Row-Crop Tractors

What is a Row-Crop tractor, and what was Harry Ferguson’s view of them?

Once tractor design had progressed beyond the steam tractor and the early gasoline or kerosene powered engines, primarily designed for belt work and plowing, gas and kerosene tractors were pretty much “Standard” tractors. They were relatively low profile tractors with non-adjustable wide front ends and non-adjustable rear wheels, like the original Fordson design. Later, International Harvester introduced its “Row Crop” Farmall design which had a tricycle front end, and adjustable rear wheels. As that design evolved, larger rear wheels were used. John Deere followed suit, supplementing its popular model D standard tractor with a “General Purpose” model that had a tricycle front end, and adjustable rear wheels. These tricycle designs came to be known as “Row Crop” tractors.

Harry Ferguson was a firm believer in the “utility” tractor design which is what the Ferguson Brown, TE-20, TO-20, and TO-30 are usually classified as. Some of the earliest Ferguson cultivator literature emphasizes cultivating with a rear mounted Ferguson cultivator. The Ford Ferguson 9N made the “Utility” design popular. The Ford Ferguson “Utility” design has an adjustable wide front axle as well as adjustable rear wheels which provided the low profile attributes of the “Standard” tractors, and the ability to adjust the wheels to fit between the rows like “Row Crop” tractors. Early Ford Ferguson advertising promoted the superiority of this “Utility” design. The 9N design combines the best of the “Row Crop” design with the superiority of the “Standard” design for plowing.

The design of the Ferguson 3 point hitch, steering fin on Ferguson cultivators, and the steering guide attached to the right front axle are touted as keeping the cultivator tracking perfectly behind the tractor allowing the operator to look ahead. Ferguson also promoted his tractors as easy to get on and off, one step up to mount them, as opposed to the usual method of mounting a high wheel tricycle tractor which usually requires the operator to crawl over the implement and drawbar to reach the operator’s platform.

MHF management complained that Ferguson’s LTX was not suitable because it could not be adapted to a tricycle version which was popular with corn growers in the US who were using front mounted cultivators, and front-mounted corn pickers. Ferguson argued his rear-mounted cultivators were superior and rear or side mounted corn harvesting equipment was very capable. At the time, the rear or side-mounted corn harvesting equipment was only available in single row versions, while the front-mounted corn pickers used with tricycle row-crop tractors picked two rows at a time. Of course front-mounted corn pickers fell out of favor after the Schmidt brothers mounted a corn head on a Massey Harris combine, and modified the combine to shell corn.

Similarly, as Massey Ferguson tractors became more powerful, their rear-mounted cultivators became available in 4 and 6 row versions, and Pittsburgh offered kits to extend Ford and Ferguson cultivators to four rows. The tricycle row-crop designs MHF management argued were essential were on the way out, and the higher clearance tractors with large rear wheels and tricycle front ends were phased out, and replaced by adjustable wide front ends.