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Smithsonian Institution Fordson


 
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HistMuseum
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 09, 2012 8:35 am    Post subject: Smithsonian Institution Fordson Reply to specific post Reply with quote

Greetings all,

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is in the process of preparing its Fordson tractor for display in a new US business history exhibition, American Enterprise (visit http://americanenterprise.si.edu/ for more information). We plan on using the Fordson to explore a couple of different stories, including the mechanization of American farms, mass production, and competition in the tractor market.

Thus far we have a great deal of information about the Fordson’s development, production, impact on agriculture, and its impact on the tractor industry as a whole. Where we still have questions centers on identifying the exact type of Fordson Model F tractor that we have in our possession. That’s where I’m hoping this forum can help.

Unfortunately, the serial number had been painted over repeatedly by the former owner and cannot be distinguished. What other features can aid in identifying the production year?

Can the matter of rear fenders help? Our donor file indicates that our tractor was purchased in 1918, and that its rear fenders were added later by the owner. The fenders are in the style of those introduced beginning, I believe, with the 1924 F. But is this possible? Were these fenders ever sold as separate attachments that could be applied to earlier models? If not, does this suggest our tractor dates to 1924 or later?

What do you think? Any expertise forum users can offer would be greatly appreciated by the museum.

Thanks!

National Museum of American History
Smithsonian Institution
 


Last edited by HistMuseum on Fri Nov 09, 2012 8:36 am; edited 1 time in total
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Steve Welker
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 09, 2012 1:23 pm    Post subject: Re: Smithsonian Institution Fordson Reply to specific post Reply with quote

I am very happy that our national museum realizes the importance the Fordson played in the advancement of American farming. One request, please do not label it as a hard starting tractor that had a tendency to flip over backwards. This is a myth that is still commonly heard and read about. While this did happen, it was of no fault of the tractor, but instead the fault lies with the inexperianced farmers improper maintainence and use.
There are many small details that can identify the year. Almost every piece changed in some way over the years. With a few pictures from all sides I could pretty easily identify the year.
The factory fenders with the integral tool boxes were first offered in 1923, but could be fitted to an earlier tractor by changing the dash or drilling the mounting holes in the dash.
One quick easy identifier of a 1918 is rear wheels with 6 spokes (7 spokes appeared in mid 1920) and radiator side castings with 4 square holes (solid sides appeared in mid 1919). Another good identifier is at the oil fill on the front left of the engine block. 1922 and earlier is just a raw casting on the front side, while 1923 and newer has a machined pad with a setscrew that holds in the flip style oil fill cap.
Send me some pictures and I will be glad to identify this for you.
-Steve
 
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Naylorbros
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 09, 2012 6:32 pm    Post subject: Re: Smithsonian Institution Fordson Reply to specific post Reply with quote

HI!! Is this the same Fordson that was on display in 1985? If it is
please repaint is the correct colors before putting it back on
display.
Thanks
Ken
 
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Maine Fordson
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 11, 2012 5:56 pm    Post subject: Re: Smithsonian Institution Fordson Reply to specific post Reply with quote

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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HistMuseum
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 16, 2012 6:54 am    Post subject: Re: Smithsonian Institution Fordson Reply to specific post Reply with quote


Ken,

If you saw a Fordson at the Smithsonian, it was almost certainly the one I've mentioned.

The museum is not entirely sure of the story behind the present paint job. Most likely the previous owner had repainted the tractor, as suggested by the many layers of paint on features like the engine block. It seems the tractor was also repainted when it arrived at the Smithsonian in the 60s, but the staff responsible for any restoration work are no longer here.

My understanding is that the Fordson Model F was light grey and red for its entire production life. Does this sound correct to you?
 
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Maine Fordson
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 16, 2012 11:33 am    Post subject: Re: Smithsonian Institution Fordson Reply to specific post Reply with quote

HistMuseum wrote:
(quoted from post at 10:54:24 11/16/12) <snip> My understanding is that the Fordson Model F was light grey and red for its entire production life. Does this sound correct to you?


Well, no.

When Fordsons began rolling off the assembly line in 1918, they were painted entirely gray. The decision was based not on aesthetics but on practicality: The paint was the same used on the production equipment in the Ford and Fordson plants, and it is believed that Henry Ford, notorious for his parsimony, directed the factory to use that relatively inexpensive paint (“machinery gray”), of which it likely had considerable quantities on hand.

In 1920 the appearance of the Model F changed, when bright red paint was applied to the wheels. (Interestingly, red paint was not available for Ford’s ubiquitous Model T automobiles until 1926. Prior to that, all Model Ts were painted with black enamel; the colored enamel paints of that era could not dry quickly enough to keep up with the fast pace of the automotive assembly line.)

In 1924, the year in which the Ford Motor Company made the claim that “over 75% of all tractors on American farms are Fordsons,” the Model F's color scheme was altered yet again when the tractors were painted a lighter shade of gray, which continued through the end of its production run in 1928.

Often a restored Fordson Model F, once rebuilt, is painted with battleship gray, when the actual hue should be more of a whitish-gray; I have sourcing information on restoration-quality paint for Fordson Model F tractors, if you’re interested.

B.R. Bowden
“Maine Fordson” on YTmag.com
 


Last edited by Maine Fordson on Fri Nov 16, 2012 11:40 am; edited 1 time in total
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