While walking through Kittochside Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride, I took a wander through the many impressive vintage tractors on the ground floor, but there is one that really caught my eye with its distinctive three wheel set-up.
It looked in pristine condition, even though it was from circa 1919. Also, it was called the 'Glasgow' tractor, which was a name that I had never heard before.
I did a little digging to find out more. I'm nosey that way.
A quick google search did turn up some results. A few of the tractors still survive around the world, but not many I find. And joy of joys, the museum has a booklet compiled by a Mr David Brown in 1978, explaining all you need to know about this particular tractor, and where most of the following information is gleaned from, if I’m honest.
It turns out The Glasgow Tractor was the only tractor designed and built in Scotland. It was built by Wallace Farm Implements Ltd of Glasgow, later by a subsidiary, Wallace (Glasgow) Ltd. It wasn't however, the first three wheeled tractor every built, the American Moline and others had preceded it, but there was a number of unique properties which were to justify the high praise it received when it was first launched.
Looking back to 1919 when it was launched it was part of a major movement toward farm mechanisation, and it was designed with the Scottish terrain in mind. At this time the first world war had created labour shortages, and farmers were looking for ways to reduce their labour force, and consequently, their outgoings.
It was designed by W Guthrie after two years of experimentation by Wallace Farm Implements and the DL Motor Manufacturing Co of Motherwell. Both companies were trying to improve on the mass-produced American tractors which were on the British market but were not selling. The problem was, the American tractors were designed for vast, open, flat areas, and they weren't designed to plough in wet or muddy conditions.
Guthrie's design aimed to master working over the worst of ground. This was due to the unique combination of three features, its weight distribution, the new gear system and its three driven wheels. Surprisingly, two at the front, and a single one at the rear.
A three wheeled tractor obtains better stability because it is less likely for any one wheel to lift than it is on a four-wheeled tractor. The Glasgow had three driven wheels, giving excellent traction and it had detachable spuds to give better grip. This meant that for the Glasgow to slip, all three wheels had to slip simultaneously. The even weight distribution guarded against bogging and a low centre of gravity prevented overturning. Both wheels turned uniformly and if one were to jam, say on a large stone, then the other wheel's power would remain constant and, in effect, pull the jammed wheel out of, or over, the obstacle.
The unique design gave some impressive performance figures. The Glasgow's grip was a source of much praise from its users. It could plough where horse teams would be defeated: "I am using it just now on a very steep field, with a rise, I would say of about 1 in 5 or 6 and it takes a three furrow Oliver plough up with the greatest of ease." (Letter from James B Hair, Bankhead, Perth, 27.4.1920).
Turning was effected by a pawl and ratchet system that slowed down one wheel, leaving the other unhindered. The imbalance in driving force would cause the vehicle to turn, much as if the slower wheel were stuck, acting as a pivot.
The driver's position, perched at the very back of the tractor, gave an all round view, and also put him in easy reach of the controls, including the lifting bar for ploughs which was foot-operated as compared to earlier tractors with different hand-operated gears.
When ploughing, the front wheel could be put into the furrow and the vehicle would be self steering. There was also a lever within easy reach of the driver for altering plough draft. At the Lincoln trials in 1919, Guthrie personally drove a Glasgow up the slope of 1 in 1.7. It ploughed at the rate of one acre per hour using four 12 in by 10 in ploughs, which normally required four horses.
The late Jimmy Kerr, who worked at North Hillington Farm, in Hillington, just outside Glasgow, had personal experience of using the Glasgow tractor. His family remember the anecdotes he told. They had a few of these tractors on site as Jimmy Gardner, the owner of the farm, had invested in the production of The Glasgow Tractor when it was launched and therefore, believed in its ability.
However, the reality seemed to be that the design of the engine parts, though forward thinking, at the time, didn’t allow for the wear and tear needed and as the metal was of a softer construction than we could produce nowadays. Therefore, the engine didn’t perform long term as was hoped. Back in the 1920s, the steel components didn’t have the resilience needed for moving parts and wear was a problem, which meant replacing parts and having to rebuilding the engine was an ongoing problem for owners.
The other overwhelming memory is of the noise level. Back then all tractors were noisy compared to today’s ear soothing engines. But the Glasgow was in a league of its own. Apparently if you wanted to attract the drivers attention and they weren’t in sight of you, the only way was to pick something up and throw it at them, as there was no way they would hear your voice over the sound of the engine.
Sales in Great Britain were disappointing, although a number of tractors were shipped to the British colonies, where a few still survive today. Its cost was against it, in 1922 The Glasgow was on sale at £375, whereas the Fordson was less than one third of the cost at £120.
The Commercial Motor of May 1919 wrote a premature epitaph for the Glasgow in describing it as "Built not to sell but to work under the worst conditions.” It also wrote that the Glasgow had all the honesty of construction and workmanship that makes British-built machinery command the highest price and the most ready sale the world over.” Patriotic yes, but not good economics. This marque of tractor finally succumbed to the Fordson's price advantage and mass production and economic depression in the mid 1920s, going out of production in 1924, just five years after its launch.
Three wheeled configuration. The engine block was mounted just to the rear of the front axle and just forward of the transmission. The fuel tank was above the engine, and the driver sat in an iron basket seat, which overhung the rear of the tractor by about one foot.
Weight: 4032 lbs loaded and 3600lbs unloaded.
Engine: A US built 4 cylinder Waukesha 27hp unit with a 41/2 in bore by a 51/4 in stroke.
Clutch: Cone type, Ferodo lined, engine controlled by a Piecle Governor.
Gears: Power reached the wheels directly from the engine via nickel steel reduction gears. Three gears, two forward, and one reverse.
Features: Engine had a driver operated device for keeping engine in a vertical position, relative to the front axle
Fuel consumption: 1 3/4 to 2 gallons per acre while ploughing