Monday, May 18, 2015

A 1923 Fordson

If you've ever driven Highway 176 between Spartanburg, SC. and Asheville, NC. you've almost certainly noticed Inman Tire and Feed. It stands out in welcome contrast to the surrounding strip mall sameness like the proverbial thumb. It's a worthy bit of Americana in its own right but what lurks on the covered front porch is the subject of this post.

Where you might expect to find shelves covered with merchandise or maybe a bench or even a swing sits a 1923 Fordson Tractor. It doesn't actually belong to the store I was told but after 30 some years in residence it's probably established some sort of squatters rights.

Clarence Gibbs the tractor's owner disputed that number placing its arrival about 20 years ago. He vaguely remembered driving it around in the parking lot but not a lot more. Whatever the actual number, two things can be gathered. It ran when parked and it's been a long time.

Henry Ford was born and raised on a farm and learned to dislike farm work at an early age or so the story goes.  After his success as an automobile maker he turned his attention to building a light affordable tractor to make the life of a farmer somewhat easier. His business partners however were reluctant to venture into this already overcrowded market and these early efforts came to naught.  It wasn't until Henry had gained undisputed control of the company that Ford returned to tractor development.  Much to his disgust he learned that someone was already using the Ford name to market a tractor line so he created the Henry Ford and Son Corporation to manufacture the
Fordson Tractor. The Fordson F was introduced in 1917.

Scorned by some today as crude, dangerous and hard to operate the Fordson still had a lot to offer in the early years of the 20th century.  At a time when steam traction engines weighed slightly less than the average Dreadnaught it weighed in at a dainty 2,500 pounds.  With a 63" wheelbase it could turn in a 21 ft. circle. The 4 cylinder engine produced 18 hp on economical and readily available kerosene and best of all it was priced within the reach of the average farmer. At its introduction in 1917 it was offered at $750 by 1922 the cost was reduced to $395.  I'll take two at that price!

The Holley Kerosene Vaporizer shown here is the heart of the technology that enabled this tractor to operate on kerosene and other low grade hydrocarbon fuels. It was equipped with two separate float chambers, one for gasoline and another for kerosene. The operator would start the tractor on gas and after a short warm up period switch the fuel to the large kerosene tank mounted above the engine.  Exhaust gas was used to heat a fuel/ air mix to 500 degrees F. by means of a coil of tubing in the manifold before it returned to the vaporizer to be mixed with more air and supplied to the engine.

The Fordson used a thermo-siphon system to circulate 11 gallons of water in a jacket that enclosed the cylinders down to the crankcase eliminating the need for a water pump. The engine and the radiator were bolted together without hose connectors.

The crankcase, gearbox and rear axle not only enclosed the running gear of the tractor but also formed a massive and rigid frame. The transmission provided three forward gears and one reverse. Literature of the period claimed the tractor could pull two 14” plows in any type of soil under a constant load of 1,500 pounds on the drawbar with 25% power in reserve in the intermediate gear.

The drive wheels measured 42” with 12” face equipped with steel angle cleats. Plowing speed was claimed to be 2 3/8 mph, low gear 1 ½ mph with a top gear speed of 6 ¾ mph.

Where you might find an instrument display or gauges on a modern tractor is a list of patents granted to Fordson. Why a farmer would need to consult this list while plowing remains unclear.

Sources and resources:
The Canada Connection, the Greater Production Fleet by Rick Mannen published in Antique Power Magazine, March/April 2009
Henry Ford’s Revolutionary Farm Tractor by Sam Moore from Farm Collector Archives, August 2011
Automotive Industries, The Automobile, Feb. 21, 1918 digitized by

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