Old Farm Tractors
The Family Farm Tractor
I grew up on a small farm in Michigan and we had a couple of old tractors from the 1950s that I remember fondly. I basically learned how to drive at a very young age on those old machines and used to spend a lot of time on them, working the fields in the spring, harvesting in the fall, everything in between and even plowing snow in the winter.
Nowadays, the commercial farms use very sophisticated, modern tractors with GPS and climate controlled cabs which are great machines for high production farming but I still love the old small farm tractors that are considered antiques and classics today. If you love old tractors like I do, you'll enjoy this webpage.
A Little Tractor History
The earliest tractors came about in the mid 1800’s and were huge, lumbering, steam powered machines that replaced horses and mule teams as the main power source for doing the work of the farm. They were called traction engines and were the main machine for farming well into the 20th century. Many of these fine old traction engines are still around today, restored and prized by collectors.
Traction EnginesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Take a look at this one in action at a tractor pull.
The first gasoline powered, internal combustion engine tractors came into existence around 1892 and interestingly enough, they were initially made in the same configuration as the large traction engines that preceded them. It was thought that farmers would more readily accept them if they looked like what they were already used to. Unfortunately, the first ones weren't all that reliable and didn't start to gain widespread acceptance until they were made smaller and more affordable.
It's not very well known but Henry Ford didn't only mass produce his famous Model T automobile, he also brought the first mass produced tractor to market in 1917. It was called the Fordson. Photo courtesy of photographer Michal Manas.
The Fordson was the predecessor of a long line of Ford farm tractors that evolved over the years and were produced by Ford up until 1991 when they sold the farm tractor division to Fiat who produced tractors under the Ford-New Holland name up to 2001 when the Ford name was dropped. Even though Ford tractors are no longer in production, they are still plentiful and in use all over the U.S. and the world.
The Tractors I Grew Up With
The two tractors I mentioned that I grew up with were a 1953 Ford Jubilee and a Ford 860. I'm not sure of the year of that one but I think it was a 1955 or 1956 model. Here's an old photo of the 860 sitting next to a pole barn building project.
Back in the 1950s and 60's a lot of small family farms used small tractors like these. They were inexpensive to buy and maintain and were well suited to farming on a small scale. These little Fords had around 30-40 horsepower and were perfect for most light to medium duty, routine jobs on the farm. While we used the two tractors listed above for many years, later on we acquired a larger, heavier tractor with more power to handle some of the more demanding tasks, a Ford 4000. It definitely handled the plowing and hay baling duties much easier with it's heavier weight and 52 horsepower compared to the the old 860's 40 hp.
Ford Jubilee In Action
Here's a video of a nice little Ford Jubilee doing some snow blowing up in Canada. Looks like a mighty cold job but it handles it with ease!
A Few More Pics of Small Farm TractorsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Old Brands, Some Long Gone
Back in my childhood years on the farm, there were many brands of tractor available locally and were in use on farms all around ours. Names like John Deere, Allis Chalmers, FarmAll, Massey Ferguson, Oliver, Case, IH (International Harvester) and of course Ford.
While you could find all of these in use, John Deere was probably the most popular and is still around today. Many of the other manufacturers have gone out of business or have merged with other companies. For instance, IH and Case have merged into one company. Oliver is no longer in production with the last one rolling off the assembly line back in 1976 when they were bought out by White and I believe they ceased production along about 2002.
John Deere is probably the most widely known and popular brand and one of the few American tractors still being made. Today they are competing with imported brands like Kubota and Mahindra which are gaining in popularity.
Old Johnny Popper
Here's a short video of an old John Deere Model H. The classic John Deere tractors referred to as Johnny Poppers or Poppin' Johnnies because they had a two cylinder engine and a distinctive sound. They originated in 1924 with the D model and then various models up to about 1960.
Tractors of Today
The small family farm, like the one I grew up on, is not really financially viable anymore. For commercial farming, if you're not farming several thousand acres, you don't really have a viable operation. Small farms are still around as a means of being self sufficient and a lot of the old farm tractors are still in use and very desirable for the small hobby farms and specialty farms of today. Of course, collectors and restorers are keeping them alive as well.
Farming as a business has transformed into large scale commercial operations and the equipment has increased in scale right along with the farm. Most of the tractors in use commercially now are huge 4WD monsters with climate controlled cabs and computer controlled navigation. They can accomplish in a few passes what used to take me all afternoon with my little tractor. I guess that's the way to go for increased production and higher profit margins. But... I guess I just kind of miss the old family farm...
I thank you for stopping by and invite you to post your thoughts and comments about this hub, old tractors or the family farm below.