supposedly made a recording of a two-cylinder exhaust noise that it would play through a loudspeaker whenever it tested its new four- and six-cylinder units. These latter engines had a distinctly different sound that would have been heard from some distance, and an industrial spy or competitor would have detected that. The recording and other measures to assure secrecy apparently worked, as Deere surprised its competitors with the New Generation tractors.
Competitors soon followed with tractors to counter the New Generation tractors, however. International Harvester Company (IHC), for example, is said to have launched the 404 and 504 IHC to compete with Deere’s New Generation tractors. And when IHC learned that Deere’s four-wheel-drive 8010 boasted a 200-horse-power engine, it set out to build a tractor with a 300-horsepower turbocharged diesel engine. The 4300 could handle a fully-mounted 10-bottom plow.
Sixties engines got bigger and so did just about everything else – fuel tanks, hydraulics and tires included. American Farm Tractors in the 1960s follows the development of these larger machines and includes discussion about such features as shift-on-the-go transmissions, power steering, power brakes and rollover protection structures (ROPS). Both successes and failures are documented, including Ford’s early Select-O-Speed transmissions which failed after just a short time, but were later corrected.
Perhaps as interesting as the tractors themselves is the book’s discussion of their manufacturers. While the industry players were virtually the same between the early 1950s and the end of the 1960s, market share had shifted dramatically. The tumultuous Sixties and decades after would continue to pose challenges and change for the makers of the American farm tractor.
American Farm Tractors in the 1960s, Chester Peterson, Jr., and Rod Beemer; Motorbooks International, 1999; ISBN 0-7603-0624-9; 160 pages, hard cover, $29.95. For information, contact MBI Publishing Co., 729 Prospect Ave., P.O. Box 1, Osceola, WI 54020-0001; (800) 826-6600.
Lynn Grooms is an independent writer based in Middleton, Wis. She is a frequent contributor to Ag Retailer and Seed & Crops Digest, and her articles have been featured in several agricultural publications. Grooms recently completed a history of Allis-Chalmers farm tractors which will be published by Voyageur Press, Stillwater, Minn.