Classic Tractor Firsts

These classic tractors were innovators in their time.

| January 2016

Many companies have built hundreds of farm tractors over the years, from the 1910 Case 110 steam tractor to the latest-model John Deere 8320R. The most innovative models changed farming for years afterwards and influenced the designs of other tractors. The most wildly popular tractors have sold in the hundreds of thousands.

Tractor Superstars (Quarto Publishing Group, 2015) by Thomas E. Gaines. focuses on these remarkable tractors, including technical information such as the engine, horsepower, rpm, top speed, and weight. A wide collection of detailed photographs makes this one book that no one interested in tractors, tractor collectors, or anyone nostalgic for farm life will want to miss.

You can purchase this book from the Capper's Farmer store: Tractor Superstars.

First in the Field

There’s always something to be said about being the first to introduce an innovation. Sometimes it means being remembered in history, like Wilbur and Orville Wright after they became the first to build an airplane that actually flew. Other innovations were simply ahead of their time and took a few more years to catch on. It was no different in the tractor industry.

Some firsts, like the first three-point hitch developed by Harry Ferguson and the first tractor with an independent PTO, are still remembered. Those were also some of the innovations that caught on immediately. The benefits were so obvious to potential customers that other tractor manufacturers were practically forced to adopt the same technology or develop a similar design if they wanted a share in the market.

Other firsts, like rubber tires, took a little persuasion before they were widely accepted. Who could believe that rubber would provide better traction in the field than steel lugs that dug into the dirt? It was something people had to see for themselves to believe. Of course, other revolutionary ideas—like tractor cabs and front-wheel assist—were simply ahead of their time. Sometimes it wasn’t even the tractor manufacturer or a lack of sales that was at fault. In this chapter, you’ll note that the Caterpillar Challenger is recognized as the first track tractor with rubber tracks. But maybe it should be said that it was the first successful tractor with rubber tracks. In reality, Cletrac introduced a crawler with rubber tracks much earlier in 1940, making it the first in the field with such a unique feature. Unfortunately, the technology of the era could not produce a stable rubber track that didn’t stretch during use. So Cletrac went back to steel tracks before the idea even got off the ground.

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