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A 1931 Farmall Regular at Work in Mower County, Minnesota by Brian Wayne Wells
(As published in the March/April 2008 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine)
In the years before the First World War, the internal combustion tractor had shown great promise as an efficient power source for use on farms. Immediately following the First World War, that promise came into fruition as internal combustion powered tractors replacing work horses in the most arduous tasks on the average farm. During the 1920s, many farmers were performing their heaviest field work; e.g. plowing and discing, with farm tractors. However, one field task avoided mechanization and still required work horses. That was the cultivation of row crops—especially corn. The conventional “four-wheel” or “standard” style farm tractor was not suited, nor had it been designed, for to the task of cultivating row crops.
Ever since 1915, the International Harvester Company had been experimenting with various proto-types and configurations of a motorized self-propelled cultivator. However, as important as a cultivating machine would be to the average family farm, a separate motorized implement, which would be used only for the task of cultivating row crops in the summer time and would be stored unused on the farm for the remainder of the year, was not deemed the most efficient use of the limited resources of the average family farming operation. Eventually, the minds the engineers at International Harvester, crystallized around the concept of redesigning the conventional farm tractor into a power source on which a cultivator could be mounted during the summer growing season and from which the cultivator could be removed once the cultivation of row crops was finished. Such a redesigned farm tractor could be used for all tasks on the average family farm on a year-around basis and could replace the horse entirely on the average family farm. Because such a redesigned tractor held the promise of performing all tasks on the farm, the International Harvester Company began calling this newly redesigned tractor the “Farmall” tractor.
The conventional “standard” or “four wheel” style tractor had both front wheels mounted wide apart. Just like an automobile, the front wheels were spaced so that the rear wheels of the conventional tractor traveled in the same paths as the front wheels of the tractor. Additionally, the standard four wheel tractor had an “automotive style” type of steering in which each front wheel pivoted on its own bolster. Thus, the standard tractor could turn only as sharply as a car. On the other hand, the front wheels of the Farmall tractor were mounted close together in a narrow front end configuration. Both of the front wheels of the Farmall were mounted on the same bolster or pivot point which allowed the front wheels of the Farmall to be turned to a 90° angle from the straight forward line of the tractor. This type of steering is called “fifth-wheel” steering. Both because of the narrow front end and the fifth wheel type of steering, the Farmall tractor design has been called the “tricycle design.” The tricycle design of the Farmall tractor was ideal for the cultivation of row crops.
Thus, in 1924, after nine years of experimentation, the new Farmall went into production at the old Tractor Works located at 2600 West 31st Boulevard (the corner of 24th and Western Avenue) in Chicago, Illinois, beginning with Farmall tractor bearing the Serial Number 0501. Only 199 Farmalls were produced in 1924. However, in 1925, the Farmall’s first full year in production, another 837 were manufactured. Only in 1926, did production of the Farmall hit its stride, with 4,418 Farmalls being made and sold in that year. The suggested retail price of these new Farmalls was $950.00. However, in October of 1926, production of the Farmall was relocated to a new factory—the Farmall Works located in Rock Island, Illinois.
Introduction of the innovative new Farmall tractor coincided with some other industrial innovations—large and small. Some of these innovations were incorporated into the design of the Farmall, even after production of the Farmall had already begun. One such industrial innovation was rather small in size but proved to be a very important watershed in industrial and farm machine lubrication. This was the development of the grease gun and the small grease fitting called the “zerk.” This small innovation came to a great number of farms of North America, “piggy-backed” on the Farmall tractor. The grease zerk was destined to change a great number of practices on the farm.
The word “zerk” was derived from its inventor—Oscar Ulysses Zerk. Emmigrating from the Magar region of the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Oscar Zerk came to the United States and settled in Kenosha, Wisconsin. There he developed the famous little grease fitting that still bears his name. It was the development of the zerk and the parallel development of the grease gun by young Arthur Gulborg that led to a small revolution in lubrication of bearings, shafts and other moving machine parts. Continue reading A 1931 Farmall Regular at Work