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Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the January/February 1999 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
The Ford/Ferguson 2N’s stay on the Howard Hanks farm was short. Purchased in the spring of 1947, it was traded in on a new 1948 Ford 8N during the winter of 1947-48. However, it served the family well during a very crucial period in family history. (See “The Case NCM and a Family’s Crucial Year” Belt Pulley January/February 1995, Volume 8, No. 1., p. 31.) By 1947, The Howard and Ethel (Buck) Hanks family had been on their newly purchased 400-acre farm near LeRoy, Minnesota, for only two years. (See “The Wartime Farmall H,” Belt Pulley July/August 1994, Volume 7, No. 4, p. 13). During those two years, the national economy did not cooperate in helping the Hanks family realize much financial gain. As the Second World War ended, there was a general decline in milk prices and prices for pigs, corn, oats and soybeans. It was probably the wrong time to venture out into farm ownership.
Then, too, the rain that had created problems during the harvest season in the fall of 1946 returned unabated in the spring of 1947. The fields and roads were a messy quagmire. The planting of crops was delayed. The Hanks family did not get the last of their soybeans planted until July 6, 1947, and they feared that the crops would not have sufficient time to mature by the time of the first freeze in the fall. The family’s situation was becoming increasingly desperate.
As haying season approached, the Hanks family anticipated storing the loose hay in the barn as they had in past years. They were also planning on cooperating with their new son-in-law, Wayne Wells, during hay season. Wayne Wells was just starting his own farming operation on the 160-acre farm of his parents, George and Louise (Schwark) Wells, located two miles to the west of the Hanks farm. Wayne Wells would be marrying Howard Hanks’ eldest daughter, Marilyn, that summer.
In the early spring, Wayne Wells saw an advertisement for a used Case NCM baler for sale. In addition to modernizing their own hay making operations on the Hanks and Wells farms, Wayne was struck with the idea that the baler could provide the families with an opportunity to earn extra income by doing custom hay and straw baling in the neighborhood. (Wayne had already cooperated with his neighbor Mel Anderson to buy a new Wood Brothers one-row corn picker in the fall of 1946, and had used the corn picker to do custom work in the neighborhood.)
The Case baler was offered for sale by a farmer in Emmetsburg, Iowa. As part of the package deal, the farmer was selling his 1946 Ford/Ferguson 2N. The 2N was also accompanied by a number of implements which were part of the Ferguson system, including a rear-mounted loader, a rear-mounted mower, a field cultivator, a rear-mounted scoop, and a plow. (The entire line of Ferguson System Implements can be seen in an advertisement on page 32 of Ford Tractors by Robert N.Pripps and Andrew Morland [Motorbooks International: Osceola, Wisconsin, 1990]. Additionally, a picture of the rear-mounted loader, mounted on a Ford 8N tractor, can be seen on pages 74 and 75 of the same book.)
The Model 2N Ford/Ferguson tractor had originally been offered for sale to the public in 1942, thus its designation as the 2N. The 2N replaced the identical Model 9N which had been introduced in 1939. Although the serial number of this particular Model 2N is not now known, the fact that it was equipped with factory rubber tires indicates that the tractor was a post-war tractor. It is surmised then that the tractor was a 1946 model year tractor. Nonetheless, the Hanks family decided to purchase the 2N and the baler together with Wayne Wells. Accordingly, Fred Hanks (having just returned to the farm from service in the U.S.Army as a 2nd Lieutenant in Italy in June of 1947) and Bruce Hanks, sons of Howard and Ethel Hanks, made arrangements with Eddie Wolthoff of LeRoy, Minnesota, to make the trip to Emmetsburg to buy the used Case NCM baler and to bring it home on the Wolthoff International Harvester KB-5 truck. Wayne Wells also borrowed a 1931 International Harvester Model A-5 from his neighbor Mel Anderson to bring home the 2N and its equipment.
The Emmetsburg farmer had used the 2N exclusively when pulling the Wisconsin engine-powered NCM baler in the fields on his farm. He had found the 2N to be ideally suited for the baler because of its speeds: 2.51 mph in 1st gear, 3.23 mph in 2nd gear, and 7.48 mph in 3rd gear at the rated engine speed of 1400 rpm’s. (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Farm Tractor Tests, Crestline Publishing; Sarasota, Florida , p. 124.) The Hanks family also would find that the 2N was better suited to pulling the baler than either of the other two tractors they owned: a 1931 John Deere D with speed ranges of 2-1/2 mph in 1st gear and 3-1/4 mph in 2nd gear; or a 1942 Farmall H with speed ranges of 2-5/8 mph in 1st gear, 3-1/2 mph in 2nd gear, 4-1/4 mph in 3rd gear, 5-1/8 mph in 4th gear, and 16-3/8 mph in 5th gear. Ibid., pp. 60 and 122.
The NCM baler which was purchased by the Hanks family did not have the optional wagon hitch and bale chute extension, indicating that the previous owner had dropped the bales on the ground rather than towing a wagon behind the baler. Because the Hanks family intended to pull a wagon behind the baler by means of their own home-made wagon hitch and bale chute extension for the baler, and because the wagon would gain weight as it was loaded with bales, the tractor operator had difficulty finding the proper speed to allow the baling crew to hand-tie each bale. With either the John Deere D or the Farmall H, the tractor operator spent a great deal of time changing gears to suit the varying conditions of the hayfield and of the wagon load. However, with the 2N, mere adjustments to the throttle were sufficient to meet these varying conditions.
“Time is money” when performing custom work. Time spent transporting the equipment from farm to farm is time that earns no money. The road gear of the 2N was slow. As noted above, the road speed of the 2N was limited to 7.48 mph at 1400 rpm’s. This meant that much time would be wasted when transporting the tractor, baler and wagons from farm to farm. As noted in the book Ford Tractors: N Series, Fordson, Ford and Ferguson 1914-1954, by Robert Pripps and Andrew Morland (Motorbooks International Publishers: Oseola, Wisconsin 1990), p. 35, this was a common complaint about the 9N/2N tractors. To surmount this obstacle, a Step-Up auxiliary transmission was offered by the Sherman Products Company, Inc., of Royal Oak, Michigan. The Sherman Products Company had been founded by George B. and Eber C. Sherman of Evansville, New York. (Ibid., p. 36.)
Pursuant to the famous 1938 handshake agreement between Harry Ferguson and Henry Ford, the Sherman brothers had originally formed the Ferguson-Sherman Company which became the distributor of the Ford-Ferguson 9N in the United States. (Colin E. Booth and Allan T. Condie, The New Ferguson Album [Condie Publications: Carlton, United Kingdom, 1986], p. 16.) However, when the need arose for a company that would manufacture improvements for the 9N/2N tractors, the Sherman brothers formed another company, Sherman Products, Inc. Sherman Products, Inc., manufactured seven products which were designed to meet the shortcomings of the 9N/2N tractors, including the Step-Up auxiliary transmission unit. (The full line of equipment offered by the Sherman Products Company can be seen in a copy of a June 12, 1948, Sherman Products advertisement which is included in a packet of materials on the Sherman Company available from Gerard W. Rinaldi, Post Office Box 235, Chelsea, Vermont 05038-0235, Telephone:  685-3321.)
The Sherman Step-Up auxiliary unit became a very popular after-market option for Ford Ferguson 9N and 2N’s. Even Palmer Fossum’s 1939 9N, featured in the book How to Restore Your Farm Tractor, is equipped with the Sherman Step-Up unit. The white knob of the shifter lever for the Step-Up unit is plainly visible in the pictures on pages 7 and 10 of that book. (Pripps, Robert N., How to Restore Your Farm Tractor [Motorbooks International Publishers: Osceola, Wisconsin, 1992], pp. 7 and 10. There also is a discussion of the Sherman Step-up shifter on Page 106 of that book.)
Installation of the Sherman Step-Up attachment could not be easily accomplished on a farm. The tractor had to be split in half at the joint between the engine and transmission, and the Sherman Step-Up unit was then installed on the drive shaft between the clutch and transmission. Furthermore, since the Step-Up unit was an after-market improvement mounted inside the clutch/transmission housing, a hole needed to be drilled in the housing for the Step-Up unit’s shifter lever. Because there was no dimple provided in the original casting of the housing to reveal the correct location for the hole, the exact location had to be found on the outside of the housing by use of a template supplied by the Sherman Company with each Step-Up unit. Using the template, the mechanic marked the location on the outside of the housing with a center punch, and he then drilled the hole. (These templates are quite rare today. However, Palmer Fossum of Northfield, Minnesota, still has one.)
Because of the difficulty of installing the Step-Up unit, soon after the 2N was purchased by Wayne Wells and the Hanks family, it was taken to the nearby Regan Ford dealership in LeRoy, Minnesota, to be fitted with a Sherman Step-Up auxiliary unit. Wayne Wells’ uncle Walter Schwark, mechanic at the Cease and Oksanon International Harvester dealership in the village of LeRoy. Walter Schwark had just moved over to Cease and Oksanon in 1945 after having spent many years just two doors down the street as a mechanic at the Regan Ford Dealership. It was while at Regan’s that Walter learned how to install the various Sherman products to Ford/Ferguson tractors. Thus it was natural for Wayne Wells and the Hanks family to bring the 1946 2N tractor to Walter Schwark for installation of the Sherman Step-Up auxiliary transmission. (Indeed, the Hanks family probably first became aware of the Sherman add-on unit from Walter Schwark.)
Walter Schwark was the third child of a German-speaking family from LeRoy, Minnesota, Charles and Ida (Scharnweber) Schwark. He and his wife Neva (Danielson) lived on the east edge of the town of LeRoy. “Uncle Walter” was known for the broad suspenders and visorless hat that he wore in the shop. He had big meaty hands and was very strong. He was a graduate of Dunwoody Institute in St. Paul, Minnesota, and is fondly remembered as a mechanical wizard. His strongest quality, however, was his natural ability to solve the difficult mechanical problems that other mechanics found troublesome. As a result, other mechanics would stop by the Ford garage or the Schwark home seeking advice about their most recent mechanical problems.
Handy as Wayne Wells was at fixing machines, there were many times that he ended up taking a carburetor or starter to town to “let Uncle Walter look at it.” It seemed that Uncle Walter could work out any mechanical problem. Walter Schwark not only worked as a mechanic uptown in LeRoy, but in 1958 he built a big shop at his home and began working on cars and tractors out his home. The shop had a 10-foot by 10-foot garage door, a huge overhead hoist for removing car engines, and a complete set of tools hanging neatly on the wall. His shop was always a picture of orderliness. (Wayne Wells usually took his oldest son, the present author, on these trips to the Walter Schwark home.)
Walter Schwark worked at the Regan Ford dealership garage until 1945, and then moved down the street to work for the new Cease-Okansen International Harvester dealership which had just opened up. In 1957 he moved yet again, this time across the street to the Millinaker Allis-Chalmers dealership.
The addition of the Sherman Step-Up unit to the Hanks/Wells family Ford/Ferguson 2N increased the number of gears from three to six. They also found that, true to the Sherman Company advertising literature, the road speed of the tractor increased from 7.48 mph to 12 mph at 1400 rpm’s and from 12.12 mph to 18 mph at 2269 rpm’s (full throttle).
As soon as the Step-Up unit had been installed on the 2N, the Hanks family was ready to put the little tractor to work pulling the Case NCM baler. The rains that had threatened to destroy any hope that the Hanks family had for any kind of harvest finally ended, and although it rained heavily on July 12, 1947, interfering with the Marilyn Hanks/Wayne Wells wedding ceremony held on that day, that would be the last rain for two weeks. During the reprieve, the crops began to grow. Furthermore, when the rains did return, they were limited in duration and sufficiently intermittent that field work could continue on schedule. The family was amazed that the weather remained nice while they baled all of the first cutting of hay on both the Hanks and Wells farms and stored it safely in the barn. Then the 2N was put on the road with the baler to do the custom baling.
Many times that summer the little tractor sped out of the Hanks yard in the early morning, even while milking continued in the barn. The rains had stopped long enough that the gravel roads were now dry and hard. Willow bushes and cattails lined the ditches, providing good shelter for flocks of Red-wing Blackbirds. Riding along on the hayrack, the baling crew could feel the cool morning air in their faces. Thanks to the rubber tires on all of the equipment and the muffler on the 2N, they could enjoy the calls of the Red-Wing Blackbirds as the little tractor made its way down the road. The 2N and baler would be in the field and working just as the dew lifted from the windrows in the morning.
The Ford/Ferguson 2N was operated every day from morning until night. Although it was not advisable to drive farm machines down the narrow township roads after dark, the family did appreciate the safety that was offered by the electric lights on the 2N for travelling after dusk.
In the summer on the farm, tasks fell one upon the other in quick succession. All too soon the baling crews began to notice that the fields of oats and wheat were starting to turn light green and showing patches of yellow. Small grain harvesting would soon begin. If only the rains would hold off for a little while longer! Meanwhile, Bruce and Fred Hanks found another use for the 2N and the Ford/Ferguson equipment which had come with the tractor. During the summer, a neighbor, Halvor Thompson, had a new culvert installed in the ditch of the driveway to his farmstead. Once the metal culvert was installed, he needed to have it covered with fill dirt and gravel. So he contacted the Hanks family, and Fred attached the rear-mounted loader to the 2N in a jiffy. Then he and Bruce drove the little tractor east one mile and turned up the “rabbit road” to the Halvor Thompson 40-acre farm. There they completed the small task and earned $5.00. They then turned the little 2N around engaged the Sherman Step Up transmission and speeded their way home to complete the day’s work on their own farm.
The family had performed custom combining in the neighborhood with their 1938 John Deere No. 7 combine since they first bought their farm in 1945. However, this was the “make or break” year, and everything had to go according to plan or the family would be in serious trouble financially.
Surprisingly, they were able to complete the harvesting of all of their oats and to store the crop in the bins over the alleyway of the corn crib without the weather interfering. As the weather held, they also started and then completed all of the custom grain combining.
Then when all of the custom grain combining was completed, the 2N was again put to use, this time pulling the baler for straw baling. The 2N was proving itself a worthwhile investment, as it helped the family obtain unexpected extra income from custom straw baling.
The harvest season turned out to be a perfect season weatherwise; quite a startling turn of events from the earlier part of the year! Indeed, it turned out to be one of the most glorious harvest seasons in memory, as the sun continued to shine on the cold days of late fall providing perfect drying weather for corn and soybeans.
Finally, on November 20, 1947 after the last of the custom soybean harvesting had been completed and the corn had all been picked and stored away in the corn crib, the machinery was all stored in the machine shed and the 2N parked in the alleyway of the corn crib with the doors closed. Following the milking that evening, the family walked to the house for the night. Almost before they could close the door of the house behind them, it started to snow!
It had been quite a remarkable reversal of fortunes for the family. What had started as a year with such miserable prospects, ended with a very happy Thanksgiving and Christmas. The 2N had helped the family get through their most crucial year.
Of the few shortcomings of the Ford 2N which troubled the Hanks family, one of the most striking was that the pedal for the left brake was located on the left side of the tractor. While one of the benefits of the Ford/Ferguson 2N tractor was its low center of gravity which allowed the tractor to maneuver safely on hilly terrain (this feature had made the tractor very popular in West Virginia), in order to obtain this low center of gravity, the tractors was designed to have the operator sit directly on the transmission and straddle the drive train with a foot on either side of the tractor. Consequently, having the pedal for the left brake on the left side with the clutch meant that the operator could not easily engage the clutch with his left foot while applying the left brake–a procedure commonly required to make a sharp turn to the left. The Sherman Products Company recognized this shortcoming and included a left-hand brake lever in its line of after-market, add-on attachments to the 9N and 2N Ford/Ferguson available for sale to the public. The left-hand brake attachment would allow the operator to engage the left brake with his left hand while slowly releasing the clutch with his left foot and steering the tractor sharply to the left. This Sherman attachment would greatly facilitate turning the tractor at the end of the field when using the field cultivator in seed bed preparation in the spring. It would also allow the Hanks family to more easily maneuver the manure spreader in the cow-yard to get it closer to the barn for cleaning out the gutters after the morning milking was finished. The Hanks family pondered this and other problems in the design of the 2N as they looked out at the snow covered fields and anticipated the Spring of 1948.
On August 27, 28 and 29, 1999 the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association’s threshing show will host the national Ford Tractor Collectors’ Summer Convention. Most assuredly, there will be scores of Ford tractors and farm equipment exhibits in attendance, including prime examples from the tremendous collection owned by Palmer Fossum, stirring up memories of Ford/Ferguson farm machinery in the hearts and minds of many people in attendance.