Progress on the farm

Since this is a column in the farm section, we might assume that all readers are familiar with the three-point tractor hitch. However, there was a time that I wasn’t aware of this apparatus. We never had a three-point hitch on the New Jersey farm. Our ‘40s vintage Allis Chalmers WF tractor simply wasn’t so equipped. Just to make sure that we’re all on the same page here, let me explain what the three-point hitch is. For many readers, it’s the apparatus on the back of their Kubota, modern John Deere, New Holland or Mahindra that raises and lowers whatever implement they may be using. Through ingenious and elegantly antiquated technology, the system can even maintain a constant height or depth even though the terrain may vary.

The three-point or Ferguson System was invented by England’s Harry Ferguson who later cut a deal with Henry Ford resulting in the three-point appearing on Ford tractors in 1939. (This wasn’t always the smoothest relationship, which led to much petty tit-for-tat and accounts for why some parts of their tractors, though looking like they should be interchangeable, purposely aren’t.) These tractors, Ford’s N series, were best suited to people of smaller stature. In our largely Polish, Lithuanian, Norwegian and Dutch farming enclave, people were anything but small.

The seemingly indigenous Dutch who settled the area in the 1600s tended to favor the tall two-cylinder John Deeres and one of these tractors could always be heard popping away somewhere in the distance. Farmalls-H and M were popular in that community as were the tall Allis row crop tractors. All of these tractors sported lots of legroom for big Olie or Stosh to be able to climb on and off.

These tall farmers no doubt saw the advantage of the three-point system but found these smaller tractors too difficult to get on and off. These tractors were clearly meant for a shorter legged breed. As my 6-foot 6-inch cousin Stevie who, through the 1950s, was repeatedly partially decapitated in family photos often said, “Ford tractors are for Germans.”

Of course, the ensuing years saw the three-point Ferguson System appear on many larger tractors and become the standard system worldwide. However, there are still a few old die-hards who, even today, have refused to adopt the Ferguson System. Tommy Fritts of Rockland in Warren County, Va., is one of these. In the shadow of the Blue Ridge, Tommy happily farms the Shenandoah River bottomland with a two-cylinder John Deere 60 and an Oliver 77.

The private 1950s farm museum, where I spend much of my time, has never seen a three-point hitch. Most of the 16 tractors there have a simple drawbar, which usually pulls a wheeled implement that raises and lowers with its own on-board hydraulic cylinder. On the tractors not equipped with a hydraulic pump these implements are raised and lowered with a variety of mechanical devices.

A few tractors in the collection sport lift systems unique to a time when International Harvester was still trying to compete with the Ferguson System — a competition that would eventually lead to IH throwing in the towel and simply going three-point. Indeed, the family who owns this farm/museum seems to be another holdout against the Ferguson three-point system. The 1940 Farmall H, which, being equipped with a front-end loader, has served as the farm’s “bulldozer,” was purchased at auction with an elaborate three-point conversion mounted on the rear of the tractor. This device was removed and sold before the tractor even arrived at the farm as though it might somehow corrupt the rest of the collection.

As I may have mentioned, the family has asked me to give particular attention to an International 300-Utility tractor tucked away under the barn. The Farmall 140 and the H blocking it in hadn’t been started in a while so I had to tinker my way back to the 300. 1 finally got the 300 started and drove it up to the farmhouse and the spacious area where I normally perform repairs.

This tractor is equipped with International’s “Fast Hitch” a two-point arrangement with two lift arms that slip over corresponding protuberances on the chosen implement then lock in place. There was currently a cross-draw bar attachment in place. What I hadn’t noticed earlier was that duct taped to the draw bar and covered with a thick layer of barn dust were a pair of aftermarket slip-in adapters. These instantly convert the Fast Hitch to a three-point hitch thus making the tractor compatible with a whole new world of attachments.

The younger sister of the family, a retired music teacher and her (Reverend) husband were in for the week. After installing the slip-ins, I called this new innovation to their attention and enumerated some of the vast possibilities. They were quite enthusiastic about the new development and started to make plans for the acquisition of the various three-point attachments. I was feeling like a certain serpent in early human history.

I don’t know how the older brother, the current patriarch of the family and the legal owner of the International 300 with the three-point hitch, will respond to my introducing this relatively young couple to this exciting new world.

He is a serious International/McCormick/Farmall collector and prefers to keep these machines original. The possibility exists that he may have me dismantle this new arrangement then sell the “slip-ins.” So doing should return the farm to the peaceful, innocent time before this corrupting influence appeared. However, it will be a couple of weeks before I speak with him again — by then, the damage may already have been done.

Until then, I guess I’ll just uncoil from this tree limb, drop to the ground and slither away.

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