Harry Ferguson: Mechanical Genius Part I

Harry Ferguson leaves lasting impact on tractor development

| August 2010

Mechanic, racecar driver and aviator – Harry Ferguson’s mechanical genius was endless. Inventor of the “Little Grey Fergie,” among the world’s most famous tractors, he was a workaholic with an almost childlike streak of idealism. Writer Jane Brooks looks at the life of Harry Ferguson, a man who was so much more than just a builder of tractors.

Although small in stature, Harry Ferguson was a giant in terms of mechanical genius. The fourth of James and Mary Ferguson’s 11 children, he was born at Lake House in the village of Growell in County Down, Ireland, 16 miles south of Belfast on Nov. 4, 1884, and christened Henry George.

James Ferguson ruled his family with a rod of iron. A member of the Plymouth Brethren, he held strong religious views. Although Harry and his sisters routinely smuggled in books and magazines, the only reading material officially allowed in the house was the Bible. Harry left school at 14 and worked on the family farm, but he was physically ill-suited to the rigorous demands of farm work. Regular clashes with his father over religious matters led to his decision to immigrate to Canada in 1902.

That plan, however, was derailed by his elder brother, Joe, who hired Harry as an apprentice at his car and cycle shop on Belfast’s Shankill Road. Harry’s natural aptitude for servicing, tuning and repairing car engines helped expand his brother’s business. But it didn’t all come naturally to the young Ferguson. The first time Harry drove a motorcar, he crashed, car and owner, through a shop window.

A need for speed

A talented sales promoter, Harry successfully entered Irish motorcycle racing events to publicize his brother’s business, earning him the nickname “The Mad Mechanic.” He was a prominent figure in the establishment of the Ulster Tourist Trophy (TT) motorcar races – the Ards TT – that ran from 1928 to 1936 on a 13-1/2-mile course linking Dundonald, Newtownards and Comber in County Down. The races ended tragically on Sept. 5, 1936, when a driver lost control of his car on a wet road and crashed into the crowd, killing eight spectators.

Charles Metzger
1/11/2011 11:08:46 AM

It would be great help to watch (an interview with Harold Brock. thanks Chuck

Charles Metzger
1/11/2011 11:08:12 AM

It would be great help to watch (an interview with Harold Brock. thanks Chuck