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Potato Farming in No. Dakota: The 1937 F-20
Brian Wayne Wells
(As published in the July/August 2008 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine)
It began like so many other purchases of antique farm machinery. The late Wayne A. Wells purchased a Farmall Model F-20 at the 1992 LeSueur County Pioneer Power Swap Meet. Wayne paid for the tractor by means of a check. Wayne had the habit of making virtually all purchase transactions by means of a check—a habit that has been inherited and is carried on to further extremes by his son, the current author. Future events would prove how extremely fortunate it was that the purchase was made by means of a check.
This particular F-20 was missing its serial number tag. However, the serial number imprinted on the frame of the tractor was 71355. The tractor was fitted with two 6.00 X 16 inch car tires mounted on IHC cast iron drop-center, or demountable, rims in the front. One of the first improvements to the tractor was to replace these old car tires with two new 5.50 X 16 inch tri-rib tires. No. 71355 was also fitted with 13 X 36” rubber tires mounted on IHC cast-iron demountable rims in the rear. The rear tires were in extremely bad shape and in April of 1993 they too were replaced with brand new tires.
No. 71355 was only the second tractor to be restored by Wayne Wells, (the first tractor to be restored was the 1945 Farmall B bearing the serial number 130161, which is mentioned in the article called “Farmall B: Second Tractor on the Farm, but First in the Heart” contained in the November/December 1993 issue of Belt Pulley), both Wayne and his two sons, Mark and the current author, were anxious to parade the tractor at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show to be held on the last weekend in August 1992. Accordingly, No. 71355 was painted prior to any overhaul of the engine being performed. (Indeed, a very “smoky” but painted, No. 71355 can be seen being driven by Mark Wells in the parade at the 1992 LeSueur Show in the second hour portion of Disc/Tape No. 1 of the International Harvester Promotional Movie collection.
The current author can be seen in the same movie driving the same 1945 Farmall B mentioned above, just ahead of No. 71355 in the parade.) The badly needed engine overhaul of No. 71355 was conducted in large part over Christmas of 1992. (Some of this work performed on No. 71355 over that Christmas was filmed and can be seen on the second hour portion of Disc/Tape No. 2 of the International Harvester Promotional Movies.) In April of 1993, No. 71355 was pulled and started for the first time following the engine overhaul. (This procedure of pulling No. 71355 with the 1945 Farmall B in April of 1993 can be seen on the second hour portion of Disc/Tape #5 of the International Harvester Promotional movie collection.)
As the restoration of No. 71355 proceeded, history of the tractor was examined. Nothing of the actual history of No. 71355 was known. Consequently, the history of the tractor was a topic of speculation. Ordinarily a telephone call to the seller of the tractor would have been the starting point for the research into the history of the tractor. However, time had passed since the purchase of No. 71355 in April of 1992 and the canceled check bearing the name of the seller of No. 71355 was placed away in storage with the financial papers of the Wells family. With the check used for payment on the tractor not readily at hand, the seller’s name was not available and not even a beginning could be made as to researching the actual history of the tractor. Only the features of the tractor itself could be used as clues as to the tractor’s past. Luckily, the particular and unique features of No. 71355, reveal a good deal about the tractor.
First and foremost was the “tricycle type” design of No. 71355. The tricycle design positioned the front wheels of the tractor close together. This configuration allowed the tractor to work in crops which were planted in rows as narrow 30 inches apart. As a tricycle “row crop” tractor, both front wheels of the tractor were attached to a single bolster. Thus, both front wheels shared a single pivot point. This type of steering is called “fifth wheel” type of steering and is different than the “automotive type” steering found in “standard” or “four-wheel” designed tractors in which each wheel has its own pivot point located at the “journal” for that particular wheel. The fifth wheel type of steering allowed the tricycle designed tractor to turn much more sharply than the automotive type steering. Thus, the tricycle design and the ability to turn very sharp corners made No. 71355 ideally suited for row crop farm work.
A second feature of No. 71355 that provided a clue as to its history was the optional high-speed road gear that had been installed in the standard transmission of No. 71355. Standard equipment on the Farmall Model F-20 was a four-speed transmission with speeds of 2⅜ miles per hour (mph) in first gear, 2¾ mph in second gear, 3¼ mph in the standard third gear and 3¾ in fourth gear. (See the tractor specifications of the F-20 in the IHC Data Book #1: 1900 to 1940 by Alan C. King at page 24.) However, in the transmission of No. 71355, the standard equipment 3¼ mph third gear had been replaced by the optional 28-tooth gear which resulted in a speed of 7.07 mph. (See the 28-tooth “high speed” sliding gear listed as part No. 20700D on page 124 of the F-20 Parts Catalog—TC-13-A.)
Consequently, this optional “3rd gear” became the “new road gear” and really was the new “4th gear.” This was a factory installed option on No. 71355, as evidenced by the fact that the numbers embossed on the base at the shifter lever of the tractor, which reflected the shifting pattern for the gear shift lever, actually had the “3” and the “4” reversed to accurately portray the new gear shift pattern given the installation of this new optional road gear. (Oscar H. Will and Todd Markle, Collector’s Originality Guide: Farmall Regular and F-Series [Voyaguer Press: St. Paul, Minnesota, 2007] p. 68.)
Installation of this optional road gear was made available only on those F-20s which were fitted with rubber tires. (Ibid. p. 72.) Accordingly, it was determined that No. 71355, rolled off the assembly line at the Farmall Works in Rock Island, Illinois, fitted with factory-installed rubber tires. However, when No. 71355 was manufactured in the second week of December, 1936, the tractor could not have been fitted with the same 36 inch cast-iron wheels with demountable rims that are now mounted on the rear of tractor. Only in March of 1937, (beginning with the particular F-20 with the serial number 79522) did F-20 tractors begin to be fitted with these International Harvester-made cast-iron demountable rear wheels and rims for rubber tires. (See the F-20 Parts Book page 207.) Prior to March of 1937, IHC relied on an outsource contract, they had signed with the French and Hecht Company of Davenport, Iowa, to supply all the rear wheels for all their rubber-tired tractors.
Likewise, the IHC cast-iron demountable drop-center rims, currently, mounted on the front wheels of No. 71355, could not have been mounted on the tractor when the tractor was first built and sold. IHC began using their own demountable drop center rims for rubber tires on the front wheels only in January of 1938 beginning with the particular F-20 tractors bearing the serial number 109127. (See page 175 of the F-20 parts book.)
Prior to that time, IHC again relied on its contract with the French and Hecht Company to supply round-spoke rims for all F-20 tractors fitted with 5.50 X 16” rubber tires in the front. (A French and Hecht round-spoke rim is pictured on page 174 of the F-20 parts book.) Accordingly, when No. 71355 rolled out of the Farmall Works in Rock Island, Illinois, the tractor did so with rubber tires mounted on French and Hecht round-spoke wheel rims on the front as well as the rear.
Some time after No. 71355 was initially purchased, the tractor was fitted with an auxiliary transmission manufactured by the Heisler Manufacturing Company of Hudson, Iowa. This auxiliary transmission was located on the power train of the tractor in the open space between the clutch housing on the engine and the standard transmission. The Heisler auxiliary transmission provided a high range to all the standard speeds of the transmission—in fact doubling the number of speeds available to the tractor.
The Heisler Manufacturing Company made three different models of auxiliary transmissions for the Farmall F-20. Model number HT-2033 auxiliary transmission would increase the speed of the F-20 tractor by a factor of 2.32 to 1 because of the gear ratio of the auxiliary transmission. Heisler model number HT-2034 featured a gear ratio of 2.1 to 1 and Heisler model number HT-2035 featured a gear ratio of 1.99 to 1. The reason for the Heisler Company offering the three different auxiliary transmissions was that the rubber-tired F-20 was offered to the public with different sizes of rubber tires for the rear. The Heisler Company knew that the size of the rear tires would greatly alter the speeds of any tractor. The particular model of Heisler auxiliary transmission added to No. 71355 was model HT-2033 with the 2.32 to 1 gear ratio. The addition of the Heisler Model HT-2033 supplemental transmission to No. 71355, with its optional high speed road gear and with 36” rubber tires in the rear, would have added high range speeds of 5.22 mph in first gear, 6.38 mph in second gear, 7.59 in third gear and 16.4024 mph in fourth gear. These were hardly necessary or even desirable speeds for field work. Indeed, they all seemed to be road speeds. Indeed, the Heisler Company specifically warns against installation of an auxiliary transmission on any F-20 tractor which already has already been fitted with the optional high-speed road gear in the standard transmission. Continue reading Potato Farming in North Dakota with a 1937 F-20 (Part I)