Remembering Old Tractors

A former Indiana farm boy fondly recalls old tractors from his childhood, including a Ferguson TE-20 and Allis-Chalmers WD-40.

| June 2015

As a young boy, I grew up in a rural area north of Indianapolis on a small acreage between two farms, one slightly under 100 acres and the other slightly over 200 acres. This was the era of World War II and austerity.

Our small acreage provided enough produce, hay, fruits and berries to consume and sell, but not enough to afford a tractor. Two of my friends lived on farms that used Belgian draft horses for power. But my interest as a boy was in mechanical devices of all kinds.

My first acquaintance with a real tractor was our neighbor’s 1947 Ferguson TE-20. These neighbors had raised a field of hay and had it baled. Local boys were hired to bring in the bales and store them in the barn before the next rain. All the boys were older than me, but when the wagon was loaded, they asked me to drive the load back to the barnyard so that they could lie down on top of the wagon for a rest.

I noticed that the loaded wagon and tractor picked up alarming speed while going down the first steep grade. I was scared and stomped on the brakes, but my foot hit only one pedal, locking up one wheel. The boys yelled, “Both pedals!” just in time to avoid a crash. I learned quickly about the two-pedal system on tractors and their use.

No bucking or kicking

Having narrowly avoided disaster on the Ferguson, I was hired by another neighbor to help in his apple orchard. My job was to drive his new 1948 Ford 8N tractor, pulling a wagon upon which he loaded crates of apples. I was to drive slowly and carefully, so as not to bruise the apples.

When the apples were in, he asked me to help pull out some of the old apple trees that had died, so that new ones could be planted. He wrapped log chains around the trunk, and I pulled slowly forward in first gear in hopes of pulling the trees out by their roots. We were not successful. The 8N kicked and bucked and spun its wheels, but the trees stayed in the ground. My boyhood estimation of the 8N’s power faltered, and my neighbor seemed a bit upset with his new tractor.