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Ferguson Type A

Rarely does an engineering advance come along that has such an impact that it changes agriculture, let alone sets a standard for future tractor design.

Such was the case with Harry Ferguson’s Type A tractor.

Not that the Type A was an exceptional leap forward in tractor technology by itself, although it certainly was a solid machine. Rather, it was the device at work on the back of the tractor, a hydraulically powered three-point hitch, that made history.


Ford was the catalyst

When the Type A and its hitch system were introduced in 1936, all of tractordom took notice. But the chief admirer of Ferguson’s innovation was Henry Ford, who collaborated with Ferguson to create the Ford-Ferguson Model 9N. Three additional N Series of Fords were introduced in ensuing decades all featuring the Ferguson hitch. And Ferguson launched his own tractor line when his relationship with Ford went sour.

All told, over 800,000 tractors were eventually manufactured by Ferguson and Ford based on the Type A’s basic design. This accomplishment ranks the tractor and its offspring as one of the most popular tractor series ever built.

Hitch systems not new

To put matters in perspective and correct some current myths, Ferguson did not create the intregal hitch system from scratch. The Irish inventor certainly perfected it, however! So much so that all three-point hitches in use today reflect Ferguson’s basic design. But engineers had been working since the early 1900s to create a method by which implements could be mounted on tractors rather than just hitched to a drawbar. The advantages to this approach were numerous.

First, there was a benefit in the ability to more easily transport implements down the road. Also, intregally mounted implements transferred the weight being created from the tools engaging with the soil. That weight came to bear on the tractor’s drive wheels, which promoted tractive efficiency.

First came a plow

Ferguson took notice of these advantages when working on plow designs as a young engineer working for the Irish Board of Agriculture in 1919. He subsequently designed a plow equipped with its own linkage that mounted to the back of a tractor. The design evolved into a linkage consisting of two parallel arms, one located above the other to form a semirigid hitch between the plow and tractor. The beauty of this approach was that the plow would rise and drop to match the up-and-down movement of the tractor’s rear wheels.

Plows for Fordson

Ferguson’s plow made it to market thanks to purchases for use on Fordson tractors. So Ferguson turned his attention to another novel idea – equipping tractors rather than implements with intregal hitches. He envisioned a hitch system that allowed farmers to easily lift implements out of the ground without using human effort. Ferguson first experimented with a mechanical system driven from the tractor belt pulley. He later played with an electric motor, but that concept proved too expensive.

Eventually he settled on employing a pump driven off the tractor’s transmission that would propel oil to hydraulic rams. These rams would raise or lower lifting linkage.

Upside-down design

Ferguson’s first hitch design involved three links attached to the rear of the tractor. This approach employed a single lower link and two upper links. The lower link controlled the operating depth of the implement while the two upper links lifted or lowered the implement.

That approach was quickly scrubbed because it lacked strength. The placement of the arms was reversed. The single link was moved up and became what is now popularly called the top link. This change proved very effective at allowing farmers to readily adjust the fore and aft operating depth of an implement in the field.

Ferguson’s dream design was a reality, and he set about creating a tractor to go with the invention. His first Type A tractors were ready by May 1936. The 20-horsepower machine was, at first, built by David Brown Tractors. That relationship ceased in 1939. But Ferguson had already held his fateful meeting with Henry Ford, the one in which he demonstrated the Model A. Prototypes of what would become the Ford-Ferguson Model 9N were on hand by March 1939, and manufacturing began later that year.

European success

That Ferguson and Ford would part company is a story unto itself. Suffice to say, Ferguson aimed to show Ford up by launching his own tractor. And Ferguson did it – with the Model TE-20. The tractor was such a success in Europe that Ford salespeople began to refer to it as “the Grey Menace.” Menace indeed, for over a half million Grey Fergies would be produced in just a decade!

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