Fordson Major: The Tractor of Choice

Josephine Roberts discusses the Fordson Major, one of the most popular tractors in 1960s Britain

| March 2013

Fordson tractors have been here in the U.K. for so long now that we consider them our own, though of course their roots belong in the U.S. with your very own Mr. Henry Ford. The first tractor that was widespread here in the U.K. was the standard Fordson, or the Model N as it was also known.

Although there are examples in the U.K. of the earlier Model F, those are rarities. Ask most farmers of a certain age what their first tractor was, and it will almost always be either the Fordson Model N or the later Ferguson. Here in Wales we affectionately call the Model N the “Fordan Bach” (the little Fordson). The Model N was such a success that it remains popular today amongst collectors and enthusiasts as a reliable and relatively affordable vintage tractor.

Wartime film footage and photographs of farm scenes always seem to feature the Fordson Model N. There were so many Model N tractors in the fields and lined up on the docks of Britain during World War II that it was considered a sensible safety step to change the colour from a rather lurid orange to a more subtle dark green.

Stood the test of time

Ford began shipping tractors to the U.K. by 1917, but the Model F (which preceded the Model N) didn’t catch on in a big way. Many farmers were simply not ready for mechanisation at that stage. The Model N (with production beginning in 1927) became the tractor that would persuade vast numbers of farmers to make that leap of faith toward mechanisation.

Many farmers, like my own grandfather, continued to use horses right up into the 1950s. That is when he was finally persuaded by my father to buy a second-hand Fordson Model N. My grandfather never took to the tractor, and I believe he only ever drove it the once, but by then most farmers either owned a Model N or a Ferguson, which had become popular too.

The Ferguson was a user-friendly little tractor and it had the famous 3-point linkage system, which is no doubt why it went on to become our nation’s most popular tractor. Some say that the Fordson Model N is a rather temperamental tractor. I’ve heard stories of old farmers who left their Fordsons running all night during busy times, as they were afraid they would be unable to start them the next morning if they stopped them. One farmer recalled having to get up in the middle of the night to refuel the tractor, for fear it would run out of fuel and stop by morning. Some of these problems might have resulted from the fact that the owners were not familiar with these modern machines and didn’t know how to handle them. Temperamental or not, the Model N has stood the test of time here in the U.K., and it is a firm favourite for those ploughmen and women who compete in the vintage classes with their trailed ploughs.