The History of Farmall Tractors: 1930-1935

Ed Johnston proposed improvements to make the Farmall a better tractor. Discover the changes that occurred to create more modern, small-scale tractor.

| December 2015

  • 1936 F-20. Ed Johnston created a nonadjustable wide front end for both F-20 and F-30 models in the spring of 1932. This coincided with the beginning of production for both models.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • "Progress," Ed Johnston explained to IHC's Executive Committee, had allowed their competitors to catch up with the Farmall. This was his secret weapon to move back into the lead. Johnston developed this Increased Power Farmall, photographed on May 3, 1930.
    Photo courtesy State Historical Society of Wisconsin, WHi (X3) 52020
  • This F-20 was the middle prong of Ed Johnston's three-way attack on IHC's competitors. Using an Increased Power engine from the 10-20, this became the new Intermediate Farmall.
    Photo courtesy State Historical Society of Wisconsin, WHiM90-048 F20
  • At the low end of the Farmall range, Johnston and Gas Power Engineering created the F-12, intended for the small operation farmer converting from horses or mules. This was one of the first 25 assembled, showing its integral 16-ince plow. The date was November 15, 1932.
    Photo courtesy State Historical Society of Wisconsin, WHi (X3) 51997
  • Bert Benjamin and Ed Johnston worked on a variety of systems to raise and lower implements. This compressed-air system never went into production but was photographed on November 13, 1934.
    Photo courtesy State Historical Society of Wisconsin, WHi (X3) 52015
  • Engine output increased because Ed Johnston's engineers designed and tested new cylinder heads, intake manifolds, and pistons. He added a water pump, which greatly improved engine cooling and lubricant life.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • 1930 Improved Power Farmall Prototype. Ken Holmstrom's prototype showed subtle features that distinguished it from late-production Regulars. The canted front wheels were the first giveaway. Internally, the improvement in power came from new engine pieces.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • IHC relied on its E4A magneto from model introduction in 1942 for another few years before replacing it with the F4.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • These Schebler carburetors lasted only through the prototype phases. Once the tractor went into production as the F-20, Gas Power Engineering began using 1.25-inch Zenith K5 models.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • Road rims let Ken Holmstrom enjoy operating his unusual machine in parades and shows. Nearly every dimension on this prototype falls between production F-20 and F-30 models.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • 1935 F-20 with All-Weather Covering. This was the closest thing a Midwest farmer could get to an enclosed cab for cold winter work. "The Heat Houser," manufactured by a tent maker in Fort Dodge, Iowa, did a fair job of directing engine heat back to the operator.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • Ed Johnston used these prototypes to test and develop the cambered front wheels. These, and the "duck-bill" steering column that topped them, went into production in 1932.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • Michigan Farmall collector John Wagner recalled that this system was not perfect. "Going upwind, your feet and legs roasted," he explained, "and downwind your backside froze."
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • 1935 F-30HV. This was IHC's first cane high-clearance F-30, serial number FB7262CNW. The "CNW" suffix represents cane tractor, narrow rear tread, wide front end.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • P.Y. Timmons, IHC's power-farming equipment sales manager, alerted IHC's management that farmers had reintroduced sugar cane as a crop in Louisiana. By late 1933, Ed Johnston's engineers were at work to create a useful machine.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • The F-30 was IHC's biggest tractor at the time, stretching 147 inches long. These cane high-clearance models reached nearly 100 inches in the air.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • Engineering had to design and fabricate a new front axle in order to make these tractors. These standard F-30 front axle was an inflexible casting. It could not be arched to provide higher clearance.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • The F-30 engine displaced 284 cubic inches, compared with the F-20's (and Regular's) 220 cubic inches. Cylinder bore grew to 4.25 inches from 3.75 while stroke remained at 5 inches.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • By 1935, all F-30s used 1.25-inch Zenith K5 carburetors. The engines developed 20.3 horsepower on the drawbar and 30.3 off the pulley or PTO.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • Michigan farmer John Wagner raised seed corn, another crop for which a high-clearance tractor was useful. However, this historic piece had been retired, and emerged for shows and photography sessions.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • HC assembled the first F-20 in early January 1932. By the time the company stopped producing these tractors, more than 154,000 had gone out the doors at Rock Island Farmall Works.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • The incline four developed a peak of 15.4 drawbar horsepower and 23.1 horsepower using distillate fuel during Nebraska's tractor lab tests. The best performance a Regular recorded at Nebraska a decade earlier was 12.7 drawbar and 20.1 belt-pulley horsepower.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • The F-20 was the successor to IHC's groundbreaking row-crop Farmall. With internal engine changes and new exhaust manifolds, engineers initially pushed 20 percent more power out of the engine. Test results using various other fuels often showed more of an increase than that.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • 1936 F-12. After assembling 25 preproduction versions of this tractor, Rock Island Works got down to business and series manufacture started on January 11, 1933. IHC continued to produce these models into 1938.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • Tested at the University of Nebraska in May 1933, the F-12 developed 10.1 horsepower at the drawbar and 14.6 off the pulley or PTO. It weighed 2,700 pounds, compared with 3,950 pounds for the F-20 and 5,300 pounds for the F-30.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • 1936 F-20. Little ran made for hard, dry soil and plenty of bean stubble for the two-bottom Little Genius 12-plows and F-20 to work through. The F-20's four-speed transmission and extra power advantage over the first generation Regular Farmall gave farmers plenty of strength to get through tough conditions.
    Photo by Randy Leffingwell
  • “Farmall” by Randy Leffingwell and Robert N. Pripps tells the story of one of America’s most enduring tractor brands, with gorgeous color and archival photographs to illustrate Farmall’s evolution.
    Cover courtesy Voyageur Press

Discover the complete history of Farmall, from the early days of McCormick and Deering to the latest models, in Farmall (Voyageur Press, 2015) by Randy Leffingwell and Robert N. Pripps. The following excerpt discusses the various changes to Farmall tractors between during the early 1930s, including increased horsepower, redesigned engine components and more.

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

1930-1935: Farmall Becomes a Big Family

Progress,” Johnston told IHC’s EC, “has put our competitors in a position to increase the horsepower for the size of engine and to improve the fuel consumption. We are suffering in the trade.” He urged the EC to adopt a program to produce a more powerful Farmall, and even a smaller one. EC members promptly approved three sizes, counting the current Farmall and the proposed “increased-power Farmall” as one. The second was an intermediate Farmall, using an increased-power engine for the 10-20 tractor. Third was a large Farmall designed to use the increased-horsepower 15-30 tractor engine.

While the power increases came from a new head, intake manifold, and piston design without changing bore or stroke, to Johnston, the term “increased power” meant “improved tractor.” He installed a water pump with a more effective thermostatic control to improve cooling. He strengthened frames because some Industrial Model 20s in Europe had broken. In August, he created a wide tread for the Farmall from 10-20 parts for crops around San Francisco. The GPED’s experimental engineers turned out new engines and strengthened unit-frames on IHC’s wheel tractors. Johnston’s dictum to improve the tractors became the goal throughout GPED.

In New York, while stock market prices still fluctuated wildly, President Herbert Hoover asked Alex Legge to help stabilize farmer market prices. Legge had resigned from IHC’s presidency to head the Federal Farm Board in June 1929. He remained on IHC’s board, however, and occasionally returned to Chicago for meetings that particularly interested him, especially when his efforts in Washington made little progress.

On December 1, 1930, Legge redefined the experimental Farmalls in terms farmers understood. The Increased Power model would handle two plows; the Intermediate, based on the improved 10-20, would run three plows; and the Large 15-30-derived Farmall pulled four. Then he wondered if this incremental power increase was large enough. Baker idly suggested fitting four-speed transmissions into the Large and Intermediate models and simply dropping the two-plow original “regular” model. A newcomer to NWC meetings, John L. “Mac” McCaffrey, IHC’s thirty-eight-year-old assistant manager of domestic sales, disagreed. He reported that his boss, Maurice F. Holahan, manager of domestic sales, “felt we should put out the Increased Power Farmalls only at this time.”



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