Toward the end of the 1930s, the Great Depression’s choke hold on agriculture was finally relenting.
Foreclosures were becoming a bad memory of past troubled times. Money was seeping back into agriculture. And farmers, yearning for the advanced technology, began shopping for tractors in droves.
The time was ripe for a breakthrough in tractor design. And the newly formed Oliver Corporation pounced on that opportunity with a tractor that would define horsepower design for the next several decades.
Greatness is not always obtained by popularity. The Wallis Cub (above) provides a prime example of that fact.
A mere 660 Cubs were built during the tractor’s brief six-year production run. By comparison, over 850,000 Fordsons were sold in one decade.
The concept of a four-wheel drive tractor, even one that was articulated, was certainly not new. Olmstead and Nelson introduced the first four wheel drives in 1912 followed by Morton (1920), Wilson (1922), Wizard (1929), Fitch Four Drive (1929) and Massey-Harris (1930).
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.
By the late 1950s diesel engines had established themselves as mainstay purchases of farmers seeking a high horsepower tractors. These high-compression, low distillate power plants not only turned out impressive horsepower which exceeded the capacity of larger gasoline engines, but they also had far higher torque capacity. This later attribute proved its worth during tilling in tough soil conditions when a diesel tractor’s ability to “lug” its way through clay made it the envy of any farming community.
Despite its reputation of being able to deliver high-torque horsepower at considerably less fuel consumption than a gasoline engine, it took an act of humiliation to finally launch the diesel in America.
The catalyst was a plowing competition pitting a Caterpillar gas-power Sixty against a crawler equipped with a Benz (of Mercedes-Benz fame) diesel in a Sudanese cotton field.
The Sixty lost.
Few farmers – and only a handful of antique tractor collectors – even recognize the Parrett name. Yet during the formative period of tractor development – from the early 1900s stretching into the early 1940s – engineer Dent Parrett’s innovative designs would have a huge impact on horsepower.
Dent Parrett began building tractors as early as 1911 (although there are indications he was involved even earlier than that) out of a shop located in Ottawa, Illinois. Soon the inventor would move to Chicago which would, more of less, remain his headquarters for the next decade.
Powered front steering wheels are now so popular that it’s rare for a tractor over 120 horsepower to be manufactured without the feature. The popularity of the concept has grown to the point that you even order some large sizes of garden tractors with front-wheel-drive (FWD) axles.
However, prior to the 1980s, U.S.-built tractors offering FWD were a rarity. The feature was commonplace on European farms. So is this one of those examples of an advance in tractors coming from overseas?
At the height of steam popularity in the early 1900s, J.I. Case had grown to become the industry leader in agricultural power. So varied was the company’s line that it spanned dozens of models of stationary and steam tractor engines ranging in size from 6 to 150 horsepower, which employed both simple and compound operating cylinders.
The Ivel tractor lacks the design finesse found in other general-purpose, tricycle-type machines like the Farmall Regular or Case CC, which were so popular in the late 1920s and early 1930s. At 18 horsepower, the Ivel was a lightweight compared to other tractors of its time. But consider the era when the Ivel was built, and you come to appreciate the genius of this tractor’s design.