Our Problematic Massey Harris 44

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“Our Problematic Massey-Harris 44”


Fred Hanks

with Introduction and Remarks by Brian Wayne Wells

as published in the July/August 1993 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

Fred J. Hanks, on the left, and his father, Howard B. Hanks, clown a bit as they take the rebuilt engine block for the Massey-Harris model 44 tractor from the car to garage/workshop. The engine block has been uptown during this second overhaul of the 44 in the winter of 1960-1961 to be bored out to support larger pistons and sleeves to bring the displacement of the engine up to 288 cubic inches.



            My uncle, Fred J. Hanks farms in southern Minnesota.  He has restored numerous tractors.  Three of these restoration projects, a John Deere 620, a John Deere 630 and a John Deere model H were referred to in a magazine article he wrote for Green Magazine (Volume 9, No. , January, 1993, page  27.).  Another restoration project, a Massey-Harris 30 will be featured iin an upcoming issue of Wild Harvest.  Additionally, another project a 1950 Massey-Harris 22 was featured on the cover of a recent Minnesota Edition of  Fastline magazine, (Volume 6, Issue 7, February 1993).  The Massey-Harris 22 was one of two Masseys that used to share work with a John Deere model D on the Hanks farm from 1951 until 1966.  The other Massey, besides the model 22 was a 1951 Massey-Harris 44 which is pictured herein.

I have fond memories of the the 44 from my childhood.  However,  as this article will relate, my youth removed me from the harsh realities of the situation.  The following information was provided by me Uncle Fred and gathered in conversations in August 1992 and April of 1993.


Massey-Harris 44

Looking west inside the garage/workshop we see Fred J. Hanks standing on the right overlooking the empty frame of the Massey-Harris 44. The hood, gas tank, radiator, engine etc. of the tractor have all been removed. Howard B. Hanks stands at the work bench on the left. Straight ahead is the wood stove which is no doubt been loaded with wood and is burning with a nice robust fire on this cold winter’s day in the winter of 1960-1961.

The Massey-Harris 44 was selected after a comparison with similar row-crop tractors available from any of the five (5) tractor dealerships doing business in the small town of Leroy, Minnesota in 1951 (1950 pop. 730).  The Seese and Oksanen Implement dealership sold International Harvester Farmall tractors, the Farmers Co-operative operated the John Deere dealership, the Regan Ford car dealership also sold Ford  tractors, the LeRoy Equipment Company owned by the partnership of Merle Krinke and Duane Wetter sold Case tractor, and by 1951 Stub Orke had left the Regan Ford dealership to establish a new Massey-Harris dealership.  The Massey Harris 44 had the highest horsepower rating at the PTO shaft of any the other comparable tractors from the other four dealerships in town.  This is established in C. H. Wendel’s Nebraska Tractor Tests (1985) which shows that the Massey Harris model 44 delivered 40 hp. to the PTO shaft (Nebraska Test 389 [1947]); while the Case model DC delivered 32.94 hp. to the PTO shaft (Nebraska Tests 340[1940]); the Farmall model M delivered 33.46 hp. to the PTO shaft (Nebraska Test 328 [1939]); and the John Deere model A delivered 33.82 hp. to the PTO shaft (Nebraska Test 384]).

Based on this information we made the decision in 1951 to trade our 1942 steel wheeled Farmall model H in to the Stub Orke Massey-Harris dealership on the purchase of a new Massey-Harris 44.  Later, we found the horsepower developed by the engine in the tractor would not transfer to the rear wheels as pulling power,  We found that the to   comparable  m are 44 was include  of  00° longitude meridian line runs north and south over the states of North Dakota, light in the rear end and, thus, too heavy in the front.  Additionally, the PTO shaft, itself, was located too high on the rear end of the tractor to be convenient for most applications. 

The pictures accompanying this article show the two of us (Fred Hanks and his father, Howard B. Hanks) overhauling the 44 in the winter of 1960-1961.  However, this was the second major overhaul of the 44!  The first overhaul had occurred in the winter of 1956-1957.  During the first overhaul, four years earlier,  we replaced the sleeves with oversized sleeves.  This increased the displacement of the engine from 260 cubic inches (c.i.d.) up to 277 c.i.d.  This should have made our 44 the equivalent of a Massey-Harris model 44 Special.

It was not until the second overhaul that we were able to replace the center bearing on the crankshaft with a proper flange-type bearing.  To do this, a groove had to turned into the center journal.  The original center bearing on the crankshaft lacked this flange.  Without this flange the crankshaft was allowed to slip forward and backward along the crankshaft’s axis.  Therefore, there was increased wear on the bushing at the front of the crankshaft located just behind the crankshaft pulley.  This bushing always needed replacing.  A worn bushing contributed to rapid wear at other locations like the pistons and sleeves which shortened the life of the engine.  The ;lack of a flange on the center bearing was a design error that was not present in other makes of tractors of the same age.

Now the cameraman has moved around to stand next to the wood stove and look to the east in the garage/workshop. Fred J. Hanks is busy working on the engine block of the Massey-Harris 44. Howard B. Hanks stands at the work bench now on the right. In the background is the Massey-Harris model 44 with chains on the rear tires during this second overhaul of the engine in the winter of 1960-1961.


The sleeves of the 44 were once again already worn by the time of the second overhaul in the winter of 1960-1961!  Once again, during this second overhaul occurring just four years after the first, we needed to replace the sleeves in the engine.  Once again we opted for a larger set of sleeves and pistons which would again increase the size of the engine displacement.  Following this second overhaul, the displacement of the engine was increased to 282 c.i.d.  The resultant increase in horsepower began cause by the increased displacement began to create a whole new set of problems with the drive train and the differential.  While in use following the second overhaul, we seemed to be continually tearing down the beast to fix something else!. At the time we traded the 44 in on the purchase of a new John Deere model 4020 in 1966, we were aware that the 44 was missing at least one tooth in the bull gear of the rear end differential!

Over the years, that we used the Massey-Harris 44 we also became aware that the 44’s Continental engine also had a troublesome combination intake/exhaust manifold that had a tendency to crack easily.

After painting and decaling the 1951 Massey-Harris model 44 stands in front of the double disc ready to make for the field in the spring of 1962. Immediately behind the disc is the garage/workshop with its little brick chimney of the wood stove, on the family farm where the overhaul of the engine of the 44 took place as shown in the pictures shown above. Standing in front of the tractor are Donna Mae (Fossum) Hanks (Mrs. Fred J. Hanks) and Hildreth B. Hank, youngest sister of Fred B. Hanks and daughter of Howard B. Hanks. On the extreme left of the picture is the laundry that has been hung out on the clothes line on this day, one of the bright warm days of the early spring of 1962.


By way of comparison, we now have a 1970 John Deere 4020, a 1979 John Deere 4440, and a 1982 4640.  The engines on this tractors have never been touched!  These tractors have never used any oil and just go and go.

As a collector, I am happy to have a small Massey-Harris 22 and a Massey-Harris 30, that we recently purchased in Nebraska, but I have had all the experience with a Massey-Harris model 44 , that I want, thank you.

Fred J. Hanks



            My parents lived on a farm, just two miles from the Hanks farm.  We farmed with a Farmall M.  Because my mother was a Hanks, we cooperated with the Hanks family at haying time and at other times which called for more manpower.  Therefore, we had a chance to compare the model M with the 44 in performance.  Like my Uncle Fred relates above, we also found that the PTO shaft on the 44 was located too high on the rear of the tractor to easily fit most PTO applications.

Additionally, like Uncle Fred mentions above, we found that model 44 filled with pressed steel rims in the rear and no wheel weights was extremely light in the rear end and did not provide good traction.  This lightness in the rear end of Massey-Harris tractors may have been acknowledged by Massey-Harris when they sent their Model 55 standard tractor to Lincoln, Nebraska to be tested for horsepower.  The Massey-Harris promotional movie called “A World of Power” shows Massey-Harris model 55s being tested on the proving grounds of the University of Nebraska with a tremendous number of wheel weights on each rear wheel. (The Massey-Harris promotional movies are available from Keith Oltrogge, Post Office Box 529, Denver, Iowa  50622-0529.)

Of course, all of our tractors in those years had fluid in the tires.  Nonetheless, the lack of traction that plagued the Hanks family Massey-Harris 44 caused slippage in the field and unduly wore down the lugs of the 12.00 x 38 inch tires of the 44.  For most of my experience with the 44, the rear tires of the tractor had lugs which were only “nubs.”  Some of the pictures included in this article may reveal the worn condition of rear tire lugs.  However, one picture, may strongly emphasize the lack of traction available with the worn lugs on the tires.  This is the picture of the Massey-Harris 22 pulling the 44 and a McCormick-Deering three-bottom plow through a particularly hard patch of plowing in the field in fall of 1956.

1950 Massey-Harris 22 pulls 1951 Massey Harris and three-bottom John Deere Plow through a tough spot in fall of 1956L
The 1950 Massey-Harris 22 provides some additional help to the 1951 Massey-Harris 44 to get through a tough spot in the fall plowing of 1956. Note the chains on the rear tires of the Massey-Harris 44. The problem her was not a lack of power to pull the McCormick-Deering three-bottom plow. The problem is traction.


It is not unusual that a second tractor would be used to help with plowing in this manner.  The problem is usually related to a lack of power to pull the plow through the tough spot.  However, here it is significant is the fact that the 44 has a set of snow chains on the rear wheels despite the fact that there is no snow or wet conditions on ground.  The chains were meant to provide as much traction as possible to the 44 in the dry ground.  Clearly, the problem was the 44 was lacking traction and not lacking in power even though the 44 would heading into the garage for its first engine overhaul in the coming winter of 1956-1957.  The calcium chloride in the tires was insufficient to provide the traction necessary.  The chains were also perhaps a means to make up for the worn lugs on the rear wheels.

Today most restorers of old farm tractors abhor calcium chloride in the tires, because of the rust and ruin that the fluid causes to the wheel rims of restored tractors.  Thus, we have tried to find means by which to offset with “cast-iron,” the lack of fluid in tires.  We attempt to fit our restored tractors with cast-iron rear wheels and perhaps two or even three pairs of cast-iron wheel weights appropriate for the age of the tractor.  The Massey-Harris model 44 tractor was available from the factory with cast-iron centers on the rear wheels.  Perhaps these optional cast-iron centers on the rear of the Hanks Massey Harris model 44, along with the fluid that surely would have been added to the tires of the tractor in those days, and even two pair of wheel weights added to the tractor might not have led to a different set of experiences for Uncle Fred.

Additionally, we have wondered if a flange- style center bearing for the crankshaft of the Continental engine of the model 44, was available on the third party market in 1956 and if such a flanged bearing had been installed on the Hanks model 44 during the first overhaul on the engine in 1956, would this story might have been entirely different.

I also remember that, whereas, the Farmall M used the same amount of gas per day whether performing heavy work or light work through out the day.  The Continental engine on the Massey-Harris 44 on the other hand used much less gasoline when performing light work than when it was performing heavy work.  This may have been a factor of the pressed steel rims in the rear which meant that the tractor moved easier with a light load.

Uncle Fred also has a tremendous collection of colr slide that he has taken of ordinary farming activities on his farm throughout the years.  This collections of slides has become increasingly interesting and important as a historical record of diversified farming as time goes by.

5 thoughts on “Our Problematic Massey Harris 44”

  1. We have an Massey Harris Work Bull 303 and the rear end housing is cracked we know the 303 work bull and the 333 are the same internal parts .
    Our question is can we use the rear end housing of an 44 and replace them with the parts of the 303 work bull so we still are able too keep our hi – lo range .
    Thanks Bert

    1. We have a 44 Diesel bought new in 1953 that is still on our farm. Ours has the optional heavy cast rear wheel centers and and wheel weights on it. It would move right along with a four bottom plow back in the day. We never had any problem with traction, the biggest problem was keeping the front end on the ground. Our 44 hasn’t done any field work in over 30 years and its only duty these days is running the pto on the grain auger during harvest.

  2. Your analysis of the flanged center main is quite flawed! The h260 used two bronze thrust washers (on the front and rear of the front main bearing journal). The adjust of which was controlled by a pack of shims behind the front pulley. This design is no more of a flaw than a flanged main bearing! Massey changed to this design simply because the engine was then cheaper to manufacture. Also, your assessment of a 44 being nose heavy ( and implying that other tractors of the era were not) is simply inconsistent with comments from tractor pullers of all makes/models. Massey’s are notoriously well balanced to pull, while others such as Farmall M, Moline U, and Case DC’s are regarded as “nose heavy”. In essence, I could disagree with this article more…

  3. We had a 1950 44 all through my 45 year time on the farm, and it suffered no engine maladies or traction issues. It did have cast centers in the rear wheels. That 44 was the envy of all around for years when it was new. Our 44 Special that we got later on was a powerhouse, too. Those two tractors ran with incredible reliability. Yes, the 101/102 tractors, and the 30, 33, 44, 44 Special, and 333 and 444 tractors did place the PTO shaft high. We never came across a piece of equipment that didn’t have the range of adjustability built into the PTO shaft for the Massey Harris tractors. We wouldn’t have traded them for anything else.

  4. I was three years old when my father bought his first 44k in 1952.i left the farm when i was 35 and at that time there were 2x44ks and 1x 22k and 5x Massey Fergusons on the farm.the 44ks were still running and in very good condition with none of the illnesses that was mentioned.we used to pull 3 bottom ploughs with the 44S on the 3point linkage and never experience wheel slip.

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