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Fleeting victory for horse vs. tractor

Hoosier Perspectives: Next up in the evolution of farm equipment, recall your memories about Model T cars.

Tom J. Bechman

December 7, 2023

2 Min Read
A scan of a vintage black and white photograph of two farmers plowing a field with Model T cars
CAR OR TRACTOR? Did your grandad or dad ever plow with a Model T car? Or did he use a Model T in some other unique way? Share your memories with historian and author Fred Whitford. Courtesy of Fred Whitford

The 21st century battle royal in agriculture may come down to tractors vs. robots and artificial intelligence. One century ago, the battle was horses vs. tractors. Fred Whitford, director of Purdue Pesticide Programs and an author, will soon chronicle that mammoth tussle. Your stories help him put meat on the bones of that book.

Recently, he asked for stories about farming with horses. Here’s his latest request: Does anyone remember converting Ford Model T cars or other vehicles for fieldwork?

“Apparently, you could buy conversion kits to turn cars into ‘tractors,’” Whitford says. “If you have a story, we would love to hear it.”

Send your story to [email protected] or mail to 599 N., 100 W., Franklin, IN 46131. Whitford will select a winner from the responses to receive one of his books on the history of Purdue Extension.

Horse vs. tractor

Meanwhile, Don Cummings, Jackson County, Ind., got Whitford’s attention with his family’s tale of tractors vs. horses. He will receive a book. His dad was the late Jim Cummings, longtime ag teacher at Whiteland High School and Central Nine Vocational School.

“Here’s how the Cummings farm got its first tractor,” Don says. “Dad and his brother, in their teens in the 1930s, begged their dad for a tractor. Pap bought an old Silver King with that big front wheel out front. Dad and his brother immediately said, ‘Let’s get rid of those stupid horses!’ Pap said, ‘Let’s wait a little while and see how this works out.’

“So, they hooked the Silver King to the plow and off they went. Pap sat on the front porch, smoking his pipe, as the boys took off down the hill to the bottom field, still in plain view of the front porch. First thing, the tractor ran off into the ditch at the end of the field. Dad and his brother walked back to the barn. Pap puffed on his pipe and grinned. They hitched up the team of horses to pull the tractor out!

“Once the tractor was out and the horses were back in the barn, they went another round with the tractor — off in the ditch again! This time, they walked back to the house, Pap still puffing on his pipe. Then he uttered these infamous words, ‘You boys still think we should get rid of the horses?’”

Postscript

Why the Silver King? “Grandpa probably bought it because it was cheap!” Don says. “Remember, this was during the Depression.

“I believe they kept the horses until World War II. Dad and his brother went off to war. Dad never came back to the farm, going straight to Purdue after the war.

“What happened to the tractor? That is a good question. Who knows? It might have ended up in the ditch and Grandpa just left it there!”

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman is editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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