"The Dirt on Tractors” Exhibition at Museum of Ventura County’s Agriculture Museum
Rare, Original Tractors Illustrate the Evolution of Farming and Feeding Ventura County from 1914 to the present.
Rare, Original Tractors Illustrate the Evolution of Farming and Feeding Ventura County from 1914 to the present.
Opens June 20, 2015

On Saturday, June 20, from 4-6 pm, the Museum of Ventura County’s Ag Museum opens “The Dirt on Tractors”, a display or rare (and still functioning) machines that exemplify the milestones of the development of the modern tractor. Intrinsically interesting and mechanically significant, each piece represents a major milestone in the development of the tractor; which harvested crops faster and more efficiently than their predecessors—farm animals—could. This efficiency was not only convenient, but also necessary to feed growing populations in U.S. cities. Currently, 3% of the population produces food for the other 97%.

In Ventura County, the mild climate, entrepreneurial spirit and abundant land conspired to create a thriving, necessary, job-creating industry. The County’s proud ranching and farming heritage is celebrated by this exhibition, and daily by the Ag Museum in Santa Paula. This exhibit tells the story of agriculture, business, sustainability and nutrition to visitors and students visiting the museum all summer.

Background and significance
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, America’s growing population pressured farmers to produce more crops faster and more efficiently. The only source of power farmers had were work animals such as horses, mules and oxen, which needed care and feeding. An adult horse would eat about three acres worth of fodder per year. Between 1990 and 1920, farm animals consumed over 20% of the crops harvested in the U.S. In 1915, the total land area dedicated to feeding work animals peaked at a staggering 93 million acres. As the 20th century unfolded, tractors quickly became the preferred source of power on America’s farms; one tractor could do the work of about five horses. By 1915, there were around 15,000 tractors operating on America’s farms; by 1930, the number of tractors had grown to over 1 million. This single technology is one of the most important innovations in the history of agriculture, allowing fewer people to farm more acreage; and meet the demand for food for a growing population.

The term “tractor”
The Hart-Parr Company, founded in 1901 in Charles City, Iowa became the first to be dedicated exclusively to the manufacturing of tractors. Their sales manager felt that the words “traction engine’ were too vague for a press release , so he coined the name “tractor” a combination of the words “traction’ and “power.” Their company merged with a few other machine companies to form the Oliver Farm Equipment Company in 1929.

Around this same time, the Holt Manufacturing Company manufactured steam, and then gasoline powered traction engines. Experimenting in 1904, Holt replaced the wheels on one of the steam traction engines with a belt of redwood planks bolted to chains, to great success. His company photographer claimed that is “crawled over land like a caterpillar”, which Holt quickly named his machine, registering the name “Caterpillar’ as a trademark in 1911. Holt Manufacturing is credited with being the first company to successfully manufacture a continuous track driven tractor.

The Internal Combustion Engine
Steam traction engines posed a danger to their operators due to potential explosion and fires started by errant sparks flying from their burners. U.S. inventor John Froelich of Clayton County Iowa, mounted a single cylinder gasoline engine on the running gear of his stream traction engine to see if it worked; it was a great success. It traveled at 3 miles per hour and he was able to thresh more than 1,000 bushels per day using only 26 gallons of gasoline without the worry of dangerous sparks.

Eventually, this configuration would lead to the first successful mass-produced, gasoline powered tractor by the John Deere Plow Manufacturing Company.

Items on display in the exhibition:

1. Yuba Tractor, 1914
(MVC Ag Museum collection)
This tractor was purchased new by Frank Baptiste of Camarillo; he bought it from the Yuba Manufacturing Company in Marysville, CA and had it delivered to Camarillo by train. This tractor has two forward speeds and one reverse. It traveled on two rear continuous tracks using a ball bearing system and is steered with a tiller style front wheel. Yuba tractors were manufactured until 1931.

2. Fordson tractor with Integral Plow, 1924
(Gift of Linda Droman, restored by the Farm Implement Committee, MVC Ag Museum)
Fordson tractors were the first mass-produced affordable tractors in the world; they were manufactured by Henry Ford & Sons Inc. from 1917 until 1920. Ford Henry Ford named his new tractor Fordson, because there was already a Ford Tractor Company in Minneapolis and because the Ford shareholders did not approve of tractor production. Henry established an entirely new firm named Ford & Sons Inc., which was shortened to Fordson.

3. Holt/C.L. Best Caterpillar Two Ton, 1927
(Gift of Perry Grainger)
The Caterpillar Two Ton was small and well suited to many tasks on smaller farms such as plowing, planting and powering farm machinery. Perry Grainger bought this tractor in pieces in about 1935; he rebuilt it and used into on his family’s Santa Paula dairy farm.

4. The John Deere Model D, 1930
(Loan from Jim Bushong, private collector)
The Model D was the first tractor to carry the John Deere name following Deere’s 1918 purchase of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. There were a total of 160,000 being produced between 1923 and 1953

5. The Allis-Chalmers Rumely Six, 1931
(Loan from Jim Bushong, private collector)
Allis-Chalmers had pioneered the use of pneumatic rubber tires on its Model U tractors in 1932 and retrofitted some of the remaining Rumely 6 tractors with rubber tires.

6. John Deere Model B, 1936
(Gift of Larry Lindgren)
The John Deere Model B could do the same work as a four-horse team. The Model B-O was configured for orchard work, fitted with fenders to prevent branches from hitting the operator, and designed with a low air intake and a low exhaust. This Model B-O worked on a Santa Paula ranch since it was new; it was used on Larry Lindgren’s Santa Paula orange ranch for many years.

7. Ford 9N, 1942
(Gift of Larry Lindgren)
This tractor was the product of an agreement between Henry Ford and Harry Ferguson in 1938 to produce tractors using Ferguson’s own self-regulating three-point hitch system. The Ford 9N was the first tractor mass-produced with a three-point hitch. This one was purchased new by the Royal Oaks Dairy in Ojai.

8. Oliver 60, 1944
(Gift of Ed Russell)
Hart-Parr was the first company dedicated to the manufacturing of tractors in the U.S. and is credited with coining the word “tractor”. This tractor was made by their (eventual, through mergers) Oliver Farm Equipment Company. This one used to farm row crops in Somis. The closely spaced front wheels are indicative of row crop tractors of this period.

9. Allis-Chalmers WD-45, 1955
(Gift of Richard Keister)
The 1955 Allis-Chalmers WD-45 tractor featured a 4.cylinder gasoline engine, and a “snap coupler” system for ease of attaching implements, with a complete hydraulic system to raise and lower them. Allis-Chalmers bought Brenneis Manufacturing Company of Oxnard in 1940, and opened a new plant in 1959 which operated until 1982, serving Ventura for many years.

10. Massey-Ferguson 65, c. 1960s
(Gift of Pictsweet Frozen Foods)
The Massey-Ferguson 65 is an excellent example of the advancements made in lightweight diesel powered general-purpose tractors. This one pulled a viner through lima bean and pea fields in Camarillo, Oxnard, and Ventura. The tractor and viner harvested up to 125 acres per day and some seasons they operated ten hours per day seven days per week.

11. John Deere 5100MH
(Loan from Cal-Coast Machinery, Oxnard)
This tractor is the result of over a century of tractor design and innovation. Many of the features that evolved are clearly exhibited in its design.
Such as:
• Light weight for cultivating
• High ground clearance for cultivating higher crops
• Pneumatic rubber tires.
• Power takeoff, or PTO
• Hydraulic Three-point hitch
• Diesel engine
• Rollover protection structure

The Dirt on Tractors will be on view through February 29, 2016.