'Maggie' the Ferguson Tractor

The Little Grey Fergie and it's influence on revolutionising farming practices

Howard Watts
By Howard Watts

The Ferguson TE20 is an agricultural tractor designed by Harry Ferguson. By far his most successful design, it was manufactured from 1946 until 1956, and was commonly known as the Little Grey Fergie. It marked a major advance in tractor design, distinguished by light weight, small size, manoeuvrability and versatility. The tractor played a large part in introducing widespread mechanised agriculture. In many parts of the world the TE20 was the first tractor to be affordable to the average farmer and was small and light enough to replace the draft horse and manual labour.

The model name came from Tractor, England 20 horsepower (not the true power delivered but from a formula based on engine size).

The TE range of Ferguson tractors was introduced in England in 1946, following 30 years of continuous development of the ‘Ferguson System’ from 1916.

In order to get volume production with lower costs, following a demonstration of his tractor before Henry Ford Senior in October 1938, Ferguson made a gentlemen’s agreement with Ford to produce the Ferguson tractor in Detroit starting in mid-1939. About 300,000 of these tractors, known as ‘Ford Fergusons’, were produced up to 30 June 1947.

During the war years the Ferguson design team developed many improvements to both tractor and implements and started to make arrangements to manufacture in the United Kingdom. The agreement with Ford in 1938 was to include production at the Ford plant at Dagenham, Essex, but the UK Ford company would not do it.


By 1945 Ferguson had made a manufacturing agreement with the Standard Motor Company of Coventry to produce a Ferguson tractor incorporating all their latest improvements and to be known as the TE20.

As well as allowing Ferguson to get his tractor into full production, the deal was of great benefit to Standard as the tractor would be built in its huge shadow factory which had been an aero engine plant during World War II but was now standing empty. Standard developed a new wet-liner engine for the tractor, which would in turn be used in Standard’s road cars, such as the Vanguard.

Production started in the late summer of 1946, nearly a year before the last Ford Ferguson came off the line in Detroit in June 1947. 

Maggie
Maggie

Ferguson became well-known for its effective and distinctive advertising, intended to demonstrate the abilities of the TE-20 tractor to farmers who previously had used only draft horses and had little experience with mechanised equipment.

Public demonstrations of Ferguson tractors and implements were held throughout rural Britain towards the end of the harvest season.

The TE and TO (Overseas) 20 tractors were so revolutionary that Ferguson set up a training school in the grounds of Stoneleigh Abbey, close to his Banner Lane factory. Here Ferguson dealers, salesmen and engineers were trained on the new machines they would be working on, and courses were also run for farmers to learn how operate the tractors and the various implements most effectively.

Coventry production up to 1956 was 517,651 units, with about 66% being exported, mainly to Continental Europe and the British Empire but to many other countries as well. To the above figure must be added TO production at Ferguson Park, Detroit. Including all ‘Ferguson System’ tractors from May 1936 to July 1956 brings the figure to approximately 1 million.

A fleet of seven Ferguson TE-20s was used on the 1955–58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition which was led by Edmund Hillary. Four petrol-engined and three diesel models were used. Some were supplied as half tracks, with steerable front skis, whilst others of the New Zealand team were fitted with an extra wheel on each side and full caterpillar tracks, developed by the expedition in the Antarctic.

One diesel TEF20 example, TEF320709 known as Betsy, earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records in May 2003 when Terry Williams drove it 3,176 miles (5,111 km) around the coastline of Britain, gaining the record for the longest journey undertaken by tractor. Betsy was donated to the Friends of Ferguson Heritage group in 2004, and can be seen on display at the Yorkshire Museum of farming in York

Acquired from a local elderly lady, ‘Maggie’ had lain forlorn and unused in her barn for some time, having been family owned for many years. Now treated to an engine re-build, a number of replacement parts and new tyres, it is fully road (and field) worthy and used by myself for local trips to deliver invoices & parts and collect the milk, etc., much to the amusement of both our customers and the local villagers.

Recent trips to ‘Drive-it-day’ at Kersey Mill and local hostelries for my evening meal serve as a bit of relaxation & recreation, all at a maximum speed of 15mph (with a following wind of course).

For a nostalgic chat about tractors please do not hesitate to come down to the garage!