Fordson collection is a fortunate find

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I spent July 12 at the Ashtabula County Antique Engine Club’s 33rd annual show, at their well-developed grounds along Route 322. It was a great day for a tractor show — warm, but not too hot, with a nice breeze blowing.

Each time I go to this show it seems to have grown and there was a lot of stuff there, although I did miss watching the sawmill that is usually operating down at the east end of the grounds.

One unusual thing that caught my eye was a Fordson tractor in the exhibit, put together by the Romig Family of Madison, Ohio.

The Romigs brought two somewhat rare Fordsons, one equipped with a Trackson crawler conversion made by the Full Crawler Co. in Milwaukee, and another with track conversion units manufactured by the Hadfield-Penfield Steel Company of Bucyrus, Ohio, in place of the rear wheels.

There were one or two more or less stock Fordson F tractors in the Romig display as well, but the gem of the lot was the one I’m about to describe for you.
Historic machine. First, a little background on Henry Ford’s ubiquitous Fordson that one commentator of the time called the “mechanical cockroach” because there were so many of them on American farms.

Introduced during World War I, the Fordson F had several design flaws, chiefly the lack of an engine governor and the low tension magneto in the flywheel, along with a worm and gear drive to the differential in the rear axle. But they were small, nimble, inexpensive and readily available from your local Ford car dealer.
Farmers bought them in droves, and for most, the Fordson was their introduction to power farming.

The worm that drove the rear end was positioned above the bull gear and only a couple of inches beneath the driver’s seat. Friction between the worm and bull gear was not only a power eater but it created a lot of heat, making the tin seat mighty uncomfortable.

Around 1921 the drive train was redesigned so the worm was beneath the bull gear, thus eliminating the hot seat problem but creating another.
The Fordson was short, reportedly designed that way so it would fit crossways in a boxcar, while the nonadjustable drawbar was relatively high. When a plow or other drawn implement encountered an immovable obstacle such as a buried rock, the rear wheels would stop.

Unless the operator immediately disengaged the clutch the driven worm would rotate around the bull gear and cause the tractor to rare up in front and often flip over backwards, killing or injuring the operator.

Safety improvements

Rush Hamilton was a California farmer and orchardist who also had several tractor-related patents to his credit. About 1915 he developed the Hamilton walking tractor, a strange beast driven by two spiked driving wheels that were said to lift and move the tractor when they hit the ground.

Hamilton later joined the Fageol Company and their tractor had similar wheels. After Fageol quit making tractors, Hamilton became associated with the Standard Gas Engine Co. in Oakland, Calif., and there he developed and sold an improved drive train for the Fordson tractor.

The Hamilton unit replaces the entire stock Fordson rear casting and is 10 inches longer, although it uses the original transmission gears. The secondary transmission shaft has a small bevel pinion at its rear end in mesh with a large bevel gear that drives a small straight-cut pinion gear. This pinion then drives a large bull wheel that turns the rear differential. This double reduction increases the power at the drawbar and, in conjunction with doing away with the friction of the worm drive, was reported to increase the plowing capacity of a Fordson from two to three plow bottoms.

In addition, the elimination of the worm drive, along with the ten-inch increase in overall tractor length that gave the weight of the engine more leverage, helped to offset the tendency of the Fordson to flip over backward. The Hamilton housing provided a little more ground clearance under the rear axle as well.

The Romig Fordson is also equipped with part of a row crop conversion made by the Moline Plow Co. The stock Fordson front wheels, front axle and wishbone are removed and a heavy steel casting is bolted under the front of the tractor. At the front of the casting is a gooseneck that holds the yoke for a single steel front wheel. A long tie rod goes from the steering arm at the top of the yoke, back along the left side of the tractor and connects to a vertical arm on the original steering gear. Beside the single wheel front end, the original Moline outfit included extensions to make the rear wheel tread wider, rear fenders, and the mounted cultivator gangs with hand lifting levers.

The Romig Fordsons had but few specks of paint on them, but they were complete and running and coated with a fresh coat of what appeared to be diesel fuel, giving them a nice patina. A really great display of some very unusual machines.

About the Author

Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules. More Stories by Sam Moore

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