Russ' Vintage Iron

The Lore of Ferguson Tractors

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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One vintage tractor manufacturer I never really knew much about but wished I did was the Ferguson tractor company. The only reason I know anything about them is because the father of one of my uncles had a Ferguson tractor on his farm. They had mainly John Deere equipment like we did but also had this all-grey, little utility tractor.

Harry Ferguson was born on November 4, 1884, the son of a farmer from County Down, Ireland, according to his Wikipedia page. In 1902, Harry went to work for his brother, Joe, in his bicycle and car repair business.

During this time he became fascinated with the new technology of aviation and built his first airplane in 1909. Ferguson became the first Irishman to fly and the first citizen of the United Kingdom to build and fly an airplane.

He founded his own company in 1911 selling cars and tractors. Being from the farm he knew what farmers needed from tractors and saw the weakness of having a tractor and a plow as separate units. By the early 1920s he was demonstrating early versions of his three-point linkage on the Fordson tractor.

His first hitch was mechanical but he soon developed a hydraulic version in 1926. After several years of development the patented "Duplex" hitch system was built mainly for the Fordson F tractor and his own prototype Ferguson "Black" tractor by the mid-1930s.

In 1938 Ferguson and Henry Ford made their famous "handshake agreement" and this lead to the Ford-Ferguson new model 9N being unveiled in 1939.

I guess this is why you don't make handshake deals when you are a big time tractor manufacturer because Henry Ford II ended the deal in 1947 and Ford continued to build the next tractor model, the 8N, with Ferguson's inventions and Ferguson was left without a tractor to sell in North America.

Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Ford and it was finally settled out of court in April of 1952 for just over $9 million making one of the largest lawsuits in the world at the time. The suit ended up costing Ferguson about half this about amount and his health suffered from the stress of the situation.

He made a deal with Britain's Standard Motor Company to produce tractors and they began to produce the TE-20 in the fall of 1946. Thousands of TE20 tractors were shipped to the US until 1948 when the company began to manufacture the TO-20 in the U.S.

The TO-20 was produced from 1948 to 1951, according to the website tractordata.com. The TO-30 was the next model of Ferguson tractor and was made from 1951 to 1954.

I'm not sure if my uncle's dad's tractor was a TO-20 or TO-30. It always kind of stuck out to me when we visited them since everything was John Deere and this little tractor was completely grey with almost no decals.

A year after the lawsuit with settled with Ford (1953), Ferguson's patents expired and most of the world's other tractor producers incorporated his inventions on their tractors. Ferguson merged with Massey Harris to become Massey-Harris-Ferguson Co. and then later became Massey Ferguson.

I discovered Ferguson also made an F-40 from 1956 to 1957, which was the same tractor as the Massey Harris 50. The tractor was introduced during the dual line policy when the Massey-Harris-Ferguson company maintained separate Ferguson and Massey-Harris line until 1957 when just one tractor was produced.

Ferguson's research division went on to develop several different tractors and cars, including the first Formula One four-wheel-drive cars. The four-wheel-drive system was used in race cars and in the Range Rover and then later it was used in constant four-wheel-drive Land Rovers.

Harry Ferguson died at his home in Stow-in-the-Wood, England in 1960 at the age of 75. His death was the result of a barbiturate overdose and the investigation into his death was unable to conclude if this was an accident or not.

So there you have it the history of the man Harry Ferguson and his company. He was truly a pioneer in the world of agricultural engineering.


We probably will not see many Ferguson tractors pulling at the Sarpy County (Nebraska) County Fair's annual antique tractor pull BUT you will see many other vintage tractors take to the track. The Sarpy County Fair runs July 29 through August 1 in beautiful Springfield, Nebraska, (about 20 miles south of Omaha on Highway 50) and the antique tractor pull is set for Friday, July 31 beginning at 5 p.m.

I will again be the track announcer for the pull so come anyway! For more information about the Sarpy County Fair, go to http://www.sarpyfair.com.

(JP/CZ)