HISTORY OF TECHNOLOGY. Horses and oxen had served in agriculture since time immemorial when they began to be pushed away by massive steel wheels, pounding engines and booming exhaust fumes. The tractor rolled out into the field, and the farmer’s work — yes, the whole community — changed fundamentally.
In a field in southern Uppland, in the summer of 1908, one could watch a sensational news from abroad: a petrol-powered tractor pulling a five-blade plow at Nyckelby farm outside Bålsta. The first tractor in practical operation in Sweden.
– It was technically interested large farmers who were first out. Ordinary farmers could hardly afford a tractor at this time, as the new technology was very expensive.
This is what the agricultural historian Per Thunström says, who in a licentiate dissertation at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences studied the mechanization of Swedish agriculture during the introductory period 1905 to 1930.
The Nyckelby farm tractor was a US-made International Harvester of the model Reliance Type D, with a single-cylinder engine of 25 horsepower. The steering wheel maneuvered the front wheels via chains, and the driver drove standing because the tractor lacked a seat. The only driver comfort consisted of a metal roof that also formed the bonnet.
– The USA was the great pioneer country, and International Harvester was very early with a functioning system. They also had subsidiaries in Sweden and resources to invest in marketing, says Per Thunström.
Used cheap crude oil
During the 1910s, more and more petrol-powered International Harvester tractors appeared on Swedish farms, but their spread was hampered by operating costs. Petrol was expensive and the tractors were not directly fuel-efficient: at this time it is estimated to have cost more than SEK 200 to drive a 25-horsepower International Harvester for ten hours. This can be compared with a Swedish farm worker earning around three kronor a day.
A more economical alternative came from Munktell’s Mechanical Workshop in Eskilstuna, which launched its first tractor in 1914. It had a spark plug engine and could thus use cheap crude oil instead of petrol: running a spark plug engine of 25 horsepower for ten hours is estimated to have cost five to six kroner. .
This first Swedish-made tractor was called Munktell’s 30–40, as the maximum power was 40 horsepower, while the power at “normal load” was considered to be around 30 horsepower. With a five-blade plow, it could plow five hectares in one day, and when harrowing, it managed two hectares per hour. The tractor was thus considered to do the same work as 16 horses and eight men.
And its sheer size must have made a real impression on people of its time: the tractor was 5.8 meters long, 3.3 meters high, and had rear wheels 2.1 meters in diameter. It weighed 8.3 tons and was frame-built, which meant a lot of forging work.
“More expensive labor”
A total of 31 copies of the giant tractor were produced, before the workshop closed down production in favor of smaller models. Today, there is only one Munktell’s 30-40 left, restored to a drivable condition, at the Munktell Museum in Eskilstuna.
The ravages of the First World War significantly increased interest in tractors.
– The labor force became more expensive, at the same time as there was a shortage of food and “expensive times”. One simply needed to increase food production. With tractors, you could plow deeper, faster and longer in the season, and you could also increase the arable area through more efficient cover ditching of swampy land that was not previously suitable for cultivation, says Per Thunström.
But at the same time as demand for tractors increased, the war stopped imports from the United States. This favored the growth of the Swedish so-called motor plow, which was similar to the tractor but differed in construction in one important point: the height-adjustable plow unit was fixed instead of being towed with a trailer coupling as in a tractor.
With a tractor, it was of course easier to disconnect the unit if you wanted to use the machine for something other than plowing.
– But the advantages of the engine plow were that the unit could be maneuvered from the driver’s seat, while a tractor driver basically needed another man to adjust the plow, pull it up and down at turns, and so on. With a motor plow, it was also easier to back into corners in smaller fields and the like, says Per Thunström.
The first series-produced motor plow was called Avance, and was manufactured by JV Svensons Motorfabrik in Nacka. Just like the contemporary Munktell tractors, it had a spark plug engine and could therefore be run on cheap fuel, and it was well spread in Swedish agriculture during the war years. Many Advances were also exported to other countries, whose own manufacturing industry was paralyzed by the war or converted to military production.
But when the war ended, the import routes were reopened, at the same time as there was an economic crisis. The relatively expensive engine plows had no chance against the cheap American Fordson tractors, which Henry Ford mass-produced according to the same assembly line principle that was behind T-Ford’s breakthrough in the car market.
– Fordson cost a fraction compared to previous models. At the same time, new more efficient towing plows came, which could be maneuvered from the driver’s seat just as with the engine plow. So it was the American system with tractors and towed implements that won, says Per Thunström.
Thirsty and went on kerosene
But despite the influx of cheap Fordson, Sweden had a lively tractor production with Munktell’s Mechanical Workshop at the forefront. Their main competitive advantage was the inexpensive spark plug engine, which was something of a Swedish specialty at this time. There were over 70 Swedish manufacturers of spark plug engines, which were used in everything from fishing boats to sawmills.
– Fordson went on kerosene and was quite thirsty, so even though it was cheap to buy, it was expensive to run. In addition, tractors were often used stationary to drive threshers, and then there were many operating hours, which gave an additional advantage to the spark plug engine, says Per Thunström.
Munktell’s first bestseller was called Type 22, and had a completely new design compared to previous models. The biggest news was that the engine, gearbox housing and rear axle housing were assembled into a load-bearing unit without a load-bearing frame. The two-cylinder two-stroke engine had a maximum power of 26 horsepower, but the model name came from the fact that it was considered to give 22 horses under normal load. A total of 1,579 Type 22 copies were produced between 1921 and 1934. The larger but structurally similar Type 30 was produced in 442 copies.
The number of tractors increased steadily in Sweden, and they had more uses than just plowing and harrowing.
– In the 20s, the tractor began to become more of a multi-implement, thanks to the new American invention power take-off. Now you could drive self-binders, threshers and other units with power directly from the engine instead of as before via the wheels. The new system was much more efficient, says Per Thunström.
At the end of the 1930s, there were about 10,000 tractors in Sweden, and another American invention was introduced: the air-filled rubber tractor tire.
– It also increased versatility. Now you could connect trailers and use the tractor for transport and other things. With the massive wheels used in the past, you could not drive on the roads without destroying the road surface. And then came the farrier, says Per Thunström with a laugh.
The versatility increased further thanks to the breakthrough of hydraulics, which meant rapid development of front loaders and other implements.
– The rubber wheels and hydraulics made the tractor a universal machine, sums up Per Thunström.
Pioneering Ferguson TE 20
In the field of hydraulics, British Ferguson’s innovations became very important in Sweden, not least the hydraulic three-point linkage and its automatic weight transfer. When the implement is lifted, its weight can be placed on the tractor’s driving rear wheel, which provides good traction even with a light and fuel-efficient tractor. This helped to make the tractor profitable even for smaller farms.
The system was introduced in 1946, with the groundbreaking Ferguson TE 20, which became extremely popular in Sweden. Over 33,000 copies were sold in this country, where the tractor became known as “Gray” after its color. Ferguson reportedly chose the color gray because it was sold cheaply by the British military’s surplus stock after World War II.
Ferguson TE 20 was manufactured until 1956, and many of the Swedish-sold copies still roll on veteran tractor meetings. The Swedish Ferguson Club Grålle has almost 7,000 members across the country.
During the 1950s, the fuel-efficient diesel engine made its breakthrough, and knocked out the spark plug engine fairly quickly.
– It was really only when Swedish agriculture got the big shift from horse to tractor, largely due to Ferguson’s arrival. But in some places the horse survived for quite a long time in agriculture, especially in the spring sowing, during work in the forest and when spreading manure, where the tractor was considered too clumsy, says Per Thunström.
What then did the tractor’s breakthrough mean for Swedish agriculture?
– It was a part of the whole transformation of Swedish society. Food production and prosperity increased, and much of the physical exertion could be avoided. Many peasant sons began to make demands: “Should I take over the farm, then my grandfather tamejtusan will have to invest in a tractor. Otherwise I would rather move to the city. ”
At the same time, the tractor contributed to the exclusion of the smallest farms, where it was not possible to invest in technical innovations.
– It was a huge structural transformation towards fewer and larger farms, which began during the interwar period and is still going on today. The mechanization of agriculture also meant that fewer farm workers were needed, and more and more people moved to the cities and sought other occupations. So the tractor also contributed to the urbanization of society, concludes Per Thunström.
Facts: The siding that ran into the sand
Even long before the tractor, you could see large, smoking wheel machines pulling plows across the fields. It was the locomotives, which for a time competed with both horses and tractors.
In the 1840s, “portable engines” had begun to be developed in Great Britain: portable steam engines where power was taken from a large flywheel with belt drive. They could operate from pumps and sawmills to mills and combine harvesters without having to be modified for the various tasks. Soon came a self-transporting variant with power transmission to drive wheels.
In Sweden, these machines came to be called “locomobiles”, and Munktell’s Mechanical Workshop began manufacturing them as early as 1853 – six decades before they launched their first tractor. In total, Munktells would build around 6,500 locomotives until 1921, and they constituted the actual start of the mechanization of Swedish agriculture.
But even though the locomotives were self-transporting, most were too heavy and difficult to maneuver to cross the field with implements like a tractor or motor plow. Instead, they stood stationary at the edge of the field and pulled the plow across the field in ropes. On the opposite side, the line was attached to an “anchor wagon”.
The system was clumsy, and it was soon found that it worked better with two locomotives pulling the implement between them. However, the increased cost of buying and operating two machines at the same time meant that large arable areas were required for this plowing method to provide operational benefits.
The last Swedish “steam plowing” is said to have taken place in Skåne in 1946. Shortly afterwards, the tractor achieved its final triumph over both the locomotive and the horse.
Your bonus as a New Technology reader: A part of Swedish technology history
As an additional bonus, you who are a subscriber to Ny Teknik digitally receive a selection of articles from Teknikhistoria, a magazine about the technical and industrial development that has led to society as it looks today – with a focus on Swedish development.
Do you want to get a piece of the story straight home in your mailbox? Sign up for your subscription today at: teknikhistoria.prenservice.se
Like Technology history on Facebook to get the latest news from history!
Like Technology History on Instagram!