Ferguson TE20 Tractor History
Before the TE20 most agriculture was done by horses and human labour making the work extremely slow and arduous. By the outbreak of the First World War there were over a million horses on farms in Britain.
Whilst working in the motor trade in Belfast, Ferguson set out to design a new kind of tractor. He could see that it was the lack of control over implements which held existing tractors back. He developed a linkage system which brought the two together as one machine and for the first time a prototype of the black tractor went into production in England.
Ferguson subsequently fell out with the manufacturer and less than 2,000 were made. Eager to see his tractor mass-produced he demonstrated it to Henry Ford in America in 1938. A deal was struck and Ford agreed to manufacture the tractor in the USA incorporating Ferguson's linkage system. Branded the Ford Ferguson at Dearborn Michigan, the product of their collaboration was first made public on June 29th, 1939. American farmers were initially sceptical about the new tractor because of its small size but once they saw what it could do the Ford Ferguson sold in large numbers. However, the small farmer in Britain would have to wait. Plans to export the Ford Ferguson tractor were halted by the outbreak of war, and by the time the war ended Ferguson had plans for a newly improved tractor to be made in Britain. The first TE20s came off the production line in October 1946 - at last a light manoeuvrable tractor was available to British farmers.
The combination of three-point linkage and hydraulics made tractor and implement work as one, and was sold to farmers as the "Ferguson System".
If you think of a tractor as a mechanized horse then, of course, you build a plough on wheels to harness to it. Now think of a tractor as a flying tool why not make the plough be part of it, without any wheels of its own. With the three-point linkage as it became to be known as is the crux of the idea it makes every tool part of the tractor, no dead weight to be dragged.
A lever at the driver's side operates a hydraulic pump to raise or lower the tool so the farmer can plough at any depth at a touch of the lever. The impact of the new tractor was dramatic, farmers were able to work faster and more efficiently - the TE20 could plough in an hour would have taken a horse the whole day.
As the TE20 tractor and its system were so revolutionary Ferguson established a training school where salesmen engineers and farmers were told the mechanics of this new way of working. Based in Stone Lee Abbey a few miles from the factory the main 10-day training course was divided between work in the field and in the classroom dealing with both theory and practice. Many of the students are of course already familiar with the basic operations of tractor handling and driving but others have to begin right at the beginning. They must be able when necessary to advise farmers on how to make the best use of tractor and implements and how to get the full advantage of their flexibility.
A network of tractor dealerships sprang up all over the country but it was through large public demonstrations that ordinary farmers first came into contact with the new tractor the centrepiece of a demonstration was cultivating the small square this was an area 20 feet by 27 feet - too small for a horse or any other tractor to work in.
The driver is made conversant with all the controls and then tries his hand at driving for the first time. Ferguson service was extensive when farmers bought a TE20 - the dealer came with it to make sure they knew what they were doing. It wasn't just a case of being sold a tractor and then leaving it at that it's the kind of service the farmers got afterwards that was important.
Ferguson had always intended that farmers all over the world should benefit from his system and by the mid-1950s the TE20 was being used in over 160 countries, 70% of 74,000 tractors turned out by Ferguson's factories were exported.
The uses of the TE20 went beyond farming with a range of 60 different implements taking the tractor to places it had never been before; playing fields, building sites road construction. In 1953 Harry Ferguson by now nearly 70, sold out to the Canadian firm Massey Harris and just two years later the production of the TE20 came to an end. After ten years in production over half a million Ferguson tractors were made.
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