Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The magician of farm machinery

Dave Mowitz (right) on video location at AG CONNECT Expo

Dave Mowitz has pulled another rabbit out of the hat. Yesterday, I got to preview his latest masterwork, a special television program on antique farm machinery, or Ageless Iron, as Dave calls the relics of farming's glorious past.

Dave has originated a treasure trove of new ideas for Successful Farming magazine over the years, including Edisons of Agriculture (about farmer inventors), Top Shops (tours of the country's best farm shops), and All-American Farm Team (awards program for farm-raised athletes and academics), and many more.

Ageless Iron is one of the most fun and popular projects he's ever created, and the fun new TV special on that topic reflects Dave's joy in working with the material. He takes viewers on a tour a big antique farm equipment show in Pennsylvania Dutch country, interviews the "professor of paint" on how to make your restoration project shine, takes a ride on a souped-up riding lawn mower, and escorts us into the historic tractor museum at the University of Nebraska. The show debuts on RFD-TV on May 27. (See the Agriculture.com Machinery Show section for more details on the program. And check out the listings for the regular airing of the show on Thursdays, Friday and Sunday every week. )

As a tribute to Dave's wizardry with all things Ageless Iron, I give you a top ten list detailing some of the hallmark machines he's encountered in his distinguished career. And no list about Dave would be complete without some of his own inimitable commentary:

1. First tractor driven: John Deere B

2. Favorite all-time tractor: Wow, there are so many tractors I am partial to. I always appreciated the John Deere 4430 and its Sound-Gard cab,which liberated me from having to suffer in the heat and suck in dust while riding in the old “coffin” cabs of the past. Then, too, I’ve always admired Case IH’s original Magnum series, as well as Caterpillar’s original Challenger line.

I used to drive a Ford 6000 in my teens, which had a Select-O-Speed tranny that actually worked. And when the Select-O-Speed worked it was a wondrous thing (it was the first true power shift transmission in agriculture). I can tell you a favorite tractor I would like to own some day. That would be an Allis-Chalmers G. It is a weird-looking little tractor designed for truck garden and tobacco farming.

3. Tractor with greatest historic significance: Certainly the Ferguson Type A, although the Fordson comes in a very, very close second.

4. Last tractor you restored: Cockshutt 20 Deluxe, although a friend of mine, Jeff Gravert from Central City, Nebraska, is working on painting my Grandfather’s John Deere B. Actually, Jeff has done all the restoration work on that tractor so I can’t really take credit for “restoring” the machine. I did, however, write the checks to get the tractor restored.

5. Favorite tractor you've written about: Well, now that is another tough nut as I’ve had a chance to write about so many great tractors, both old and new. But I’ll take a stab as narrowing it now to one . . .wait a minute, to two favorite tractors--one new, one old.

My favorite new tractor would have to be the Fendt 8000 series with the Vario CVT transmission. This German-built tractor (now owned by AGCO) was a wonder not only for its revolutionary transmission but also its numerous German refinements, including one of the best sound systems I’ve ever heard in a tractor. My favorite old tractor would have to be the Moline Universal. It is an ungainly anachronism, almost ugly in appearance. But the Universal was truly a technological marvel for its time (the late 1910s), introducing numerous engineering advances that would not be put to use until 30 to 40 years after its inception.

6. What equipment you would collect besides tractors: Well, I’ve got some hog oilers, some horse-drawn implements, an odds-and-ends assortment of old wrenches, several cast-iron planter box lids, some kerosene lanterns, some manually-operated corn planters, some...well, I got a lot of “some” old stuff. Oh, I also have an old-fashion wire-styled chicken catcher. I spent a great deal of time plying one of those devices in my youth.

7. Final four of "greatest tractors of all time”: Certainly the Ferguson Type A and the Fordson would top the list of my final four. Of those two, the Ferguson Type A would place number one as it introduced agriculture to hydraulically operated three-point technology and also birthed one of the most popular tractor series of all time which is the N-Series Fords (9N, 2N, 8N and NAA), as well as the hugely popular early Ferguson line of tractors.

The Fordson, on the other hand, was by no means technologically advanced, although it was one of the first production-line tractors to utilized “unit frame” construction. The Fordson gets tabbed as number two, as more of these tractors were built (nearly 850,000) than any other model in the world.

Now as for numbers three and four...hmmmm, that’s a tough one. For three, I would have to go with the IHC Farmall Regular, which earned the distinction for being first all-purpose tractor and father of the hugely popular Farmall line of tractors. And the fourth spot would be the John Deere D, which was the foundation of the Deere hugely popular two-cylinder line. It also earned the distinction of being the tractor model in production the longest (30 years).

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention other top contending tractors like the Allis-Chalmers WC, Best 60, Caterpillar Sixty Diesel, Cletrac W12-20, IHC Farmall H, J.I. Case CC, John Deere 4010, Minneapolis-Moline R, Moline Universal, Oliver 70...oh, and also The Ivel. I recently discovered that this later English-built tractor in 1906 was light years ahead of its time in technological advances.

8. Most interesting new technology: Telematic control of machinery. Similar to OnStar systems in cars but far more advanced in its capabilities, telematic technology will be utilized in farm machinery to not only provide remote monitoring on equipment in the field and wireless transfer of data (such as yield maps) but will also allow farmers to remotely control major functions on tractors, planters, combines, etc. Telematic control is now in widespread use on center pivot sprinklers.

9. Name of a hog oiler you own: Don’t have the exact name for it, but it is the oiler which looks like a watermelon (I believe hog oiler collectors even call it a “watermelon type”) and which also rotates horizontally to dip up oil to coat pigs' sides and underbellies.

10. Favorite color of tractor (yeah, right): I am devoutly non-denominational when it comes to tractor colors. Truly, I appreciate all colors, although I am partial to the brilliant red used by International Harvester in the 1950s and 1960s.

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