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10-20 Memories

My grandfather bought a McCormick-Deering 10-20 new in 1929. My father inherited the tractor in 1935. When I was about 9, I began to drive it. I was so gung-ho on tractors that I just started driving the thing. No on ever challenged me, so before long, I had it out in the field, plowing and discing. The tractor was parked in a barn with no roof in 1951, and the last time I looked at it, it was a sorry sight. Not too long ago, a fellow bought it for parts. I can still 'feel' the tractor. I must have driven it for at least 10 years, and the accumulated hours must total up in the many hundreds, or maybe a thousand or two. The 10-20 engine was huge for its power output--281 cubic inches (compare a Farmall H with 152 cubic inches!). It ran at only 1000 rpm, so the horsepower output was only in the 20s, but the torque, now there was torque! In second gear, it was impossible to stall it no matter how hard the ground got. The steering was extremely hard, and because there were no wheel brakes, the tractor tended to skid forward in soft ground if there was a heavy load, like a big disk harrow, behind. An uncle had a similar tractor with high 'skid rings' in front, and that was a little better in soft ground. The ride on plowed ground wasn't bad, but on hard soil--like a gravel road, or a packed farmyard--the ride can only be described as atrocious. Each lug pounded down on the soil and sent a jolt up your spine. You had to move VERY slowly in order not to jar your every bone and muscle. The exhaust was pretty loud, but there was a simple muffler to keep the noise within reason. Because the engine ran so slowly, you could pretty much hear every explosion. I used to love to listen to this tractor when it was running a thresher or an ensilage chopper. One of my first self-assigned 'jobs' was to jump up on the platform and engage the pulley lever whenever a new load arrived for the thresher or the ensilage chopper. The governor on this tractor is the old-style 'throttling governor, ' which does absolutely no controlling of the engine speed when the lever is moved away from the 'wide open' position. This was a nuisance if you wanted to use the tractor for light work on rolling ground. When you went downhill, the engine speeded up, and when you went uphill, it slowed down. In 1937, IHC put a 'variable governor' on these tractors (as far as I know, they did this for all the tractors using a similar engine-- F-20, F-30, W-30, etc. ). With the variable governor, there was a notched rod, similar to the rod on an F-12, that allowed full control of the engine speed right down almost to idle. There was a retrofit kit available for these tractors (I had an F-20 a few years ago with the IHC retrofit kit. It is almost identical to the factory model, except that the lid of the governor housing has an arm that supports the governor control crank: on the factory installation, the governor control crank is attached to the block). A number of what we now call 'after-market manufacturers' made conversion kits for the governors. You can see these if you have any old parts catalogs from places like Central Tractor Wrecking. I don't think that any work was ever done on this 10-20 in the 22 years that it worked, except that the little drive pinion to the bull gear wore out. Maybe it had been misajusted at the factory. I was plowing one day and the tractor just stopped. All the teeth of the gear had worn paper thin and just broke off. For the time when this tractor came out (1923), it was fairly comfortable. There was a roomy platform, fenders to lean on, a bit of a spring to the seat (not much), and a fairly comfortable driving position. This is not to say that you came off of it at the end of the day feeling refreshed! Lots of noise, lots of jolts, plenty of work for the arms. In the furrow, the front wheel would pretty much follow along without any input from the driver. In time, plowing did wear the inner rim of the right front wheel pretty thin. With a trailer plow, you could reach the levers from the seat. Probably dangerous, but I did it all the time. No OHSA then to come around and tell your old man that his kid was doing something dangerous and shouldn't be allowed on machinery until he was married and had two kids. The mag on this 10-20 was IH E-4A. The impulse coupling was manually operated, so you had to 'trip it' before it worked. If you didn't set the impulse coupling, stand back, 'cause them ol' cylinders would give you a real whip backwards on the crank, and you'd better not be in the way (one cylinder on this tractor was about the size of an entire VW Beetle engine!). When these tractors are operated on kerosene, there is a whole ritual to pay attention to. Every day, you were supposed to drain the oil down to the level of the bottom petcock (on the side of the oil pan), then refill with fresh oil to reduce some of the dilution that comes from kerosene condensing and running down the side of the cylinders). Then if the tractor had stopped on kerosene, you had to drain the carb (little valve on the side of it), close the drain valve, open the gasoline valve on the little tank, go through the starting ritual, warm up the engine (in cold weather, by pulling up a curtain that had little hooks that went into holes in front of the radiator shell), then when you thought you were ready for work, shutting off the gasoline valve and turning on the kerosene. From then on, you had to keep it working. If the motor cooled off a bit, it would start to sputter and carry on something terrible. I tried kerosene once, and that was enough. I never knew anybody back in the 30s and 40s who used kerosene, and I lived in an area where practically the only dealers were IH. They practically had a lock on central N. J., even though there were lots of other good tractors out there, but few dealers. In the 30s and 40s, a 'trip' was 5 miles over washboard roads, so farmers weren't wild about making 30 mile trips to buy a tractor part. Yesterday, I drove 30 miles to an IH dealer just to 'look around'--took me exactly 33 minutes, mostly on an Interstate! There is another side to the story of this tractor. Because the exhaust comes out under the gas tank, you need to be sure the engine is off and the exhaust is not too hot. I witnessed a terrible fire when a young farm boy was fueling up this 10-20 with the motor running. He let the fuel overflow and the whole thing went up like a rocket. He spilled gasoline on himself, and caught fire, too. He lived three days. The whole thing still sends shivers up my spine. Shut 'em off!

Leonard Rahilly, MI, entered 2003-01-23
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