The Ford 8N Tractor: Restoring a Classic

In the search for a classic working tractor—one that’s suitable for a small farm, dependable, and easy to restore—look no further than the Ford 8N.

| November/December 1990

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    A rebuilt Ford 8N (right), shown at Ardenwood Historic Farm, a working turn-of-the-century farm in Fremont, California.
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    Dwight Emstrom (center), of Galesburg, Illinois, with family, friends and Ford tractors.
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    Dwight Emstrom's tractor collection includes this Ford-Ferguson 9N—an 8N predecessor.
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    More than half the 8Ns built, including this one, still work for a living.
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    Bruce Wyman uses an 8N on his three-acre spread in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

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Watching a neighbor cut alfalfa several months ago, I got to wondering if there might be such a thing as a classic working tractor. My neighbor was driving an enormous John Deere. What l had in mind would be fairly small, and suitable for the needs of what we around here call a "two-acre farmer" someone with just enough land to need a tractor with some real muscle. It would have to be inexpensive, and preferably vintage—the kind of machine an owner could restore over the winter, much as a car buff might spend weekends polishing every nut and bolt of a '57 Chevy.

In my search for a classic tractor, one model, no longer manufactured, popped up in every conversation with friends, neighbors and farm machinery dealers: the Ford 8N tractor.

I can see two of them from my house. One tractor restorer I spoke with said in some parts of the country "you can see 8Ns sitting on top of every hill." That may just be a big hunk of country hyperbole. But I do know for certain that you can find 8Ns all over this New Mexico valley, some of them looking almost new in fresh coats of Ford red and Ford gray. A rancher I know has three tractors. The one he depends on is the 8N: He knows how to fix it.

The Ford 8N tractor was introduced in 1947, and 442,035 were built between then and 1952. The majority of them are still running. The 8N was the last of a series of tractors—the N-series—built by Ford starting in 1939, the first two being the 9N, made through 1942, and its successor the 2N, built through 1947. These first tractors were made in partnership with the Ferguson company, hence, they are generally referred to as Ford Fergusons.

The two companies suffered an acrimonious parting of the ways in the late 1940s, at which time Ford decided to turn out a tractor that could be kept running with "six socket wrenches, a pair of pliers and a screwdriver." Ford knew the market and catered to it. This was a time when folks expected to take care of their vehicles without expensive help from the dealership. Ford had already been making automobiles for those people for decades.

The 8N is, in fact, a "modern" tractor in that it was one of the first to use the three-point hitch—now standard on any tractor. It will accept all modern implements, and many are still going to work every day for farmers. A couple of old hands told me that, in their opinion, the 8N may well be the best tractor ever made.

10/1/2018 3:21:40 PM

This article was written nearly 30 years ago and it's as true now as it was then (except the price of the FO-4 manual is now about $30, I know I just bought one to go with the tractor I bought 2 years ago).

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