Ferguson Ploughs: Development & Types 1917·64 Part 2

Mr. Bill Martin of Greenmount Agricultural College, N.lreland has once again lent his Invaluable assistance in the compilation of the history of Ferguson ploughs. Following the supplement article In Vol. 2 No.1 issue of the journal Mr. Martin has sent these following photographs which, as can be seen, are of excellent quality and clarity. Mr. Martin writes that the plough is attached to a 1917 model ‘F’ Fordson tractor, one of the ‘original’ 5000 that were sent over, and belongs to: Mr. H. Lemon, 20 Ballycastle Road, Newtonards, Co. Down.

(Unfortunately the quality of the journal copy scanned for this article has not reproduced the photographs well. Some images have been replaced, if you have other images we could use please contact the website at website@fergusonclub.com)

The technical problems of this second type of plough were by then overcome. Unfortunately Roderick Lean encountered financial problems in 1924 and then went bankrupt. Once again Ferguson sailed to America to find other manufacturing facilities. On his previous trips he had encountered the Sherman brothers. Eber Sherman had worked for Ford at one time and he and his brother George had set up as main Fordson tractor distributors for the state of New York. When Ferguson showed the plough to them they saw its potential and an agreement was set up in December 1925 between Ferguson and the Sherman brothers for manufacture of the plough for the Fordson Model ‘F’ tractor. The company was set up with the name of Ferguson-Sherman Incorporated at Evansville; the first cheque issued was for the sum of 1 dollar and on the counterfoil equivalent was written the words as a reason for payment (the payee being Harry G. Ferguson) ‘Down Payment on Success of the Unit Principle’. Ferguson stayed in Evansville for about a year to help get the business on its feet, and the plough was soon in volume production, well received by farmers and sold well. Meanwhile the Ford Motor Company had noticed the developments and success.

Published in Journal Volume 7 No.1

Later Ferguson returned to Belfast where further work was done on lifting and draft controlling devices on the tractors themselves. The principle known as draft control was established in 1925 and patents were granted in June 1926 in the U.K. and America. The patent was entitled ‘Apparatus for Coupling Agricultural Implements to Tractors and Automatically Regulating the Depth of Work’

Many experiments were undertaken, mainly on a Fordson tractor to try to build a lifting device which incorporated automatic draft control. At first a mechanical device seemed to be the answer but as far back as 1924 the team had been tinkering with hydraulic systems, and this eventually proved to be the form in which implement carrying and control appeared on later tractors.

By 1927 the plough business had gone well with the Sherman brothers agreement but then another blow fell, Henry Ford had decided to abandon production of tractors in North America in 1928 and the Ferguson· Sherman plough business ceased production. Sands decided to leave Harry Ferguson Ltd. again and once again Archie Greer stepped in to help Ferguson with future research though once again the pressure was on Ferguson to give up his experimental work. With the plough business discontinued Ferguson undaunted pressed ahead with the tractor experiments and in late 1928 he returned to America to see if anything could be salvaged from the Ferguson·Sherman plough business and to try to interest manufacturers in the hydraulic control device which at that time, though far from perfect, was proving to be the answer technically speaking, to the problem of implement control on the back of the tractor. Several companies showed interest but in the end, because of the looming financial depression, no one wished to commit themselves to a new venture.

Meanwhile Sands had rejoined Ferguson and together with Greer they set about perfecting the hydraulic control system. By 1931 it was dear that no manufacturer was going to be interested in their ideas for some time to come, and in 1932 they decided to build a prototype tractor themselves. In 1933 the David Brown company of Huddersfield, England, received an order for gears, transmission and steering components for the prototype tractor. By the end of 1933 the tractor was completed and went on test. (This was named the Black tractor because it was painted black).

A good many problems remained with the hydraulic system however but in the meantime Ferguson had been cultivating relationships with a whole new batch of companies in the U.K. who might be persuaded into manufacturing the tractor By 1935, after much deliberation with both technical problems and the difficulties in finding a manufacturer David Brown of Huddersfield went into tractor and implement production, with Harry Ferguson Ltd., being set up as the sales company. The Belfast car business was changed to Harry Ferguson (Motors) Ltd. The tractor had been improved upon since 1933 and the hydraulic system design was nearing completion with the use of, and discovery of, control by ‘suction side cut off’ and ‘overload release’ with draft control using the compression forces in the top link. The tractor was known as the model ‘A’ and the colour scheme used was battleship-grey.

The implements Were also made by David Brown and were a two furrow plough, known as ‘Type B’ with a 10 inch general purpose body; a semi-digger two furrow 12 inch width body and a single furrow 16 inch type. A tiller, three row ridger, and three row cultivator were also made for the model ‘A’ tractor. The tractor was priced at £224 and each of the implements sold at £28.
See Andrew Boorman’s article Implements for the Ferguson Type ‘A’

The tractor and implements were shown to the public at the Royal Ulster Show (Balmoral Show) in May 1936. Also in May 1936 one of the first public demonstrations of the tractor and implements was conducted at Claston Farm, Dormington, Hereford.

The first public outing for the Ferguson ‘A’ in England took place on Dormington Court Farm near Hereford in May 1936. Here the tractor is performing the classic Ferguson demonstration of tilling a small fenced compound. Note the hop yards at the rear. Does anyone know anyone who was there? Copyright photo courtesy, Institute of Ag. History and Museum of Rural Life, Reading University

Since 1928 when the Ferguson­ Sherman company failed, further improvements had been made to the plough design, which now was adapted to the three point linkage and hydraulic control system. A cross shaft now ran across the front end of the plough in a horizontal and transverse plane, being cranked up at the offside and cranked down at the nearside to hold the plough frame level whilst the tractor ran in the furrow bottom. This very ingenious device allowed for front furrow width adjustment by cranking the cross shaft fore or aft, by placing a spanner on the flats created in the centre (on type B ploughs) of the cross shaft after first slackening off the two ‘U’ bolts that held the cross shaft to the underside of the plough beams.

It also acted as a brace between the two plough beams at the front end and when marking up before ploughing, a shallow opening furrow or scratch could be made by raising the front furrow out of work on the levelling box of the tractor right hand lift rod, and taking advantage of the additional angle of the frame created by the cranks on the cross shaft. The floating skid device was no longer required in its original form, but a shorter land side on the rear furrow was fitted with a rolling (wheel) landside fixed behind this on a spring loaded arm. This device helped to aid rapid penetration when entering the furrow at the headland as well as assisting stability of the plough both laterally and longitudinally whilst having a bearing on front furrow width and therefore draft. The general layout of the framework and working parts of the plough remained largely the same as earlier ploughs, though the double arm coulter stems were now fixed in a vertical plane instead of inclined as previously with a revised form of clamp to the plough beam. The plough headstock was now different for accommodating the top link; a distinguishing feature being the curved plate behind the top link pin mounting.

1937 Ferguson Type ‘B’ 10 inch 2 furrow plough (# missing). Note the distinctive curved plate top of headstock, also found on early David Brown (1939 on) implements which used many parts identical to Ferguson. Ferguson mouldboards are identical to Olver GP, Part No P1.  Photo A Boorman

The type ‘B’ plough then set the basic design of Ferguson ploughs for almost the next thirty years, with only minor changes occurring from then on. Production of equipment from what ultimately became the Ferguson-Brown company was quite limited due to poor response in the market place. It also became clear that some improvements were still needed in the tractor for it to be really successful. Partly because of this fact, Harry Ferguson and David Brown began to have differences of opinion. Ferguson also wanted Brown to reduce the price and build in greater volume but Brown could not agree with this line of argument. That the ideas behind the hydraulic system and all its associated advantages was absolutely correct and well ahead of its time was not in dispute, but David Brown wanted more power from the machine and more power meant heavier construction and this Ferguson would not have, so the two sides began to polarise and the parting began.

Ferguson, had always kept in touch with the Sherman brothers since their tie up in the 1920’s. Ferguson also knew that the elder brother, Eber, was on personal friendship terms with Henry Ford. The Sherman brothers also were involved in a company known as Sherman-Shepherd which imported British Fordson tractors into· the U.S.A. and therefore close ties with Ford of Detroit were maintained. Ferguson therefore asked the Shermans to come over to England in early 1938, to see a demonstration of the Ferguson-Brown equipment at work. They were suitably impressed by what they saw and went away to inform Ford of the advances that Ferguson had made in the 20 years since Ferguson had shown Ford his first plough designs. Ford, in 1938, was again experimenting with tractor design. When the Shermans reported to Ford on their findings in England he, Ford, remembered his earlier meeting with Ferguson, and asked the Shermans if Ferguson could be persuaded over to Dearborn. This, of course, was exactly what Ferguson wanted. He arranged for a tractor, No. 722 with a set of implements to be sent first to Belfast and then on to America. In October 1938 Ferguson with his lifelong friend John Williams sailed to New York to meet the Sherman brothers and they arranged for the tractor and implements to be trucked to Dearborn. Meanwhile David Brown had been told that Ferguson was on a trip to America, but no reason was given.

Bill Martin of Greenmount College, believes that three tractors were shipped with implements in October 1938. They were Nos. 717, 720 and 722. No. 717 and 720-were presumably dismantled for inspection by Ford laboratory/test engineers for evaluation purposes. No. 722 is the sole survivor and is now in the Ford Museum at Dearborn alongside the Ford/Ferguson prototype and Ford 8N (Minor).

Ford was away from Dearborn when Ferguson, Williams, and the Sherman brothers arrived and a few days were spent setting up the equipment together with Ford’s staff. Thus when Ford returned everything was organized for a very well prepared and executed demonstration. At three o’clock on a warm sunny October afternoon in the autumn of 1938 the scene was set for the historic occasion whereby Harry Ferguson and Henry Ford were to shake hands later that afternoon on an agreement to manufacture and sell Ferguson System tractors from Dearborn, Michigan, U.S.A.

Ferguson as soon as possible on his return to England, terminated his agreement with David Brown and so ended the period from June 1936 to January 1939 when just over 1200 tractors and associated implements were made.

Copyright: Ferguson Club & John Baber. Club Journal Vol.2 No.2, Spring 1988.