Farming: Part 8: Monoploistic Asshattery

A historical aside: After horses and before things got standardized, each tractor manufacturer had their own hitch arrangement. Some with the alien voodoo technology called hydraulics and others without. Some were symmetrical and some were asymmetrical. A smart fellow named Harry Ferguson made a hitch that was just as likely a contender as the others. Actually Ferguson’s hitch system was pretty good. A lot of people preferred it. I like it.

Ferguson made what has forever been called “the handshake deal” in 1938 with a guy called Henry Ford. Heard of him? Yah, I thought so. That’s why my Ford tractor has a placard on the hood proudly claiming my machine has the excellent and marketable “Ferguson System”. Yay! Ferguson’s hitch system was pretty good. Combined with Ford’s popularity, it crushed the other hitch systems in a way which brings to mind the word “Betamax”. It became the de facto standard for nearly all tractors and has remained so for the better part of a century.

Everything was awesome. Then Henry Ford woke up one day and decided there was no reason to keep paying patent fees. In his steamy little head it was a groovy idea to royally fuck Ferguson over. He was Henry Goddamn Ford! Why not simply be evil? Perhaps you’re thinking this was a misunderstanding? Nope. Ford was something of an asshole. I suppose hosing a business partner is no big deal if you’re a grumpy anti-semitic Nazi sympathizing jackoff.

Litigation ensued but Ford was… well he was Ford. You think he was going to lose? A Ford tractor made a few years after mine has the same hitch system but the placard saying “Ferguson System” no longer exists. This somehow makes it all perfectly cromulent?

The moral of the story is that if a guy like Ford wants to do a “handshake deal”, shoot the bastard. Then shoot his ass again just to make sure. Ford was the Google of his time. If I was writing this blog ten years ago I’d say Ford was Bill Gates. There’s a level of rich and powerful that can turn a simple jerk into a raging monster.

The reason I’m mentioning the whole “handshake” asshattery of seven decades ago is that it still, to this day, affects the sale price of a seventy year old tractor. Totally reasonable tractors of the era such as Allis Chalmers or International Harvester are less useful if they have their original hitch system. The price reflects it. The other brands are either retrofitted to have a standard hitch or they’re relegated to towing but not lifting an implement. Also you’ll never find implements that fit a non-Ferguson setup. They exist but you’ll be entering the realm of collector with the associated price and hassles. (On the other hand, if you have the non-standard implement and the tractor that goes with it, you’re officially excellent. Restore them both and keep the set together. Be warned, collectors might stalk you and try to shove money in your pockets to buy them.)


About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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9 Responses to Farming: Part 8: Monoploistic Asshattery

  1. cspschofield says:

    Gods, people will collect ANYTHING. I am convinced that, if I could just figure out the right terms to search, I could find a hotbed of websites dedicated to collecting the pictures that come in ready=made picture frames.

    My folks lived in Iowa for a couple of decades, more or less. Some of it was in the era of “farm aid” and big worry about the loss of the “family farm”. The Iowa farmers almost universally considered this hilarious, as most of the people THEY knew who were losing their farms were bad farmers who had taken up buying big farm equipment they couldn’t pay for, because it was cool. Or, as the Iowa farmers put it “collecting tractors”.

  2. Joe in PNG says:

    Henry did hang out with Thomas Edison, another fella famous for stealing other’s work.
    Probably learned a lot that way.

    • Oh sheesh… Ford & Edison in the same room? A vortex of stolen dreams!

      (Of course both men did good too, lights and cars for the masses are good things indeed.)

      • Joe in PNG says:

        Their summer homes were right next to each other in Ft. Myers, so who knows what neferious schemes the two perpatrated… like electric headlights (gasp!)

        But some of the stuff Edison did to try to stop Tesla and the use of A/C… yeah, pretty much a total jerk.

  3. It was actually Henry Ford’s SON who decided to stop paying Ferguson royalties on the 3-pt hitch, not the old man himself. iirc it was right after WWII when this happened and the Ferguson patent was due to expire in about ten years anyway. The patent lawsuit was settled out of court and Ferguson got a pile of money from Ford so it wasn’t ALL bad for Ferguson in the end.

    • I stand corrected. I didn’t know it was his son.

      Still, a patent with ten years left merits… oh I don’t know… how about ten years worth of honestly earned payments? Ferguson should have gotten a pile of money without going to court. Had the Ford Company behaved more appropriately it would have been an uneventful business deal rather than an ugly lawyer fest. (BTW: I’d totally love to own a Ferguson TO-20!)

      I am glad that a single standard was adopted. Standards are handy!

      This makes me ponder a flurry of standards that have died. If I was writing this in 1988 I’d be mentioning how convenient that LP records adopted the 33 1/3 RMP standard back in 1948 and it was still going strong. By the 1990’s I’d be happy that I didn’t have to choose between Betamax and VHS. By now I’ve given up on music or video ever having a stable standard for a product I can physically posses. Heck, I’ll be happy if my Kindle is still functioning in a decade, even as my old bookshelves full of identically sized paperbacks gather dust.

  4. Roger says:

    I have an AC D17 that I use on a 6 acre produce farm. Sometime in the past it was transitioned from a snap coupler system to a regular 3 point hitch. The snap coupler was a good idea to safe guard equipment but after talking to people who used the system I am glad it is updated.
    My wife thinks I am nuts because I am looking for a buzz saw to run off the belt drive. She doesn’t understand that I have it and need to use it. Plus it would fun as hell to run something on a belt.


    • A buzz saw on a belt? That’s about as edgy and anti-OSHA as old tractor implements get. They look unsafe when I’m just walking past one on a tractor that’s shut off, at a distance of about six paces, while I’m wearing armor. I wouldn’t leave it alone in the yard at night. I’d never turn my back on one. I’d sleep on the second floor and chain the tractor to a stump. Those belts fall somewhere between and enraged rabid pitbull and a teenage boy with a staple gun.

      Of course you want one! I would too.

      Should you find one I applaud your moxie and hope you keep all your fingers. You absolutely must post a video of it in operation. Good luck.

  5. Ray says:

    To paraphrase Jebediah Springfield, “A noble tractor embiggins the smallest man”. I loved your use of the word “cromulent”. Well played, sir!

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