Red Tractors 1958-2013 (Octane Press, 2013) is an authoritative and unparalleled look at the tractors built by International Harvester Company and Case IH. Author Lee Klancher leads a research team that has collected more than 380 pages and 700 images, documenting these beloved machines built in America and abroad. In this six-part series, Farm Collector shares the first chapter of Red Tractor, "1958-1959 The Hinsdale Connection". The second part of this series covers International Harvester’s initial forays to weather the 1957 Recession, and a decision to once again make the large tractor a focus of their business.
The International 460 and International 560 models had something Harvester had not encountered much in the past: a manufacturing flaw. The rear differential’s bull and pinion gears galled under load and could fail under the right conditions. Very few of these tractors failed, but Harvester doubled the warranty on the 460s and 560s, and authorized dealers to charge them for the 19 hours of labor to replace the rear end. New parts were engineered and, eventually, a new oil formula was developed to help reduce strain on the parts. Finally, a massive recall of the 460, 560, and 660 tractors was issued in June 1959.
Kenneth Ryan, a young International Harvester Company engineer when the recall was taking place, remembers that dealers weren’t entirely displeased with the recall. They used the allowance for repairs to stay busy during the slow winter months and could perform the repair in less than the allotted 19 hours, turning a good profit.
The actual failure rate of the rear ends was fairly low, and the problem could be fixed with newly tooled parts and better oils. “Most of [the farmers] hadn’t seen a problem with their tractors,” Ryan said. “At the time, I wondered why not just wait and if your tractor does show these symptoms, rebuild it. I thought they were overreacting.”
The entire line, despite the poor publicity, was mainly a success. The International Harvester 60 series tractors went on to long production lives and the all-new 240 and 340 tractors were good upgrades to the line that were very well-received. The new square-front tractors brought welcome traffic into IH dealerships. The farm recession of 1957 also began to lift in spring 1958, and farmers found themselves more willing to spend money on new machines in late 1958.
Despite a strike that slowed production at the end of 1958, the new 40 and 60 series fueled the best sales year in the history of International Harvester Company in 1959. Total U.S. company sales were $1.7 billion, an increase of 24 percent from 1958. Farm equipment sales were $458 million, up 17 percent from 1958.
In July 1959, IHC’s new crown jewel opened when the Farm Equipment Research and Engineering Center at Hinsdale, Illinois marked the start of operations. The 1.3-million-square-foot complex housed nearly 1,500 engineers and support staff and was the largest agricultural engineering center in the world.
Kenneth Ryan was fresh out of engineering school when he first saw the building. His visit came at the end of trips to several facilities for job interviews. “My second-to-last interview was with Deere in Moline. Deere tried to get me to stay an extra day and break my interview with International Harvester. I nearly did, but decided I better not.”
The visit to FEREC made a lasting impression on Ryan. “It was a brand-new, beautiful facility, and a college boy’s dream to walk into that place. The labs and the engineering facilities were just perfect.” He remembered the second floor of engineering as a vast, sparkling-clean room with few partitions and dozens of engineers working at drawing boards in crisp white shirts and neckties.
When he came home from his trip, he told his fiancée that his best interview was his last. “You know, that place would be so wonderful to work at,” he said. “But I bet their offer will come in lower.”
He was wrong. The IHC offer was the best he received. “It didn’t take three seconds to figure out where I was going to work,” he said.
Once at work, he was amazed at Harvester’s resources. “They made all their own bolts and bearings,” Ryan recalled. “All these materials, IH would manufacture. You could use standard IHC materials and parts for everything.
“Everything was done right. We were using strain gauges and brittle coding way before anyone else. We had an outstanding group of people. We were strong in design and engineering, and strong in engineering skills.”
At the opening ceremonies for FEREC, the first man to the podium after President Jenks was Mark Keeler, the long-time head of the Agricultural Engineering Division. Keeler’s words that day make it clear that the International Harvester Company understood their position: “To the best of my knowledge and belief, our position in this business has always been the same—first place. But we know our competition is smart. We know they’re energetic. We know they have capital and facilities. And we know they’re shooting at us.” FC
Read more from Red Tractors 1958-2013 in:
• International Harvester Company Reveals Return of the Large Tractor at Burr Ridge Farm
• The Next Generation of Red Tractors: The 40 and 60 Series
• The International 460 and the Evolution of Red Tractors
• The Farmall M and the Red Tractors of Great Britain
• International Harvester Invests in Germany
• IHC and McCormick Deering: The Red Tractors of France
• Red Tractors Down Under: International Harvester Company of Australia
Reprinted with permission from Red Tractors 1958-2013: The Authoritative Guide to International Harvester and Case-IH Farm Tractors in the Modern Era by Lee Klancher and published by Octane Press, 2013.