A crucial point must be understood before explaining how I came to select some of the “Greatest Tractors of All Time.”
Note I said SOME.
This “Greatest” list certainly does not end with the 32 tractors featured here. Not by a long shot. At last count, I have winnowed my master list down to no less than 64 greatest tractors. Maybe more will join that fold in time as you take me to task for not including a particular tractor model that you feel qualified to be added to this honor roll.
The beefy Farmalls of the 1960s set new standards by which all other tractors would be gauged during the and subsequent decades. In a frequently repeating series of introductions, IHC bought out more powerful and refined tractors which makes it difficult to select one of these new series at the high water mark of IHC engineering excellence.
There are two times in history when the Ford Motor Company absolutely dominated the tractor industry.
The first period, starting in 1917, marked the run of the low-cost Fordson machine. Over that tractor’s 11-year production run, nearly 740,000 Fordsons were sold making it the most popular tractor ever built. So popular were these tractors that John Deere and IHC built and sold implements for use on Fordsons.
The C Series Case, and the Model CC in particular, was the right tractor at the right time.
IHC’s introduction of its revolutionary Farmall Regular in 1924 sent manufacturers on a mad scramble to come up with their own machine made for row-crop farming.
The mood in Racine, Wisconsin, home of J.I. Case Threshing, was particularly sober. Case had been king of horsepower for decades, first as the dominating maker of steam traction engines and then as an early innovator of internal combustion tractors.
John Deere’s Model D was anything but a technological marvel. Nor was it an immensely popular tractor.
True, the D was in production longer than any tractor in history. During its 30-year run some 160,000 Model D’s were sold. That figure, however, is a fifth the number of the Fordsons that went to work on farms in just a 10-year period.
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.