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IHC Farmall Regular
The Farmall was not the first tractor to feature the now famous tri-cycle design.
Nor was it the first attempt at an all-purpose tractor; a machine as accustomed to cultivating row crops as it was plowing or powering a thresher.
But Farmall was the tractor that put both concepts to practical application and commercial success. And for its impact on tractor engineering – let alone the improvement in quality of life for farmers – the Farmall stands atop the pile of the world’s greatest tractors. How it came to prominence was not so illustrious, however.
The Farmall wasn’t the first choice of IHC management when it desperately sought to stem sales losses to the Fordson (see Vol. 4, No. 1 Almanac).
In the 1910s IHC owned the tractor market led by its triple crown – the Titan 10-20, International 8-16, and McCormick 15-30. Ford knocked down all three kingpins with one roll in 1918 by introducing the Fordson. Within five years, the tractor came to claim 76% of the horsepower market.
IHC management sat stunned in Chicago looking at its market share shrink to 9%. They knew a change was needed.
Enter an unlikely hero in Bert Benjamin.
This Iowa farm boy was a whiz with implements but had little experience with tractors. Benjamin knew what farmers needed, however. He had spent a lot of time studying farming methods and implement design. Benjamin, one of IHC’s implement engineers, had been assigned to Ford’s facilities in an effort to adapt International implements to Fordson tractors. While he was in Detroit, Benjamin created a kit that transformed Fordsons into cultivating tractors.
But the trip did more than inspire an adaptation. It led Benjamin to dream of a machine that would serve all the needs of farmers. Such a product was not available at this time. Most farmers who owned a tractor used it to power stationary implements from a belt pulley or to pull tillage implements.
Such tractors couldn’t readily cultivate growing crops. That job required a separate tractor that could straddle rows, be highly maneuverable, and sit lighter on its wheels. IHC’s answer to this need was its Motor Cultivator. In the late 1910s, such machines were all the rage with over a dozen companies selling motor cultivator variations. The innovative Moline Universal was birthed during this period.
IHC’s Motor Cultivator was unique in that its engine was positioned at the rear of its frame and directly above two small drive wheels spaced on either side of a steering pedestal. The driver sat ahead of the engine. Implements were suspended from a frame supported by two steel wheels set four rows apart.
Triple Power Plan
Benjamin liked the simplicity of the Motor Cultivator but not its high cost. He envisioned a “Combined Tractor Truck” that would utilize IHC’s Triple Power Plan of a belt pulley, drawbar, and newfangled PTO. This latter innovation had been introduced to farmers by IHC on their 15-30 Gear Drive.
Eventually, Benjamin and an engineering crew set out to create such a tractor.
Design began in 1919 with the first prototype appearing in 1921. By this time, the Farmall, as it was being called by its engineers, gained new allies in Cyrus and Harold McCormick who tried out the tractor on their farms. They liked what they saw and encouraged further design work.
Benjamin and crew made several improvements to the Farmall's basic design making it more rugged while reducing its weight. By 1923, the first 100 Farmalls were built for field testing. The reviews were so favorable that IHC management committed to full-scale production. That effort would take place in the Moline Plow Work facility in Rock Island, Illinois. IHC had purchased the plant in 1924 and later renamed it the Farmall Works.
Production on the Farmall began in September 1924. By 1927 output grew to over 9,500. In 1930 over 42,000 Farmalls exited the plant’s doors to eager farmers. When the Farmall Regular (see background on name below) was replaced by the F-20 in 1932, over 131,000 of the tractor had been built, and the American tractor took on an entirely new look and purpose.
Randy Leffingwell has written the ultimate book on Farmall history, Farmall: Eight Decades of Innovation, available from MBI at www.motorbooks.com.