Tractor design matured when the machines were finally able to cultivate row crops like corn. Before the 1920s Farmall, tractors could plow and plant, cut hay and harvest the crops. But they weren’t tall enough to pass over growing crops or maneuverable enough to guide cultivator blades through the rows without hitting the plants themselves.
By the 1940s, the design of the cultivator unit was almost as important to the tractor-buying customer as the tractor itself. Cultivators were usually part of the original sale of a tractor. Most of the cultivators were mounted in the front or middle of the tractor so that the operator could see where the hoes were going. Smaller tractors meant greater visibility. Some manufacturers even mounted the operator controls off to one side of the engine so the farmer didn’t have to crane his or her neck as much.
Other manufacturers, like Allis-Chalmers, boasted that their cultivator units could be mounted by driving the tractor on to the unit and attaching a few bolts – so easy “a boy can attach or detach the cultivator in five minutes time.”
International Harvester promoted their cultivator’s ability to be shifted by the operator whenever there was a hill of corn out of line. Their tractors and cultivators could be adjusted to run in rows from 36- to 42-inches wide. They also claimed that their four-row models could cultivate up to 70 acres a day.
Ford and Ferguson, on the other hand, had a severe problem – they didn’t have a cultivator of their own and the ones they bought for resale had to be mounted on the rear. Again, farmers wanted to see where those sharp blades were going. So even though Fordson advertising claimed that the cultivator followed the tractor “like a shadow,” Fordson farmers often ended up with a sore neck and erratic steering patterns from turning around too often to check where the cultivator was going.
By the end of the decade, new technology changed cultivator design again. After the war, the chemical herbicide 2,4-D came into wide use to kill broad-leaf weeds. Farmers still needed to cultivate to break up and aerate the soil and to catch the few weeds the chemical left behind. But they didn’t have to get as close to the plants to do an effective job. Rear-mounted units could do the job and they were even easier to hook up than the drive-in Allis-Chalmers models. IH boasted, “Just Back … Click and Go” on their Fast Hitch cultivators.