Chapter 18

The Model 8N Ford-Ferguson Tractor

The 8N Ford-Ferguson tractor was the first widely used tractor in West Virginia with rubber tires, and the first one anywhere to use the three point hitch with the hydraulic lift invented by Ferguson. The older "traction engines," as they were called at one time, had steel wheels and the implements they pulled had to be lifted by levers and muscle power. These machines were more successful in the west, due to the big fields there.

Dad had a Fordson, also made by the Ford motor company, with the steel wheels, crank start, and no hydraulics. It was useful for plowing, disking and running stationary devices like a thrashing machine or silage cutter. It was a terror to start, with kickback that could break your arm when you turned the crank; it was rough to ride, especially when rocks were present, and the single rib on the front wheel jerked when ever you hit a rock or root, wrenching the drivers arm. A most uncomfortable machine and difficult to operate, but it was useful for some kinds of work because it had several horsepower. It was of little use in the winter, so it was customary to drain the water out before the first freeze and let it stand idle until spring. Once Dad was taking it up to Uncle Earlo Davis' to use in filling the silo. When he got to McWhorter where you crossed the railroad track, something very exciting happened. The steel front wheels had a rib all the way around them about two inches high. When these hit the railroad rail the course of the tractor was deviated so it followed the tracks. Almost as soon as Dad realized what had happened he heard a train whistle blowing for the crossing! He was able to back up and get off the rails before the train came.

There were other rubber tired tractors before the 8N, but they lacked Ferguson's hydraulic system. They also lacked wheels designed so that they could be adjusted, narrow to plow, or out to give a very wide stance, ideal for hillside. They also lacked the wide line of equipment to go with the tractor. The 8N had a power take off in the rear, parallel to the drive train from engine to differential. In fact, an 8N could produce more horsepower to use from the power take off than from the rear wheels. It was a favorite everywhere, but especially in hilly country.

(Illustration 18-1)

The extreme width of the 8-N and low center of gravity made it an ideal hillside tractor. This one has the "heavy-duty" mower.

The hardy farmers of West Virginia learned to use these tractors on hillsides that were inaccessible to other kinds of tractors, hillsides that many tractors can not go on even today. After WWII almost everyone who farmed had one for decades. The 9N came along, much the same tractor. Then Ford and Ferguson split, with Ford manufacturing the tractor in the United States, and Ferguson making almost the same tractor in England but selling it in the United States.

The tractor did our work, a lot of "custom" work on other farms, and plowed a lot of "victory gardens" in World War II. When I got to high school Dad took the tractor to West Milford to plow gardens. One day he had several left to do but had something to do at home, too. He left me with the tractor to do the gardens, and rode home with Aunt Lotta as she came home from teaching. He told me where to go, but not how much to charge. I would tell the people how much and they would smile. The going rate for gardens was two or three dollars, and I was charging six or eight. No one complained, but they all smiled, so I thought it was all right. I came home with thirty-six dollars. Dad had to go around giving refunds.

The second 8N tractor wasn't as satisfactory, because the brake seals leaked. When he wanted to mow pasture (cut filth, was the term we used) Dad would take the tractor over to Harve Beeghley's garage at Good Hope. Harve would put in the new seals, scrape up dry, dusty clay dirt off the floor to clean the brake drums and put it back together again. Dad would get the work done above the strip job high wall, and a couple of months later the brakes would be gone again. We had 8N tractors for around twenty years.

We pulled the horse cultivator and the shovel plow behind the tractor for potatoes. It didn't work well for corn, though. One summer when I was in high school Dad bought a garden tractor of the type that was in use then, two wheels two feet apart side to side with a motor between and handles to balance and control it. It was to use in cultivating corn. It had a three HP gasoline engine, and a series of little shovels, like the horse cultivator, to break the ground. Two trips per row, one on each side of the corn row. Dad intended for me to do the cultivation. The first time out I went without my shirt. I got blisters from exposure to the sun - the only time in my life I burned to the point of blisters. I couldn't sleep on my back for days. This sort of cultivation didn't last long. Dad soon gave up and made silage of weeds and all.

The Ferguson system was even more important after the demand for greater horsepower and increased the size of tractors. This system has two horizontal arms about the level of the rear axle to which the implement is attached, and a single upper arm to prevent rotation of the implement. This is called a three-point hitch, because two pins, part of the attachment, go through the ends of the lower arms, and a third pin goes to the upper arm which connects the implement. By adjusting the upper arm longer or shorter, a plow could be caused to run shallower or deeper. The hydraulic can sense the depth of the plow and pull it up when it goes deeper or allow it to go down when it comes toward the top of the soil, giving a uniform depth when plowing through variable textures in the soil and variable slopes.

Some of the common implements available for the 8N were a two bottom plow, a double disc plow, a two way plow, a disc harrow (commonly called a disc) various other harrows (spring tooth, drag, etc), corn planter, several kinds of mowing machine, drill for small grain, saw for cord wood, and a belt pulley (drives a belt to run a thrashing machine, etc.). After a few years not only Ford, but many other companies were making implements for the 8N, too.

In the earlier years filling silo was very important.  Even one tractor on five farms helped a lot. When I became a young man, I had to go away. Dad changed to hay only (it was the time of the Grassland Farming initiative in agriculture) and cut back on the number of cattle. We still do grassland farming (no caps now) today. I was the Grassland Farmer of the Year last fall in our little area.

Aside One of my neighbors, Eugene Hicks, still uses an Ford 8N tractor that he is proud to tell you is a 1948 model.

Copyright © 1998, 2006, 2008, 2011 S. Tom Bond (stombond at