A selection of vintage tractors that have recently sold can be viewed here: Tractors Sold
Harry Ferguson started life as one of eleven children in a farming family, but in 1902 joined his brother Joe in a small workshop repairing bikes and cars in Belfast. His aptitude for mechanics developed into motor sports and racing, and aviation. He left his brother's business in 1911 and started a garage on his own. Due to the food shortages during World War I, the government started a big push for more home grown food, encouraging mechanisation. Harry started selling the Waterloo Boy model N tractor, built in America.
In 1917, he was asked to tour Ireland, by the Agricultural Board, overseeing ploughing demonstrations to improve tractor usage and sales. Watching ploughs at work, he started designing a new and better plough, named the Belfast plough. The tractor he used was called the Eros, a lightweight Model T Ford. Soon Henry Ford had a new tractor, the Fordson Model F, which was manufactured cheaper than other tractors, putting many competitors out of business. Harry Ferguson had to alter his design to suit the Fordson.
One of the problems of this tractor was the Duplex linkage. The plough was pulled by two arms the stop it tilting over. The trouble was that if the plough hit a large enough rock, the plough would stop dead, with the tractor trying to keep going, causing the tractor to flip over, injuring or killing the driver. Harry developed a hydraulic system with a third bar above to stabilise the tractor. This became the three point linkage or Ferguson system.
To demonstrate this system, Harry Ferguson designed and built the Black Tractor, and tried to try to find a manufacturer for the machine. David Brown, a gear cutting company in Huddersfield, saw the potential and agreed to produce the Ferguson Type A, or Ferguson Brown, tractor. The colour became battleship grey and, in 1936, they started building the first grey Fergie. Its reviews were excellent, but it was too expensive against the Fordson. They added inflatable tyres, but still the sales figures didn't improve. The relationship between David Brown and Ferguson deteriorated, and they eventually split in 1938. Harry decided to see what he could do in the US with Henry Ford.
Ford had been brought up on a farm too, and was interested in the development of the tractor and cultivation. After demonstrating the Ferguson system, both men shook hands. The Ferguson system was to be mass produced on the Fordson tractors, and Ferguson would form a company to market tractors with implements to be used with them. The problem with this agreement was that nothing was on paper and there were no witnesses. This famous hand shake, based on mutual trust, would cause many problems for solicitors in years to come.
This deal left David Brown out in the cold, with a large stock of unsold tractors due to their expensive price tag. Following David Brown's split from Ferguson, they designed their own tractor, the VAK I, and sold off the Ferguson A tractors for less money. Fordson was producing the 9N and later the 2N.
After the war, the Dagenham Fordson plant started to produce the E27N, instead of the Ford Ferguson tractor, so Harry Ferguson had to look for an alternative. He joined with the Standard Motor Company, who had been building aircraft engines during the war. They would deal with tractor manufacture, while Harry Ferguson dealt with the marketing, implements and development side of the business.
1946 saw the first Ferguson TE tractor being built, and it became the most popular tractor in Britain. By this time, Ford's grandson was in control of the company and, eventually, in 1947 Ford and Ferguson wanted to split. However, Ford wanted to keep using the three point linkage, without calling it the Ferguson system or paying him for its use on the new 8N tractor. Consequently this ended in a court battle, costing millions, with Ferguson coming away with $10 million. He then went back to the UK, and built the Ferguson TE20 and TO20, standing for Tractor England and Tractor Overseas, respectively.
Harry Ferguson had a Detroit factory building the TO20. In 1952 he decided to sell it to Massey-Harris, forming Massey-Harris-Ferguson but, in 1958, was shortened to Massey Ferguson.
Harry Ferguson died in October 1960, after seeing his three TE20's reach the south pole after 1200 miles of expedition in 1958 with Sir Edmund Hilary.
Soon after this, the Grey Ferguson stopped being the 'little grey Fergie' and became the red Massey Ferguson; very similar in looks, but with more power and refined design, called the MF35.
The MF 35 and MF 65 (50Hp) were becoming too small for the US market. They brought out the MF 85 (60hp) but, with American's demanding even more power, the MF 95 (65hp) was brought out in 1958, and the MF 97 in 1961, with more power and available in 4 wheel drive.
Massey Ferguson had new plans, with the DX project, advancing the technology of their tractors and they put six new tractors on the market in 1965. These tractors were the MF 135 and MF 150 with 37hp, the MF 165 (50hp), the MF 175 (60hp), the MF 1100 (90hp) and the MF 1130 with (120hp).
Massey Ferguson Tractors, by Michael Williams, Reprinted in 2005