The December issue of Farm Collector contained a letter from Kevin Riddle of Eagle Rock, Va. Mr. Riddle told of the Farmall Cub in his family that was originally painted white. He asked if the white Farmalls were really dealer demo models, how many tractors were painted white at the factory, and if there were any mechanical differences. He wondered about a white Farmall’s value as compared to that of the familiar red model.
Red Power Magazine says that no production figures for the white Farmall tractors were kept at the factory, so I’m not sure anyone knows for certain how many tractors were painted white and used as demonstrators. Darrell Darst from Moscow Mills, Mo., is a well-known IHC collector, as well as being a director of the International Harvester Collectors Club. Darrell wrote a story about IHC’s Louisville, Ky., tractor plant for the September 1995 club newsletter.
IH had planned to build a new tractor plant near Alton, Ill., where the Missouri River empties into the mighty Mississippi, when World War II intervened and the new plant was put on hold. The Curtiss Wright airplane plant in Louisville, Ky., became surplus when the hostilities ceased, and the price was right, so IH bought that facility from the government in 1946.
Southern farmers lagged far behind those in the midwest in trading animal power for tractors, and Fowler McCormick, IH president at the time, saw that as a great opportunity. In March 1947, IH began building the smaller Farmall A and B tractors, which were the ideal size for southern farms, at the factory. Later, in May 1947, the first Farmall Cubs were built at the factory, and then, when it was introduced in 1948, the Farmall C. By 1950, the Louisville Tractor Plant was turning out Farmall Cubs, along with the Super A, and C models, in great numbers. Company records from April 1950 list the daily average production figures for the month: Cub, 155; Super A, 100; and Model C, 176.
To take advantage of the mid-century year of 1950, someone in IHC’s advertising department hit on a promotional scheme to paint some of the 1950 tractors white. These machines would be used by dealers as demonstrators, as well as display models in showrooms and at county fairs, and it was hoped that the unusual color would catch the farmer’s eye and improve sales. At least one dealer used the pitch “Buy a white Farmall, we’ll paint it red, and you’ll be fanning in the black.”
For about three months in early 1950, every Cub, Super A, and C tractor built at Louisville was painted white. Using the daily IH production figures from April 1950, which were based on a 20-day month, one could estimate that some 9,000 Cubs, 6,000 of the Super A, and more than 10,000 of the C models were painted white (some sources say that around 7,400 Farmall C’s were white from the factory), although I don’t think anyone knows for sure.
As the tractors moved through the paint line, everything was sprayed white. Some standard red painted items were added later, such as the distributor, air breather cap, steering wheel, lights, seat and wheels. The silver muffler and wheel rims and the tires were added at that time as well.
Standard decals with white letters outlined in black were used, although the back of the clear letter I in the IH logo was painted red.
The demo kits, consisting of painted cardboard inserts for the front, rear and steering wheels, along with hood placards, claimed the “Mid-Century 1950 McCormick Farmall” was “First in the Field,” and touted the “Time-Proved Features for Improved Farming.” The demo kits were sent out to be installed by the dealers, some of whom may have pulled new red tractors from their lots and painted them white. There have been reports of other than 1950 Cubs, Super A’s and C’s being found that had been painted white, but no one is sure if these came from the factory that way. They could have been painted white in a dealer’s shop and then used as demonstrators, or they could have been repainted by an individual farmer who just liked the look. Dealers were instructed to paint the demonstrator tractors red after they were sold, and IH paid them to do so, but some buyers may have insisted that their new purchases remain white.
Some time ago, I talked to Bill White, an avid IH collector from Kentucky, who restored a 1941 Farmall M that, after scraping through several layers of paint, he’s sure was originally white. Bill had a 1950 M and a 1953 Super M as well, and both appear to have been white from the start. He also knew of a white 1941 Farmall A, so maybe a few Farmall tractors were painted white both before and after the 1950 promotion, possibly for special orders.
I don’t know how successful the white demonstrator program was for IH, but collectors are willing to pay a premium for an otherwise common tractor that was at one time painted white. There’s something about a red tractor that looks just right, but the white Farmall demonstrators with their red wheels and other highlights do catch the eye.
I got much of the information about the Louisville Tractor Plant from Darrell Darst’s article, but the conclusions and conjectures about numbers of white tractors and dealer repaint jobs are my own.
On another note, I want to assure all Minneapolis-Moline fans out there that I know the wheels and grill of a UDLX should be red, not prairie gold, as they were in an illustration for the December “Let’s Talk Rusty Iron.” (By the way, Santa didn’t bring me the UDLX I asked him for; maybe next year!) FC
Ever since his days as a boy on a farm in western Pennsylvania, Sam Moore has been interested in tractors, trucks and machinery. Now a resident of Salem, Ohio, he collects antique tractors, implements and related items.