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Discussion Forum

Re: Smithsonian Institution Fordson

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Author  [Modern View]
Maine Fordson

11-11-2012 17:56:23

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First and foremost, I’ll echo Steve Welker’s thanks for your institution’s attention to the Fordson Model F and its revolutionary role both here and abroad. It is arguably the most important tractor in the history of agriculture, and for many years has gone unrecognized, due in large part to its former ubiquity. With the centennial of its development fast approaching, this is an ideal time to put things into their correct historical perspective.

Regarding your specific query as to when the tractor in your collection was manufactured, it may not be possible to determine this with any great degree of accuracy based on its external appearance. I’ll explain.

The most common issue complicating the concrete establishment of the year of manufacture of any Fordson Model F is the fact that components were so interchangeable; the model was in production for a full decade, and nearly all parts from a 1918 Fordson F would fit on a 1928 Fordson F (and, of course, any other such tractor produced in the interim). Cash-strapped farmers would often cannibalize one tractor to keep another one operating, replacing everything from minor accessories to entire engine blocks, and so most Fordson F tractors one encounters today are a hodgepodge of parts from various years. (One avid collector has even gone so far as to say, “I’ve never seen a completely original Fordson!”) For those who understand the rich history of the Fordson F, this is an endearing trait and not necessarily a detractor.

Another factor: Well-intentioned restorers ofttimes have to be clever and resourceful to bring one of these aged machines back to life, as replacement parts are rather difficult to find, and have not been readily available from the manufacturer for nearly three quarters of a century. Modern-day Fordson mechanics usually have little choice about intermingling parts, unless they wish to commission very costly reproductions that entail a great deal of custom work by small foundries, machine shops and other metalworking artisans.

Now, in spite of the above, there may be certain details present on your tractor that would assist in determining its age within a year or two, and if you would be so kind as to post photographs of the tractor in question (front, rear, and both sides), there are several “Fordson gurus” that frequent this forum who would be glad to opine on the subject.
Of course, the most definitive method would be to carefully remove the paint from a very small area just below the manifold and obtain the serial number. (This would establish definitively the production date of the engine block, at the very least. There are numerous resources on-line that illustrate clearly the location of the serial number; please inquire if you need further detail.) If you were dealing with factory-original paint I would agree wholeheartedly with not disturbing it, but whereas the tractor was “painted over repeatedly by the former owner,” this would appear to be far less critical, depending on what your institutional policy is on such matters. Alternatively, there may be other ways of reading the number, such as those employed in the aviation maintenance industry for non-destructive inspection (NDI), to include X-raying or similar NDI technology; I would be surprised entirely if other departments of your fine institution did not have these methods and techniques at their disposal.
Concerning the issue of fenders: For the first five years of the Model F’s production run, fenders were not available from the Ford Motor Company; early-adapter farmers desiring fenders for their Fordsons had to purchase them from any of several companies selling aftermarket designs. Beginning in 1923, Ford offered fenders as a factory option, and those purchasing a new Fordson F could opt to add factory-made fenders or a belt pulley for an additional $35 apiece. It is certainly plausible that the fenders on your institution’s tractor might have been purchased separately and added as a convenience long after the original sale; those who have plowed with these tractors without fenders report a near-constant barrage of soil and stones being dumped into one’s lap, and the price of a pair of fenders was certainly much less than the cost of a new tractor.
If you would care to continue this discussion, please feel free to contact me via e-mail (you will find a link in the lower-left corner of this pane), and I will provide telephone contact information.

One final note regarding your current project: I have in my collection an original 1918 bill of sale for a Fordson tractor; if your institution is interested I will send you a scan, and if there is further interest I will make this document available for an inter-institutional loan.
Yours most cordially,

B.R. Bowden, Director

The Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum

Orrington, Maine

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