Harry Ferguson: Mechanical Genius Part II

Inventor Harry Ferguson battles to protect his groundbreaking designs


| September 2010



Brooks01

Pictured at his Cotswold home, Abbotswood, Harry Ferguson is shown driving a TE-20.

In the second part of a 3-part series, writer Jane Brooks continues her look at the life and times of Harry Ferguson, legendary inventor of the “Little Grey Fergie,” among the world’s most famous tractors. A 1938 handshake agreement with another industrialist genius, Henry Ford, set the stage for a new era in tractor manufacture on two sides of the Atlantic. Read part I.

After shaking hands on the Ford agreement in 1938, Harry Ferguson needed to extract himself from his contract with David Brown Co. Things had not gone well with the Ferguson-Brown during a time when the Fordson was gaining popularity. Moreover, horse-drawn implements could be adapted for use with the Fordson; the Ferguson-Brown required its own dedicated implements. Ferguson had wanted to increase production and reduce prices, but David Brown wanted to build a bigger tractor.
Designs for a new tractor were advanced to Ferguson, who claimed they breached the original Ferguson-Brown agreement. Both parties wanted to dissolve the business, so a deal was struck. David Brown bought out Ferguson, ceasing production of the Ferguson-Brown Type A tractor. The David Brown VAK1 tractor was launched in 1939. Serial numbers of Ferguson-Brown tractors from 1936 to 1939 show that 1,354 tractors were produced.

Launch of the 9N
With the David Brown business resolved, Ferguson moved his family to America, arriving Jan. 14, 1939. Henry Ford’s team had tested three prototype tractors incorporating the Ferguson System at the Ford family plantation in Georgia, so Ferguson and his team worked on the final model of the production tractor.
Ferguson and Sherman Bros., Evansville, Ind., set up Ferguson-Sherman Mfg. Corp. (renamed Harry Ferguson Inc. in 1941) to market the tractor and supply implements. The first public demonstration of the Ford-Ferguson 9N was made on June 29, 1939, in front of invited representatives from 18 countries and 30 American states, as well as several reporters. A July 3, 1939, account in Time magazine gushed: “That the tractor is as simple as a motorcar, can be maintained by any farm hand, operated by any schoolboy. That it will plow, harrow, drag a seeder, pull a wagon better than any tractor ever made, far better than a horse which is, as Thomas Edison said, ‘the poorest motor ever built.’ That inventor Ferguson will go down in history with Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright brothers.”
By 1942, the Ford-Ferguson 9N had captured 20 percent of the U.S. tractor market despite retailing at $585 ($7,824 in today’s terms), some $100 more than the Farmall Model A. The tractor had a 4-cylinder vertical Ford engine, basically half a Mercury VS. Many internal components, including the pistons, were compatible with parts used in Ford’s V-8 automobiles of the time. The engine produced 17 hp on the drawbar and 23.5 hp on the belt in Nebraska tests. The front axle and hydraulic linkage were Ferguson team designs, and the design incorporated the patented Ferguson System. Adapted for the British market, the 9NAN was fitted with a Holly 295 vaporizer to enable it to run on tractor vaporizing oil (TVO).
The Ferguson system was initially unpopular, as U.S. farmers could not use their existing implements with a Ford-Ferguson 9N. But America’s entry into World War II drove demand for increased food production, and tractor sales got a boost as a result. About 40,000 9N tractors were sold in 1941. War shortages temporarily halted production at Ford’s Rouge River tractor plant, Dearborn, Mich., in 1942, but Ferguson persuaded U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to attend a tractor demonstration. The president ended up purchasing a tractor and implements for his Hyde Park, N.Y., farm and guaranteed availability of materials to resume tractor manufacture.
During the war years, Ferguson dealers and distributors were encouraged to locate old Fordsons that could be melted down to produce new Ford-Fergusons. Limited copper supplies led to a model with no electric starter motor, and rubber shortages meant that some tractors were put on steel wheels. Some of the World War II-era tractors (including the 2N) had magneto ignition because of starter motor battery shortages.

Ferguson’s plans dashed
Ferguson expected the 9N to be built at Dagenham, England, but the war intervened. Prior to the war, Ford U.K. made an agreement with the British government to produce large numbers of Fordson tractors to be held in stock by dealers. In the event of war, these tractors would be sold to help increase food production and the Dagenham factory would work at full capacity to produce more tractors.
The outbreak of war, however, caused immediate and prolonged demand for Fordson tractors, and the government would not sanction a change of production from Fordson tractors to the new Ford-Ferguson System tractors at Dagenham.
After the war, Ferguson still expected Ford U.K. to manufacture a Ferguson System tractor, but he was thwarted again. Ford U.K. directors were reluctant to work with him, and a different tractor was built at Dagenham. The Fordson E-27N was launched in March 1945. The E-27N had an upgraded in-line, 4-cylinder, side valve engine that produced 30 hp, three forward and one reverse gears, conventional clutch and rear axle drive. It was offered in four versions, each with different brakes, tires and gear ratios. A Perkins diesel engine model was offered in 1950.
Small numbers of Ford-Ferguson tractors and implements saw wartime service in England under the American Lend-Lease Act. But when Ford U.K. would not work with him, Ferguson returned to England in 1945 with just one thing on his mind: finding a British manufacturer for his tractor.

Birth of Banner Lane
During World War II, the British government financed construction of “shadow factories” to increase aircraft and engine production. New factories were constructed at a distance from existing facilities, decreasing the risk of them being bombed, but still near manufacturing areas where a skilled workforce was available.
In Banner Lane, Coventry (in England’s West Midlands), the Standard Motor Co. shadow factory, which produced more than 20,000 Bristol Aero engines for wartime use, stood empty. Standard’s Managing Director, Sir John Black, was already familiar with the Ford-Ferguson tractor and knew Ferguson needed a U.K. factory. A meeting was arranged at Claridge’s Hotel, London. Over dinner, the two men agreed that Standard Motor would have the rights to manufacture Ferguson tractors anywhere except North America, South America, Central America and the Philippines, with Ferguson having full control of design, development, sales and service.
When post-war steel shortages threatened the project, Ferguson visited Sir Stafford Cripps, president of the Board of Trade, and arranged a tractor demonstration for senior members of the British government and a representative of the Chinese government. On the strength of that demonstration he got his steel, enough to build 200 tractors a day. On July 6, 1946, the very first TE-20 (Tractor England) was produced at Banner Lane.
Early versions were powered by an overhead valve, 24 hp gas engine manufactured by Continental Motor Co. of Michigan. Equipped with four forward and one reverse gears, the starter was engaged by using the gear lever; with its 6-volt electrical system, a starting handle was absolutely essential.

Ford-Ferguson partnership grows rocky
By the mid-1940s, relations between Ferguson and Ford were strained. The refusal of Ford U.K. to build Ferguson System tractors was a major setback. Ford’s U.S. accountants were convinced the tractor business was unprofitable and, to their horror, Ferguson wanted U.S. production increased to a million tractors per year. With the death of Edsel Ford in 1943, Henry Ford again assumed the company’s presidency. In September 1945, Henry Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II, took the helm; the company founder died in April 1947.
Henry Ford II faced a daunting task. The company had suffered financially during the war, and he disliked the fact that his company produced a tractor that was sold by another organization over which he had no control. He announced that Ford would introduce an improved version of the 9N and establish its own distribution and marketing company, effectively terminating any contract with Ferguson.
Fortunately, Ferguson had an agreement in place with Sir John Black and Standard Motor to produce tractors in the U.K. He kept his American distribution company running by importing TE-20 tractors and set about finding a company to produce tractors for the American market. While the first TE-20s were coming off the production line in England, Ford Motor Co. set up its own tractor distribution business in America, Dearborn Motor Corp.
 
Bitter stand-off
At the same time Harry Ferguson Inc. lost its U.S. tractor supplier, implement manufacturers and the dealer network started to switch to Ford. Ferguson desperately needed a U.S.-based manufacturer, but the launch of Ford’s new tractor, the 8N, in 1947 changed everything. The 8N tractor incorporated Ferguson System hydraulics and linkage, including patented features and 4-speed transmission. Ford was using Dearborn Motors to market what was effectively a Ferguson System tractor.
Ferguson was undergoing treatment in a Swiss clinic at the time but, in November 1947, he was well enough to travel to America. Ford had anticipated Ferguson might take action against the American company. But instead of suing for breach of patent rights, Ferguson’s lawyers brought a case under American antitrust laws, suing Ford for three times the value of his American business (which was valued at $80 million) plus patent infringement on tractors already sold by Dearborn Motors, for a total of $251,111,000 plus legal fees. “It’ll be a grand fight,” Ferguson predicted.
During Ferguson’s years with Ford Motor Co., 306,181 Ford-Ferguson System tractors were built, and Harry Ferguson Inc. became one of the biggest agricultural equipment companies in the U.S. But a Dec. 2, 1946, issue of Time reported that, “Last week young Henry Ford II announced that the seven-year deal was off. Neither Ford nor Ferguson gave a reason for the split.” The general consensus was that Ford decided it was “not getting enough out of the deal.”
Ford announced the launch of a company headed by General Motors Vice President Frank R. Pierce to build the Ford 8N tractor and a line of implements. Meanwhile, Ferguson manufactured 46 farm implements for his tractors in the U.S. The implements were made by 105 subcontracting plants tailoring their location to the market.

charles metzger
1/11/2011 10:56:04 AM

It would be great for all to watch (An interview with Harold Brock). Thanks chuck