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IHC Farmall Regular

Updated: 04/01/2011 @ 10:12am

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.

Multipurpose tractor

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.

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