Ferguson Ploughs: Development & Types: Supplement

Supplement to first article in Vol.1 No.4 by John Baber.

By way of a supplement to the first article which appeared in Volume 1. No. 4. issue of the Ferguson Club Journal, it has been decided to include the following comments and sketches of the early plough development period, before moving on to the experiences with the Sherman brothers in the mid 1920’s, and beyond.

Mr. Bill Martin of Greenmount Agricultural College, Co. Antrim has kindly sent some correspondence on the early development years of Ferguson ploughs, and some of his comments are included in this supplement. It should be mentioned that he together with the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in 1984, produced a very interesting booklet on Harry Ferguson and his life and work, and it is recommended that anyone interested, should obtain a copy. There are some very interesting pho­tographs and patent diagrams in this publication which have not been reproduced in the Journal. It should be noted that sketches and diagrams appearing in this supplement are not intended to be very accurate. The author has studied contem­porary photographs of early Ferguson ploughs and has attempted to build working models, to try to follow the workings of early ploughs and the lifting mechanisms, due to the fact that so far, virtually no detailed original visual material has been found to refer to, nor has it been possible so far to find original machines to inspect. Therefore the sketches are the author’s artistic impressions only, based on what descriptive material exists at present. If anyone can come up with the real thing either in terms of detailed photographs or diagrams, or original ploughs from the period, then obvi­ously more authentic descriptions can be made. It is hoped to raise some comments and correspondence on this topic of early plough development, and if any members can throw any light on the subject. then please write in to correct any discrepancies. The author is willing to enter into private correspondence with anyone who would like to investigate the matter further. Also it is not. yet possible to reproduce all the material that is available due to copyright restrictions etc.

Mr. Bill Martin’s comments are as follows:
1) Ref. the ‘Eros’ tractor and plough, ‘the plough was mounted very close to the rear wheels’. ‘I do not think this was so at this stage. Photographs etc., would seem to show that it was in fact rather far behind the tractor – very similar to a contemporary trailed plough. However as work proceeded and problems arose with maintaining uniform depth, the Implement gradually moved closer to the rear axle in order to get it to follow the ground better’.

‘The shear pins were carried in a neat little magazine on the frame just forward of the disc coulter stem. The whole attachment system at this time was a kind of sub-frame attached to the clevis drawbar. It looked very similar to the pick up hitch attachment on present day Ford tractors and seemed to be about the same size. But it was between the plough and the tractor and therefore it pushed the plough backwards by approximately the length of a normal drawbar. It was spring assisted and worked by two levers both of which were eventually bolted to the tractor and convenient to the drivers right hand. One, with spring assistance, raised and lowered the plough, while the other ‘rocked’ it. and was the forerunner of the levelling box’.

2) ‘Eros demonstrations with Ferguson plough on the farm of a Mr. Thorington at Boreham, Chelmsford, on March 22nd 1918. Demonstration arranged by the Bates Motor Works Ltd., of Maldon, Essex’.

3) Introduction of Fordson Model ‘F’ tractor. ‘Ferguson immediately redesigned the plough to suit the new tractor’. ‘I do not think that the plough which was designed in 1919 incorporated the Duplex hitch. This came later when the linkage was more fully developed’.

‘It was about 1922/23 before a linkage of parallel struts was developed and even then I would hesitate to describe it as parallel struts. It was in fact two clevis type drawbars – one above the other with the additional (upper) one bolted to the pinion (rear axle) housing, using the bolts which held the right/left hand half axle (trumpet) housings in place’.

4) 1917 meeting with Charles Sorenson. ‘Ferguson was given encouragement and little else – a tea and sympathy job. He went to the U.S.A. after the war, about 1920/21 to demonstrate the idea. His (sample) prototype plough was made in bronze because of the lack of steel casting facilities in Belfast’.

5) Andersonstown (Anderstown) where a ceremony was held to bury the depth wheel. ‘The ground at that time belonged to people by the name of Bullick’.

6) Comments on the Duplex hitch. ‘This Duplex hitch bothers me. Basically Ferguson attached his ploughs to the tractor in one of three ways viz .
a. the earliest ploughs – using a sub frame attached to the tractor and similar to a modern pickup hitch as aforesaid i.e. Eros and early Fordson model ‘F’ tractor.
b. two clevis drawbars parallel to each other on the horizontal plane. This was the system used on the later Ferguson/Sherman of December 1925 onwards.
c. using variations of the three point linkage.’ I think this latter was the only one which could be described truly as the Duplex hitch, but I may be interpreting incor­rectly’.

7) Roderick Lean. ‘Did Lean actually produce any ploughs? There were high hopes at one time but I thought the deal fell through or Lean collapsed before production even began’.

Bill Martin has made other comments on parts of the articles which will appear ‘in future issues of the Ferguson Journal, but these will be reserved for later use when those articles appear. Two early patent diagrams appear in Bill Martin’s booklet, the first thing being Ferguson Plough Patent No. 119883 (1917) referring to the idea of a plough on a tractor being semi-mounted with two levers to control it, mounted on the tractor (i.e. a more advanced design than some of the available contemporary pho­tographs show). The second patent diagram deals with a mechanical three point lift driven off the main rear axle worm gear on the upper side presumably with a torque sensing device which when under pressure would act on the toplink and raise the plough to regain traction and maintain even depth, and the other drawings refer to an early hydraulic system with external ram it would seem and external linkage, but with lower link draft sensing device, but with the lifting device acting on the upper link(s) two in this case but converging to join at the tractor attachment point.

It would seem possible that a good many ideas were experimented upon, some were documented and patented, some not, and yet others were made up into prototypes and again some not, and others which went into production and again dependant on which company was prepared to manufacture or who could survive the longest in what were troubled economic times a few years after the First World War before the really bad times of the early 1930’s and beyond.

The following diagrams are by the author and again it is emphasised that they are an attenpt to explain in simple terms what might have happened:

Author’s artistic impression of hitching device and lift linkage of Ferguson plough to Fordson model ‘F’ tractor circa. 1918/1919. Post ‘Eros’, pre ‘Duplex Hitch’. It is thought that the ‘Eros’ had a similar arrangement in principle. The compression spring gave assistance to the driver to lift the plough, when the lift lever was pulled rearwards. The lift rod lifted the sub frame which pivoted about Pivot 1. The plough frame pivoted about Pivot 3 so that the front of the plough only was lifted i.e. the shares were lifted out of the ground, -but the plough skated or skidded along on a curved portion of the long rear landside at the rear. The plough frame was also free to pivot laterally about Pivot 2, which was attached to the bar carrying Pivot 3, with another Quadrant 2 fixed to the sub frame, with a lever carried vertically on, and bolted to the plough frame, thus giving the facility to level the plough laterally. It would seem that the plough was levelled longitudinally by choosing the correct position on Quadrant 1 with the lifting lever.

Other patent diagrams which still exist (see Bill Martin’s booklet), show a more complicated assembly with two levers by the driver, with a sub frame and spring assembly closer to the tractor axle, and with the plough levelling done through another linkage operating via an ‘eccentric’ shaft device running between two horizontal plates attached to the plough frame.

Author’s artistic impression on Operation of Early Ferguson Ploughs with Depth Wheel.

By applying hand pressure to hand lever, the spring assists, being under tension, and the plough frame rises as the bell crank at the base of the lever rotates around the fulcrum on the quadrant. The geometry of the linkage changes due to the various angles at which upper and, lower links are fixed to the plough frame. Pivot links 1 & 2 are free to rotate round each other, but link 3 is fixed to handle 4 and spring ancho­rage 5.

The frame on the rear of the tractor could well have been attached by an upper and lower clevis type drawbar device, the lower being the normal type on a model ‘F’ Fordson tractor but the upper being bolted to the housings using the existing bolt holes in the axle half (trumpet) housings to rear centre pinion housing.

Contemporary photographs also show two cranked levers, one horizontal on the right side of the plough adjacent to the lift lever quadrant, and another in a semi vertical plane on the left forward area of the plough. These may have been for use in controlling front furrow width and/or plough levelling but it is not known at present how they were fixed or how they worked, and no attempt has been made to repro­duce these devices in diagrammatical form.

Author’s artistic impression of Hitching Arrangement of early Ferguson Ploughs to Fordson Model ‘F’ tractor, Circa 1923 ‘Duplex Hitch’ using Depth Wheel.
Author’s artistic impression of Method of Operation of the ‘Floating Skid’ Depth Control Device on early Ferguson Ploughs, Circa 1924:

II the tractor rear wheel dropped into a depression, the angle of lower links would increase (in relation to the plough frame) thereby pulling on the linkage to the shaft (in relation to the headstock) which rotates anti- clockwise to push on the linkage via the bell crank & pivot to force the floating ~id down in the furrow bottom thereby holding the plough frame up to normal depth. The hand lift lever would have to float in the quadrant somewhat to allow this control.

A list of patents follows for Ferguson’s early designs ,lI1et work on ploughs and later lifting devices as attached to tractors in the years following the first world war and into the 1920’s.

Patent number 119883 issued on September 12th 1917 which would appear to deal with the early semi-mounted plough as attached to the ‘Eros’ conversion and early Fordson model ‘F’ tractors.
Patent number 160248 issued on December 13th 1919 which dealt with a linkage of pmallel type attachment.
Patent number 186172 issued on December 28th 1921 which again was involved with IIsing a linkage but with a depth wheel and this time the linkage was not parallel in the previous sense.
Patent number 195421 issued on November 3rd 1921 again involving the use of a linkage but using spring(s) for depth control.
Patent number 226033 issued on December 11th 1923 whereby a device was used to overcome the use of a depth wheel to a greater extent and presumably appertained to the first use of the floating skid idea.
** Patent number 253566 February 12th 1925 which was the first patent involving the use of hydraulic fluid pressure, electric motor or mechanical friction clutch drives, to control the depth and lifting mechanism of ploughs. Principal of draft control established.
Patent number 320084 issued on July 3rd 1928 dealt with the linkage again but with two upper link arms and one lower arm which were of the converging link geometry principle.

I his device was soon to be changed to the final design of two lower and one upper links which has proved to be so successful, and external devices attached to existing tractors under experiment were soon changed to internal hydraulic mechanisms ilIuminating in the decision to design and assemble a prototype tractor to Ferguson’s own specification such were the limitations of existing tractors at that time.

** This patent was entitled ‘Apparatus for Coupling Agricultural Implements to Trac­tors and Automatically Regulating the Depth of Work’.

Copyright: Ferguson Club & John Baber. Journal Vol.2 No.1, Autumn 1987.