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Looking Back At The First Nebraska Tractor Tests

Nebraska Tractor Tests got started thanks to a less-than-reputable tractor manufacturer.

With the launch of the new Gleaner combines in Wichita, and the Farm Progress Show next week, I've been spending a lot of time around new machinery lately. While progress is linear by definition, it's impossible to know how far we've progressed without looking at where we started and the steps we've taken along the way. As I've mentioned before, farmers love their antique iron, which is understandble, considering the major milestones along the way.

Looking back through the years, particularly in the books of Randy Leffingwell – a big thanks to Larry John of the Heart of America Tractor Club in Missouri for lending them – I often find how and where these milestones and new standards came about.

One major milestone is the Nebraska Tractor Tests. The origins of the tests go back to Ford Tractor Company – not Ford Motor Company. This was a bogus company incorporated in 1915, actually owned by Baer Ewing and named for Paul Ford, who actually knew nothing about farm tractors. He was of no relation to Henry Ford, whose name Ewing intended to capitalize on, according to Leffingwell's Farm Tractors: A Living History.

The few tractors Ewing produced were usually prototypes to show some kind of viability of the company. These prototypes were often sold to an unsuspecting farmer who soon after had mechanical issues with the tractor – the Ford Model B. One victim, eastern Nebraska farmer Wilmot Crozier, took action after buying two of Ewing's Ford Model B tractors, which broke down frequently.

In the earlier years of tractor production, there was an increased interest in a government-established national testing station for farm equipment. After Crozier was elected to a two-year term to the Nebraska State Legislature in 1919, he proposed a testing system to test any tractor for sale in Nebraska and release the results to the public.

The Department of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Nebraska was chosen as the testing site. On July 5, 1919, it became a law that no new tractor could be sold in Nebraska without a permit proving the tractor had substantiated its manufacturer's claims through these tests. The tests began on March 31, 1920, and ten days later, a Waterloo Boy Model N12-25 passed the first Nebraska tractor test.

Legitimate tractor manufacturers praised the law. Henry Ford himself would later pass the test with his Fordson tractor, which could not be named Ford Tractors due to Ewing's use of the name – not to mention "Ford Tractor Company" had a bad reputation at the time anyway. Leffingwell writes that Ewing on the other hand made the wise choice to stay out of Nebraska.

As many know, today, the University of Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory, or NTTL, is the officially designated tractor testing station for the United States.

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