Ford N-Series tractor
- This article is about the N-series tractors of 1939–1954. The Fordson Model N tractor was a different model from an earlier series. The Ford Model N car of 1906–1908 is unrelated.
The Ford N-Series tractor was a range of farm tractors produced by Ford between 1939 and 1954 spanning the 9N, 2N, 8N and NAA models.
The 9N, produced by Ford, was the first American-made production-model tractor to incorporate Harry Ferguson's three-point hitch system, a design which is still utilized on most modern tractors today. It was released in October 1939 (hence 9N. The 2N was a renaming of the 9N mainly due to war rationing but also due to cumulative improvements made since the introduction of the 9N. It was introduced in 1942, but it is of note that both were referred to as Ford-Fergusons and their serial numbers both began with 9N. The 8N debuted in July 1947, a largely new machine featuring more power and an improved transmission which proved to be the most popular farm tractor of all time in North America.
Development of the Ford-Ferguson tractors
The first genuine Ford tractor, called the Fordson tractor (because a misleading Ford brand not related to Henry Ford was squatting on the Ford name at the time), was a tremendous success in North America and Europe from 1917 to 1928. Ford of the U.S. left the tractor business in 1928. Ford Ltd of Britain continued thrive with the Fordson from 1928 onward. Some British Fordsons were imported to the U.S. during the following decade. Henry Ford continued tractor R&D in the U.S. after 1928. During the 1930s, experiments were made at Ford's Dearborn, Michigan and Richmond Plantation, Georgia facilities, creating prototypes of row-crop tricycle Fordsons, V8-powered tractors, one-wheel-drive tractors, and other ideas. But Henry Ford waited to reenter the market, planning to have the right new tractor at the right time to achieve a market-changing success.
In Ireland, businessman Harry Ferguson had been developing and selling various improved hitches, implements, and tractors since the 1910s. His first tractors were adapted from Model T cars. In 1920 and 1921 he gave demonstrations at Cork and Dearborn of his hitches and implements as aftermarket attachments to Fordson tractors. The hitches were mechanical at the time. By 1926, he and a team of longtime colleagues (including Willie Sands and Archie Greer) had developed a good hydraulic three-point hitch. Ferguson put such hitches on Fordsons throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. In the mid-1930s, he had David Brown Ltd build Ferguson-brand tractors with his hitches and implements. In 1938, Eber Sherman, importer of Fordsons from England to the US and a friend of both Ford and Ferguson, arranged to have Ferguson demonstrate his tractor for Henry Ford. In October 1938 the Ferguson tractor was put through a demonstration before Ford and his engineers. It was light in weight relative to its power, which impressed Ford. Ferguson's successful tractor demonstration led to a handshake agreement with Ford in 1938, whereby Ford would manufacture tractors using the Ferguson three-point hitch system.
Ford Motor Company invested $12 million in tooling to finance Ferguson's new distribution company. The investment resulted in the production of the 9N tractor which was introduced on June 29, 1939. It was officially called a "Ford tractor with the Ferguson system", although the name Ford-Ferguson was widely used. It sold for $585 including rubber tires, power take-off, Ferguson hydraulics, an electric starter, generator, and battery; lights were optional. Ford's 9N further improved the cantankerous Model F by updating the ignition with a distributor and coil. An innovative system of tire mounts for the rear wheels and versatile axle mounts for the fronts enabled farmers to accommodate any width row-crop work they needed. The 9N weighed 2340 pounds and had 13 drawbar horsepower, which could pull a two-bottom plow. It was designed to be safe, quiet and easy to operate. Ford once said "Our competition is the horse."; the 9N was intended for farmers who were not mechanically minded.
An immediate success, the 9N's configuration became an industry standard, which was followed by other tractor manufacturers for fifteen years. Henry Ford passed leadership of his company to grandson Henry Ford II in 1945. By 1946, the younger Ford discovered that, despite its success, the Model N lost Ford Motor Company over $25 million in six years. He reacted by forming Dearborn Motors in November 1946, which took over tractor distribution from Ferguson. Ford informed Ferguson that after July 1947 they would no longer supply tractors to his company. Ferguson sued Henry Ford II, Dearborn Motors and Ford Motor Company and others for $251 million in damages on the basis of patent infringements and conspiracy to monopolize the farm tractor business. Ford Motor Company claimed the patents had already expired by the time of Dearborn Motors' incorporation. Approximately 750,000 9Ns were built, and it was estimated in 2001 that nearly half of these were still in regular use.
Harry Ferguson had understood that the handshake agreement had included the manufacture of the 9N in Britain. World War II intervened and prevented this, although one explanation was that Ford UK was uninterested in the plan.
N Series models
The first tractor of the series was the 9N, the first tractor to have both three-point hitch and a rear Power Take Off. The 9N (the "9" was taken from the last digit of the year 1939) was first demonstrated in Dearborn, Michigan on June 29, 1939. Like the Farmall, it was designed to be a general-purpose row-crop tractor for use on smaller farms. An extremely simple, almost crude tractor, the 9N was fitted with the Ferguson system three-point hitch, a three-speed transmission, and featured footpegs instead of running boards. The 9N's relatively tall and wide-spaced front wheel design resulted in somewhat sluggish steering and reduced maneuverability compared to competing machines such as John Deere's Models A and B, and the Farmall 'Letter series'. But the 9N did have variable front track, a valuable feature for row-crop cultivation, via front half-axles that could be slid in and out and pinned in place. It also had variable rear track via the reversible offset of the rear wheel design (flipping the rear wheels around 180°, moving the formerly inboard side to the outboard side, widened the rear track). Uniquely, the exhaust was routed underneath the tractor, much like an automobile. All 9N tractors were painted dark grey. This tractor has a rear Power Take Off (PTO) which could be used to drive three point or towed implements. The Ferguson hitch was designed to solve some of the problems found in the earlier Fordson tractors such as flipping over if the plow hit an obstruction. The upper link also would adjust the hydraulic lift to use the drag of the plow to improve traction. This was known as draft control.
The 9N was revised a number of times, until being relaunched as the 2N in 1942. The 2N still came in dark grey, but now had added improvements including a larger cooling fan and a pressurized radiator. However, the 2N, like the 9N, still had only a 3-speed transmission, a disadvantage compared to many tractors at the time, such as the Farmall A and M. By this time, wartime regulations had imposed manufacturing economies, and some 2Ns can be seen with all-steel wheels. Batteries were reserved for the war effort, so the all-steel wheel tractors came with a magneto ignition system instead of a battery and had to be started with a hand-crank. After the war the steel wheels and magneto system were replaced with rubber and batteries.
The original 9N engine was a four cylinder engine and was designed to be powered by distillate fuels. The engine shares the same bore and stroke sizes as one bank of the Ford V8 automobile engines. A few standard Ford auto and truck parts such as timing gears and valve tappets were used in this engine.
The ford 9N engine was a side valve, four cylinder engine, with a 3.19-inch (81 mm) bore, 3.75-inch (95 mm) stroke, providing a displacement of 120 cubic inches (2,000 cm3). The transmission was the standard three speed.
The finished tractor weighed 2,340 pounds (1,060 kg), and initially sold for US$585. This was an advantage as tractors from other manufactures cost almost twice as much.
Ferguson and Ford part ways
In 1945, Henry Ford died and Henry Ford II, his grandson, took over the Ford Motor Company. Since the original agreement between Ford and Ferguson was sealed with a handshake (versus a written contract) and included the notion that either party could terminate it at any time without reason, Henry Ford II didn't feel the need to continue to honor it. Ferguson was furious and sued Ford Motor Company. A few years later his Ferguson interests were merged with Massey Harris, a Canadian company, to become Massey Ferguson.
Official production of the 8N tractor began in July 1947. Equipped with a 4-speed transmission, this model was destined to become the top-selling individual tractor of all time in North America. The most noticeable differences between the 8N and its predecessors was the inclusion of a 4-speed transmission instead of a 3-speed in the 9N and 2N, and an increase in both PTO and drawbar horsepower. The other big change on the 8N was the addition of a 'Position-control' setting for the hydraulics. This change was made partially to improve flexibility in varying soil conditions, and partially to evade Harry Ferguson's patent on the hydraulic system. The original automatic draft control on the Ferguson system would allow the depth of the implement to vary based on soil conditions, which did not work well for some implements. The new Position Control setting bypassed the draft control and allowed the implement to remain at a consistent position relative to the position of the Touch Control lever. A continued drawback to this series of tractor, was the lack of a "live" PTO. Without a live PTO certain implements such as brush cutters which store inertial energy could send that back into the transmission. This would cause the tractor to surge forward if the clutch were disengaged. This was addressed with the advent of the PTO overrunning coupler.
The 8N was equipped with running boards and was painted lighter gray on the sheetmetal and red on the body. It was the first Ford tractor to feature a clutch on the left side and independent brakes on the right. The wide-spaced front wheel design of the 9N and 2N was retained. In 1950 the 8N design changed to feature a side-mounted distributor, as well a Proofmeter (combined speedometer, tachometer, hour meter) located on the lower right portion of the dash.
In 1953 Ford introduced an overhead valve engine in a model dubbed the Golden Jubilee, also known as the Ford NAA. Larger than the 8N, the Golden Jubilee featured live hydraulics. The 1953 NAA boasted 50th-year Golden Jubilee badging, an overhead-valve "Red Tiger" four-cylinder engine and streamlined styling, but just as significantly, it was the first tractor Ford built after losing its court battle with Harry Ferguson in 1952 over the patents the Irish inventor held on the Ferguson System three-point hitch. Below the NAA's stylish new hood was a 134-cu.in., overhead-valve, gas-burning inline four-cylinder engine worth 32 hp. Ford's British Fordson tractors were readily available with diesel engines, but in the States, diesels were still an oddity. A kerosene-burning NAA, known as the NAB, was an option but found few takers, and the tractors are rare today. A four-speed transmission was standard on the NAA, and auxiliary gearing was available. The NAA's Solid System hydraulics relied on an engine-driven hydraulic pump rather than the PTO-driven pump that was standard issue on the N tractors (this meant that the hydraulics could be operated without the PTO being engaged) and a live PTO was optional. The NAA is also slightly larger than its predecessors: four inches longer, four inches higher and 100 pounds heavier at 2,840 pounds. For 1954, The NAA was carried over, sans the Golden Jubilee badging (which is popular with collectors today), with only a gear ratio change. In late 1954, Ford introduced its three-digit number series tractors, which further improved upon the NAA. The 600 incorporated improved brakes and wheel seals as well as an ASAE standard PTO. The 700 was a row-crop tractor that could be ordered with either a tricycle or wide front end. Like most Ford tractors, the NAA enjoys a strong following and a dependable return on investment. The new and used parts availability for these tractors is excellent. Expect to pay upwards of $5,000 for excellent examples, though typical used NAA tractors trade regularly in the $2,500 range.
- Ertel, Patrick W. (2001), The American Tractor: A Century of Legendary Machines, Minneapolis, MN, USA: MBI Publishing, ISBN 0-7603-0863-2.
- Leffingwell, Randy (1996), Classic Farm Tractors: History of the Farm Tractor, Osceola, WI, USA: Motorbooks International, ISBN 978-0-7603-0246-0.
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