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Contributed Article

Self-Starting Tractor - McCormick 10-20
by Francis J. Robinson

I remember it very clearly even though it was almost 50 years ago and I was only about seven years old. My Dad had purchased a new Ford-Ferguson tractor and basic set of implements when he started farming just about the beginning of W.W.II. It was considered a pretty nice outfit for their 70 acre central Indiana grain and livestock farm.

Dad spent several years during the war testing aircraft engines at Allison Engineering in Indianapolis working seven days a week on a twelve hour night shift as many did during the war effort. He also farmed,raised pigs and sheep while my city raised mother milked twenty to thirty cows twice a day and helped put up hay and did many other farm chores along with maintaining the household.

After the war Dad started to rent some more crop ground and decided he needed another tractor to help be more efficient. A new tractor was out of the question at that time and were hard to get yet even if you had enough money, even good used tractors were hard to come by at that time due to left over shortages from the war. Quite a few of our neighbors were just then making the transition from horses to tractors which also made for a lively tractor market.

My father met that problem by buying two old McCormick 10-20's in non running condition at junk prices and dismantled them both. He then put one tractor together from the parts of both (with lots of leftovers) and a few new parts like rings and seals. It was then converted to rubber tires all around, spray painted, and given a new set of decals. Looked like a new tractor to me. Neither of the tractors had been equipped with a PTO shaft which must have been optional equipment in 1926 so one was ordered from an IHC dealer. I remember when Mom brought it home it was almost a celebration.

The old 10-20 was used for disking, belt work and later for pulling a hay chopper. My folks originally put up loose hay as did a lot of others at that time except they used a tractor on the hay rope instead of a horse. Later they put up chopped hay by belting the 10-20 to a stationary Letz burr mill to cut up and blow the hay into the loft. The hay had been mown, dried and then raked into piles with a dump rake which had been converted to a tractor hitch and was pulled by the 9N. A sweep rake with long metal tipped wood fingers (seemed huge to me at the time) was mounted on the 9N and then my mother would "sweep" up several of the dump rake stacks and haul them to the Letz burr mill where Dad would feed it into the mill with a pitchfork while Mom went out for another load.

In 1949 we got a new TO-20 Ferguson and a new Allis Chalmers chopper and blower. Dad originally hooked the chopper to the TO-20 but it just didn't have enough power to keep from over heating so he hitched it to the old 10-20. It had less power but was geared so low it was able to keep up with the chopper and if it came to a big slug of hay he could kick the transmission into neutral with his foot to stop the ground travel while the chopper caught up.

Now to the "self starting tractor", one day while I was playing on the old 10-20 which was sitting on level ground and fortunately was out of gear, I was pushing up and down on the clutch pedal, the tractor engine started by itself. No electric starter on it, just a hand crank. No battery, it was a magneto ignition. No ignition switch, Dad usually just got off and went to the side and shut off the fuel valve and walked away to let it quit when the gas in the line ran out. Dad heard it start and came running out to stop it while I headed for the safety of the house at something approaching the speed of light. All anyone could figure out was that when Dad parked it he just pushed the throttle to idle and it died and he didn't shut off the fuel and when I pumped the clutch some residual compression caused the engine to move enough to trip the impulse on the magneto. Who knows ? It was the discussion topic of the neighborhood for a while but not for as long as it was before I climbed back up on that tractor again.

I now farm with nine old tractors from a 1946 Allis "C" to a 1965 Deere 4020 but someday if I get the chance I will have a McCormick 10-20 in that shed.

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