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Words: Donald Bowler

Fordson Wheeled Conversions

We continue our look at the abundance of adverts and reports on Fordson and Ford wheeled and tracked conversions through Alec's Cuttings; here we look at the Fordson era up to 1959 of wheeled conversions, including halftracks.

Showingjust how keen Ford Motor Company were on other organisations converting their tractors was the full page advert in the Jan 1955 Farm Mechanization (FM) that had a drawing of a new Major on Roadless Semi Skeleton half tracks pulling out a tree stump using a winch. The advert pointed out that the Major range included a variety of wheeled tractors, County Full Tracks, Roadless Half Tracks and Majors with KFD conversions where minimum width, height and wheelbase were required. The same FM had a BS Tractor Test report on the County 4WD tractor. This was the Four Drive; it was a skid steer machine with each front wheel driven by an enclosed chain from its rear wheel. Made principally for sugar cane haulage, the Four Drive didn't enjoy large sales in the UK, but it did prove the principle of 4WD, achieving a maximum sustained pull of 77501b with the limiting factor being wheel spin. Underlining its main market as being abroad, the sales brochure for the Four Drive gave shipping details for the tractor, with it being available with each tyred wheel being packed as a separate unit.

Good sales

Roadless were presumably enjoying good sales of their drawbar dynamometer as by March 1955 they were advertising in FM their range of three models for pulls up to 5000, 10,000 and

40,0001b which had been manufactured by Roadless and calibrated by the NIAE. County were showing they could cater for those who wanted wheels or tracks with their advert in the September 1955 FM that had drawings of both the County Crawler with a dozer blade and the County Four Drive. Roadless had a full page advert in the December 1956 FM, most of it was taken up with the Roadless Full track, but they did find space for a small drawing of the Manuel/Roadless 4 Wheel Drive that was reckoned to be specifically developed to bridge the gap between the conventional two-wheel drive tractor and the tracklayer. By January 1957 it was the 4WD tractor taking precedence over the J17 full track in the FM Roadless advert. In the April 1958 FM, Roadless were espousing the benefits of four-wheel drive for working "up hill, down dale, on the level in the wet", and to demonstrate that they showed a Roadless 4WD (there was now no reference to Manuel) pulling a bull wheel driven binder up an unfeasibly looking steep field - the trees in the background were showing as vertical so presumably the image hadn't been doctored. In the Commentary section of the January 1959 FM, 'Piers' was writing about the driverless tractor system that Reading University and ERA had developed, based on the IH B-250; a photo was reproduced of a driverless Roadless 4WD that was following ruts in ground

Roadless Dexta

like a quagmire, while logs were being loaded onto a trailer behind, both demonstrating the foolhardy things that are done is the name of saving time but also demonstrating the traction of the Roadless in adverse conditions.

Need to develop

In the December 1958 FM Claude Culpin, Chief Machinery Officer of the National Agricultural Advisory Service (NAAS), replaced by ADAS in 1971, said that manufacturers needed to develop half tracks more, though what wasn't clear was in which way they needed developing. In the following FM, LF Leibrecht of Leeford (London) Ltd, responded that while there was a large potential for half-tracks, the principle of a six-link track would prove most useful to the farmer. It was the Rotaped to which Mr Leibrecht referred. Lt Col Philip Johnson, Chairman and Managing Director of Roadless Traction, also responded saying that they could provide half-tracks to fit any tractor, given co-operation from the manufacturer, but he expressed a concern that for some reason many farmers preferred to use a much more expensive full tracklayer when in most cases a half-track would do as well, if not better. Although County had gone the equal-sized 4WD route and had full tracks, they clearly thought there was a market for half-tracks and therefore introduced the County-Viking Track costing £337, announced in the January 1959 FM, it being a girdle-type track, going around the standard rear tyre and a pneumatic-tyred idler wheels behind each front wheel. The same FM said that a similar

Roadless 4 WD with bull wheel driven binder.

Spares For Roadless Tractor

Roadless 4 WD with bull wheel driven binder.

conversion kit for the Fordson Dexta to that on the Power Major would be available in limited quantities over the next few months. In the April FM, in addition to a Roadless advert for the Manuel-Roadless, Selene sas - Via Torino of III-Nichelino (Torino) Italy, placed an advert for their Manuel 4-Wheel Conversion Kits for the Fordson, Major, Dexta and also for the MF 35 and 65. The advert stated that Roadless were licensees for the UK and most of the British Commonwealth, while Cahir House Garage were sole agents for Fordson in Eire, Robert Eden & Company Ltd for Ferguson in England and Reekie Engineering of Arbroath for Ferguson in Scotland.


County still had the Four Drive as its only wheeled tractor, so they were pushing its Viking Track equipment, its June 1959 FM advert saying it could do tough work and no power-wasting wheel slip, being suitable for the Major and Dexta. In the combined July - September 1959 FM there was a photo of a Power Major-based Doe Triple D, the caption saying it was a lOOhp 4WD unit designed for very heavy clay.

The wheels had retracted strakes fitted and it was shown deep cultivating. Price for the Triple D was 1950 on 11 x 36 and £2010 on 12 x 38 tyres. Considering the fact that you got two tractors (less front wheels and axles) and the power of two tractors for your money, the Doe seemed remarkably good value compared to the County Four Drive that was between £1730 and £1835 depending on tyre fitment.

NIAE Report

In the October 1959 FM, the NIAE conducted British Standard test was published on the Manuel Roadless 4WD Power Major. Tests were carried out on both the 14 x 30 with 9 x 24 and the 11 x 36 with 9 x 24 tyred versions, but only the former was printed, as there was little difference in the results. Maximum sustained pull was 86001b with the limiting factor being engine stall - in other words, for the power available, the tractor had more than enough grip. Maximum drawbar power was 42.2hp in second gear at 2.83mph with 7.1 per cent wheel slip. To get this performance the front and rear wheels had been 95 per cent water ballasted giving a total weight of 96361b with 61731b on the rear wheels.The November 1959 FM had a short item entitled 'Designed as Rival to Tracklayers - The Four-wheel Driven TRIPLE D'. O

Roadless Tractor

The tractor IS moving, following the ruts while the deriver and others are passing up logs.


Doe Triple

Triple D breaking rock-hard arable land in Essex with a seven-tine 9ft-wide mounted cultivator.

It is clear from the way the article is written that, although the first Doe Dual Power to be sold was delivered to Lords Fields Farms in Suffolk in October 1958, the tandem tractor was generally unknown among the wider farming community and so needed an explanation of the concept. The article explained that although the bulk of British farming operations could be done by the standard 30-50hp 2WD tractor, there would always be a demand for more powerful machines having a greater tractive effort to cope with basic cultivations in strong (heavy clay) land, and that so far the large tracklayer had virtually monopolised that market. The article said that there were signs that a new approach to four-wheel drive may reduce that monopoly. Sixteen Triple Ds were at work in British Farms and two had gone to the USSR. I wonder, might one of them still be there, lurking in a barn? There was a photo of a Triple D breaking rock-hard arable land in Essex with a seven-tine 9ft-wide mounted cultivator specially produced for the tractor that cost £225; there was also available a five-furrow mounted plough designed for the Triple D, costing £230 complete. Ernest Doe said that several tractors had ploughed hundreds of acres in Essex in the extremely wet conditions of 1958 with up to IV2 acres per hour being covered in very bad going.

Land Rover

Although this Alec's is about Fordson conversions, mention must be made of the Roadless conversion of a Land Rover that had been fitted with 10 x 28 tractor tyres and was being tested at Alice Holt Forest with "Forestry Commission Experimental Vehicle" wording on its side. What is surprising is that the article referred to Roadless as being the well-known manufacturers of half-tracks - no mention of their four-wheel drive tractor conversions. On the opposite page to the Roadless Land Rover was a report on the Bray Centaur, developed by Steeple Bumpstead, Essex, agricultural contractor John Suckling. Developed from the four-wheel driven industrial shovel made by Bray Construction Equipment of Faggs Road, Feltham, the Centaur was powered by a six-cylinder 96hp Ford engine. The tractor had six forward and six reverse speeds, with a five-furrow plough mounted at each, one with right-hand bodies, the other left hand, the wearing parts being Ransomes TS 59. Overall dimensions of the rig were 42ft long and 7ft wide, with total weight four tons. The intention was that Bray would make the tractor and John Suckling Ltd the ploughs, the price for the complete outfit being £3500. So, with the Doe, the result of farmer George Pryor's wish for more output in difficult conditions, and the Bray, there are two examples of users taking rather desperate measures to satisfy the requirement for high-capacity primary cultivation tractors, which must have been an indication to Roadless and County that here was a demand for bigger tractors, but of a more traditional design, albeit with 4WD. ■

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