The Little Gray Fergie

Tractor Tales from Wales


| September 2009



A Ferguson tractor with a standard engine. Note the shorter dashboard and lower bonnet than on the model with the Perkins conversion.

A Ferguson tractor with a standard engine. Note the shorter dashboard and lower bonnet than on the model with the Perkins conversion.

Courtesy Josephine Roberts

The Ferguson TE-20 (or “the Little Gray Fergie” as we affectionately call it) means a great deal to us Brits.

In Wales we call it the Ffergi bach (“the Little Fergie”). Like red phone boxes, London Routemaster buses and black taxicabs, it’s something of a British icon. To us, it probably means something along the lines of what the John Deere means to you Americans. It is a big part of our agricultural history, and it is really “where it all began.”

Of course there had been tractors before, but the Little Gray Fergie was the first tractor to really hit the big time. It was mass-produced like no other tractor before, and above all, it had the Ferguson 3-point linkage system, making it a more useful and adaptable tractor than anything that had ever gone before. A vast range of Ferguson implements meant that the Little Gray Fergie had the right tool for just about every job conceivable.

Many of the smaller farms in the U.K. continued using horses for farm work long after tractors became commonplace, so for a great many farmers, the Little Gray Fergies of the late 1940s and ’50s were their very first tractors. When I speak to people who grew up on farms back in those days, it’s amazing how many of them say the Little Gray Fergie was the first tractor they ever drove.

Harry Ferguson is famous for the revolutionary tractor hitch system known as the 3-point linkage. Even the most modern, top-of-the-range tractor today still uses that same linkage system patented by the Irish-born Ferguson.

Passion for the mechanical

Henry George (Harry) Ferguson was born in 1884 on a farm in County Down, Ireland. As an engineer/inventor, he had a passion for all things mechanical, not just tractors. He was a teenage apprentice in his brother’s car and bicycle repair business and before long he developed his own motorbike and racing car. He dedicated much of his life to promoting car and motorcycle racing. By 1909 he had designed a plane of his own and flown it, and in 1911 he opened a car business in Belfast.

In 1914 he started selling American tractors, but it is said he found them heavy and somewhat dangerous to operate (sorry, guys). So he designed and built a plough that could be attached to the tractor via the famous 3-point linkage, namely the Ferguson System. In 1936 he started building his own tractors, and three years later he went into partnership with Henry Ford and more than 300,000 Ford-Ferguson tractors were made. In 1947 there was a falling out with Ford’s grandson and the partnership was dissolved.

Alone, Ferguson designed the TE-20 (the Little Gray Fergie), which was assembled in Coventry by the Standard Motor Co. Some half a million of these little tractors were made beginning in 1946, making them Britain’s most popular tractor. The fact so many are still around and still working today is evidence of what simple, well-engineered machines they are.

The Massey connection

Later, Ferguson entered another partnership, this time with Massey-Harris of Toronto, Canada, forming the Massey Ferguson Co. This was another rather stormy partnership, illustrating that while Ferguson was obviously a genius, perhaps he wasn’t the easiest person to work alongside. Ferguson died at age 76 in Stow on the Wold, England, in 1960.

The early Ferguson TE-20s ran on petrol, but some later models ran on TVO (tractor vaporizing oil) or diesel. TE was an abbreviation for Tractor England. There was also a TO-20 (TO was an abbreviation for Tractor Overseas, the designation given to those tractors built for the overseas market), but apart from the name there was virtually no difference between a TE-20 and a TO-20.