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Tractor features farmers wanted at the first Farm Progress Show

Tractor features farmers wanted at the first Farm Progress Show
Throwback Thursday: Features you take for granted today were big deal in the 1950s.

If you're visiting the Farm Progress Show today at Decatur, Ill., and checking out tractors, you're probably looking for a number of things.

Top on the list may be horsepower, engine size, whether it has auto-steer capability, monitoring functions built into the tractor, mechanical front-wheel drive, type of transmission and number of speeds, safety features, cab comforts and a whole lot more.

Related: The World's Fastest (Vintage) Planter!

What did your dad or granddad look for in a tractor at the first Farm Progress Show in 1953? The clue comes from an article in the Indiana edition of Prairie Farmer in 1952, some 18 months before the first Farm Progress Show was held in Illinois.

Big-time features: This tractor from the 1950s had a boatload of features farmers wanted compared to tractors of only a few years earlier. Today you might find it on Antique Row at the show. (Photo courtesy of John Deere archives.)

One reason the Farm Progress Show was started was to give machinery companies who advertised in the magazine a chance to let farmers see the features of each model, and compare them while watching them work in the field.

The March 1, 1952, cover story headline read, "What do farmers expect from their tractors?" Prairie Farmer surveyed 300 farmers and farm 'boys,' asking what they wanted in tractors. Average farm size of those reporting in the voluntary survey was 235 acres. The farms reported averaged nearly two tractors per farm.

"So you can see that the two-tractor farm is definitely here," the late Paul Johnson, who would become a well-known editor, wrote in the story.

Some 90% said they thought their tractors were "reasonably safe." This was before rollover protective structures, and before cabs were popular. It was also the era of many narrow-front-end models.

Popular tractor features of the 1950s
In terms of tractor features, 93% wanted a tractor with a self-starter. In other words, they didn't want to have to rely on the hand crank. This was 1952 – not 1922!

Some 90% wanted the tractor to have a PTO clutch. Just fewer than 90% wanted a model with headlights – not flashing lights for safety – just workable, old-fashioned head lights.

Just more than seven in 10 wanted a comfortable seat. We're talking cushioned seats like on the first John Deere numbered series about to appear, instead of iron seats with a thin cushion that you could purchase and attach.

About 50% wanted an operational clock. Just over four in 10 thought a flashing red light was a good idea, and a feature they wanted. One in three looked for a tractor with a transmission featuring overdrive.

Think about these things when you peruse tractor offerings at this year's Farm Progress Show. Agriculture has come a long way, baby!

Editor's note: There was more to the survey. Check back next Thursday for more results.

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