Harry Ferguson was born in 1884 in Northern Ireland and was a dairy farmer’s son.

When he was 17, Harry started work in his brother’s bicycle and car repair business in Belfast.

He built and flew his own aircraft in 1909 – the first person in Britain to do so – and successfully raced cars and motorcycles he tuned himself.

His interest in tractors started during the 1914-18 war, when the need to boost food production from UK farms encouraged more farmers to switch from horses to tractors.

Ferguson, by then running his own Vauxhall car garage, decided to sell tractors and imported the American-built Waterloo Boy, predecessor of the John Deere tractor range.

His skill as a tractor demonstrator earned an invitation from the British government to help the food production campaign.

His job was to visit farms in Ireland showing drivers how to operate their tractors more effectively.

This experience convinced Ferguson that hitching a plough to a drawbar and dragging it through the soil was inefficient.

By 1917 he was developing new ideas for attaching implements to tractors.

The result was the Ferguson System three-point linkage, one of the most important developments in tractor design.

Production

The first production tractor with the Ferguson System was available in 1936.

Called the Ferguson Type A, it was designed by Harry Ferguson and built by David Brown, but sales were disappointing and the partnership ended after two years.

David Brown started his own tractor company and Harry Ferguson sailed to America to form a new partnership with Henry Ford.

Henry Ford – like Ferguson – was a farmer’s son and was quick to appreciate the benefits of the three-point hitch.

The new partnership developed the Ford 9N or “Ford Ferguson” tractor, which combined Ford’s design and manufacturing resources with the Ferguson System.

The 9N, available from 1939, was a popular tractor, making its inventors wealthy men.

At the end of World War Two Harry Ferguson hoped a version of the 9N tractor would be built at the Ford factory in Britain, replacing the outdated Fordson.

The Ford UK directors, aware perhaps that Ferguson could be difficult to work with, had other plans, introducing an updated version of the old Fordson instead.

Ferguson decided to design a new tractor to be built in Britain and this time his partner was the Standard Motor Company, which was building cars at Banner Lane, Coventry, in a factory previously used to assemble engines for RAF aircraft.

The new model was the Ferguson TE-20.

At first glance it looks like the Ford 9N, as both are about the same size, share similar styling and have the grey paint finish Ferguson preferred for his tractors.

Mechanical improvements on the TE series included a four-speed gearbox instead of the three speeds offered by the 9N.

The TE-20 gearshift lever also started the engine, preventing the starter motor being engaged with the transmission in gear.

Another difference was in the engine compartment.

Instead of the 23hp side-valve Ford engine, power for the early TE tractors came from an overhead valve petrol engine made at the Continental factory in the United States.

This power unit, with 24hp maximum output, was replaced in 1948 by a new 1849cc Standard engine developing 25hp.

The first TE-20 tractor was built on 6 July 1946, with the serial number TE-1.

Harry Ferguson sometimes used it on his 240ha (600-acre) estate.

It was later returned to Banner Lane and used as a factory runabout until someone realised its significance.

After restoration, TE-1 became the centrepiece of the collection of historic tractors at Banner Lane.

Production increased rapidly during 1947 and the TE-20 pushed Fordson from the top spot in the British sales charts for the first time in more than 25 years.

Popular

The Little Grey Fergie was also popular overseas and export sales pushed production to more than 517,000 tractors from Banner Lane when the last TE was finished in 1956.

The peak year was 1950, when Banner Lane churned out 81,375 tractors, with a further 34,503 built at a factory in Detroit.

This made a grand total of 115,878 tractors, enough to supply the current UK tractor market 10 times over.

fwmachinery@rbi.co.uk