Written by Larry Gay
The market for farm tractors, especially in the 2- and 3-plow sizes, began to grow during World War I, but the acceptance of these tractors was limited in many areas because they could not cultivate row crops. Motor cultivators, a self-propelled cultivator, made a brief appearance, but only the very large farming operations could afford both a tractor and a motor cultivator. Engineering meetings in the early 1920s began to discuss the need for a general-purpose tractor which could cultivate row crops.
International Harvester began a long process of developing a general-purpose tractor in 1917 when it introduced a 2-row motor cultivator. This machine had two widely-spaced front wheels with the cultivator gangs mounted between them. Two closely-spaced drive wheels were located at the rear of the machine with a 4-cylinder, vertical engine mounted cross-wise above them. The engine and drive wheels pivoted together for making turns. However, the high location of the engine made the unit unstable when making turns on slopes.
In the spring of 1920, IH built an experimental cultivating machine with the cross-wise engine mounted on the rear frame and a power train to the two widely-spaced front drive wheels. A single wheel at the rear of the machine provided the steering function. By the fall of 1920, Harvester removed the cultivator and turned the machine around to pull a corn binder with the single guide wheel in front, the drive wheels in the rear, and the operator looking over the cross-wise engine. The next configuration was bidirectional with the engine in-line with the tractor frame and a vertical steering column which allowed the operator to face in either direction.
By 1923, Harvester revised the design to one that operated in one direction with two closely- spaced wheels in front, two widely-spaced drive wheels in the rear, and means for attaching a front-mounted cultivator. Pre-production tractors were built and tested in 1923 and production of the McCormick-Deering Farmall tractor started in 1924. Now there was a tractor on the market which could perform the traditional tractor tasks and cultivate row crops.
The Farmall was a 2-plow tractor, painted gray with red wheels, with an International 4-cylinder engine and a 3-speed transmission. The 30 inches of clearance under the rear axle and the 74-inch wheel tread enabled the tractor to straddle two rows of crops. Harvester described it as a triple-power tractor as it was equipped with a drawbar, belt pulley, and power take-off. The front vertical steering column featured a front and rear arm. The front arm shifted the cultivator gangs sideways when the steering wheel was turned. The rear one was attached to cables which applied one of the turning brakes when the tractor was turned at the end of the row.
The original Farmall became known as the Farmall Regular after IH expanded its line of row-crop tractors to three models in the early 1930s. The other tractor manufacturers soon recognized the advantages of a row-crop tractor and introduced competing models between 1927 and 1930.
Larry Gay is the author of four tractor books published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, including Farm Tractors 1975-1995 and Farm Tractors 1995-2005. These books may be obtained from ASABE at 800-695-2723 or asabe.org, click publications and then click book catalog.