Harry Ferguson - The Man & The Machine

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Harry Ferguson
The Man and The Machine

harry ferguson 1884-1960
Harry Ferguson 1884 - 1960

Born November 4th 1884 Harry Ferguson was christened Henry George but every one called him Harry. Harry was born in a small Irish town called Growell in County Down about 16 miles from Belfast. Harry Ferguson led a varied and colorful childhood causing mischief where ever he could. He showed mechanical aptitude at a very early stage in life and showed no inclination towards farming much to his fathers disgust. Harry Ferguson became interested in aviation and designed and constructed his own air craft and is credited with been the first Briton to build and fly his own aircraft in Ireland (31st December 1909). During the first world war Harry Ferguson owned and ran a motor mechanic workshop called Harry Ferguson Ltd, they where also the agents for an American Tractor company called Overtime. This is no doubt where Harry Ferguson and tractors all began.

In 1919 Harry Ferguson was employed by the Irish Board of Agriculture, to improve the efficiency of farm tractor use in Ireland in a bid to improve valuable food production for the country. He concluded that the main problem that existed at that time was the complicated design and construction of the ploughs and the tractors, which were extremely crude and heavy. He decided he could design a plough far superior to any then in production. Ferguson turned to building his first mechanically operated mounted plough which he fitted to an 'Eros' conversion on the Ford model 'T' car.

eros tractor, similar to a model t without a body
Eros Model T Ford Tractor

This plough was a two furrow plough mounted on the rear of the tractor, with balance springs to allow it to be easily lifted and lowered by the driver using a lever alongside his seat. Unfortunately at the time the plough was launched in late 1917 Ford Motor car company had begun manufacture of the Fordson 'F', this killed off any market there might be for this plough and tractor conversion. Undetered Ferguson set about designing a plough for the Fordson 'F' after he had sold his stock of original ploughs. Tractor rearing, which could happen if a trailing plough hit an obstruction, a problem the Fordson 'F' was renowned for. A duplex linkage consisting of two parallel links to form a semi-rigid arrangement between the tractor and plough was Ferguson's idea to solve this problem. These links were arranged to pull the plough down to its working depth. Improved traction was obtained by placing the weight of the plough, and the forces involved in ploughing, firmly on the tractor.

Several companies were showing some interest in Ferguson's designs, including Allis Chalmers, Rushton, Ransomes, and the Rover Car Co. The most positive talks took place with the Morris Motor Co., who agreed to build a tractor using the Ferguson Hydraulic system, but at the last minute the agreement fell through due to the depression of the late twenties and thirties. As a result was that Ferguson set about building his own tractor, which was assembled at his Belfast workshops in 1933. Many components were bought in, including a Hercules engine and David Brown gearbox. Castings in light alloy, cast at a foundry nearby were also used. The tractor was complete with Ferguson three point linkage. The Ferguson draft control System, which was applied to the tractor gave added traction when using the Ferguson implements designed specifically for the tractor. Unit construction was applied and the prototype had this split into four components; engine, clutch housing, gearbox, and rear axle were flanged to each other. As was apparent in later Ferguson design tractors. The clutch was a single plate unit, and a three speed constant mesh gearbox took the drive to a spiral bevel rear axle. Independent brakes were fitted to assist turning, and the tractor was mounted on spoked type wheels similar to those on the early Fordsons. It could be operated on petrol or kerosene.

ferguson black prototype tractor
Ferguson Black Prototype Tractor

With the prototype, looking very much like the Fordson, already in existence, Ferguson then set about getting the tractor into production. David Brown of Huddersfield had supplied some components for the Black tractor and following negotiations, agreement was reached whereby David Brown Tractors Ltd., a new company, would build the tractors and Ferguson would take care of the selling. The color of the tractor was changed to battleship grey. Ferguson wanted production models to be black but his staff persuaded him to change.

The demonstration of a Model tractor and plough by Harry Ferguson at Henry Ford's home - Fairlane, paved the way for the famous 'Handshake Agreement'. The agreement provided for Ford to build the tractors and Ferguson to market them through his own selling organization.

With the benefit of the most up to date developments in automotive engineering, the Ford design team, along with Ferguson's design team, created the real forerunner of the modern tractor- Ford Ferguson 9N. To speed production use of standard components was encouraged, and apart from the Ferguson Hydraulic System the tractor showed its Ford parentage in the use of an engine which was half a Mercury VS, and transmission and other components common with other contemporary Ford products. The tractor was very much in line with contemporary Ford styling. The engine was machined on the same line as the VS units, an extra shift being put on to cope with the extra production. The hydraulic linkage was pure Ferguson, but the incorporation of a number of almost standard automotive components also used on the Ford cars and trucks speeded development. The beam type front axle was the brainchild of the Ferguson design team

ford ferguson 9n
Ford Ferguson 9N

The 9N did finally reach the United Kingdom; fitted with modified Holley 295 Vaporiser to run on TVO(Tractor Vaporising Oil) and designated the 9NAN. Wartime shortages caused a utility model to be produced, on steel wheels, and without battery reliant electric's or self starter designated the 2NAN.

Edzel Ford, Henry Ford's oldest son, who had a hand in styling the 9N, died in 1943. Henry Ford II became chairman of the Ford Empire in 1945. His first task was putting the Ford operation back into the black after the ravages of war, and his attitude to the production of a tractor sold by another organization was hostile. Henry Ford II realized that the bad business judgement of his grandfather-Henry Ford had created the problem, a simple agreement in writing might well have overcome the problems that later took place, therefore the sales agreement Between Ford and Ferguson was terminated in 1947. The relationship between Ferguson and Ford had sadly deteriorated, and by 1948 Ford were building their own tractor, the 8N, which was simply an improved 9N with a new colour scheme, and selling it through their own sales organization. The new Ford tractor had a four speed gearbox and improved hydraulics with means of overriding the Ferguson draft control. By this time of course the TE-20 was being built in England, a tractor of very similar design to the 8N.

The trial started on 29th March, 1951. The sum of $240,000,000 was claimed as a resultant loss due to the introduction of the Ford 8N and the consequent loss in business to the Ferguson organization, and the unlicensed use of the Ferguson system, which was patented, on the new Ford tractor.

After long and costly proceedings, Ferguson accepted a settlement of $9,250,000. This was only to cover the unauthorized use of the Ferguson hydraulic system, the claim against loss of business was dismissed due to the instant success of the TE-20 tractor.

Following the breakdown in the famous 'Handshake Agreement' Harry Ferguson looked closer to home for a company to manufacture a tractor to his design. The automotive industry at the time was looking for other projects due to the completion of wartime contracts. Harry found a suitable works at Banner Lane Coventry owned by the Standard Motor Car Co. With Government restrictions on raw materials Harry Ferguson approached the government of the time with a request to purchase the raw materials necessary for the production of tractors. This was approved due to the necessity of work in the area and the fact that it was a bid to increase food production for the country. In July 1947 Standard were about to develop a new engine for the new post war family saloon car - which became the Vanguard. Harry Ferguson decided that this could be adapted to fit A tractor design he had in mind, but in order to get production started engines had to be obtained from elsewhere. The tractor itself, it was simply an updated 9N with four speed gearbox, and the benefit of an overhead valve engine.

There was of course one disadvantage with the Ferguson System, and that was the operator was required to use the proper implements with the tractor for it to reach its full potential. The idea of these being built at Coventry soon evaporated, and it was from a multitude of engineering firms and machinery suppliers that the tools for the three point linkage came. At least with the other makes of tractor which were designed for trailed implements some adaptation of horse drawn tackle could be made as a stopgap, but not with the Ferguson tractor. Its weight transfer principal of operation did not make it suitable for hauling certain types of implement.

The second problem was that the tractor operated on petrol. Petrol was still rationed in 1946; indeed it was 1950 before all restrictions on its use were lifted. Enough fuel could be obtained for agricultural use, but it was subject to excise duty, whereas TVO was not. Harry Ferguson was initially against a low cost fuel variant, but as the home market gradually opened up it became necessary to add the TED-20 to the range. This required an engine with a lower compression ratio and suitable vaporizer. Indeed once the TVO model had been established, a zero octane (lamp oil) model was also offered for export from 1950.

TE Ferguson Tractor

The Petrol engine developed 28.4hp at the PTO and was of 8Omm bore and 92mm stroke. Now the car version of the engine was, after initial development, set at 85mm. Ferguson was not keen to increase the power output of the tractor. The problem arose that the TVO model was only rated at 26hp at the PTO, and it was pointed out that by using the larger bore engine the power could be increased to that of the petrol version. This was agreed, but when the change to the 85mm engine took place to the TED, the larger engine was fitted to all spark ignition models.

With the competition tractor manufacturing firms fitting diesels in production, it was not long before Ferguson's sales force were calling for a diesel version of the TE-20. Now as Harry Ferguson himself was not a diesel fan, it took some considerable persuasion to get him to agree to a diesel engined tractor.

Everybody thought that the TE-20 would go on forever, but the model had already been superseded in the Western Hemisphere. Over half a million Grey Fergies were built from 1946-1956, at the time the largest production run of any tractor in the UK with in excess of half a million tractors built.

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