What is a “Jeep” doing at an antique tractor show? – The vehicle we know today as a “jeep” was designed to replace the horse and mule power used by the military on and off the battlefield. Horses and mules had also played a major role on the farm, until their replacement by tractors. It was an easy jump for the designers of the Willys version of the military “jeep” to see it replacing mules and horses on the farm. The first civilian jeep, the Willys CJ2a was introduced in the summer of 1945 as a new type of vehicle for the farm. It was a “universal” vehicle that could be a car, a truck and a tractor and its 4-wheel drive system meant it could go anywhere in any kind of weather. It was the perfect vehicle for the small farmer and a new tool for large farm operations.
What is a “Farm Jeep”? – Any post-World War II Willys Jeep equipped to operate like a farm tractor may be called a “Farm Jeep.” It could use standard 3-point farm implements (plow, disc, cultivator, grader blade, etc.) or supply power through a PTO (Power-Take-Off) to drive equipment (mowers, elevators, post-hole diggers etc.) via a shaft or belt pulley. There was an official “Farm Jeep” model in the early 1950s, but any civilian jeep (CJ model) from the first CJ2a model introduced in 1945 to the CJ5 model in the late 1960s could be equipped for farm work.
What equipment is needed for a “Jeep” to function as a tractor? – Standard equipment from the factory was a rear PTO (Power-Take-Off), front “balance” weight (a 265lb cast iron weight fitted to the front bumper) and an engine speed governor, along with a standard drawbar hitch. To make a more useful tractor, a hydraulic implement lift was added. Over the years, there were four “Jeep Approved” lifts available. Approved lifts were factory installed on a new Jeep or could be purchased from the dealer and installed at a later date. Since the lifts did not require welding or other major modifications (they bolted to the frame) they could also be installed by the farmer “in the field.” (There are several articles available on the various lifts located in the Articles and Research section.)
Who would want a “Farm Jeep”? – The success of the military version of the “jeep” presented Willys with a ready-made market. While WWII was underway, plans were being made for the civilian version of this new type of vehicle and research had shown that best uses would be in agricultural and industry. Early ads were aimed at the returning GI who had been farming small acreage with a couple of mules. He might not be able to afford a car, truck and tractor, but he could afford a Jeep that would supply all his needs. He wouldn’t have to purchase new implements either, since his horse or mule drawn implements could simply be hitched to the Jeep’s drawbar.
Later ads showed the Jeep as the “workhorse of the farm” regardless of the acreage. In today’s terms it was shown as a combination compact utility tractor (think small Kubota or other import tractor) and utility vehicle (UTV/RTV/ATV or “side-by-side” such as the John Deere Gator) for hauling people, small loads and equipment around the farm. Unfortunately, this latter market – a farm utility vehicle – didn’t exist and wasn’t well understood by the consumer. (See the Ads and Brochures section.)
Who were the “Farm Jeep’s” competitors? – The “Farm Jeep” with a hydraulic lift used the same implements as the Ford 9/8N tractor and was rated about the same in terms pulling power (Jeep drawbar HP = 19.15 Vs. 8N = 17.65). The use of what is now the standard 3-point hitch system was unique to Jeep, Ford and Ferguson machines until around 1960 when other tractor manufactures adapted this system.
The Universal Jeep’s off and on road capabilities made it unique and there were no other direct competitors. The Jeep could be a family car, a pickup, a mobile power unit (for generators, air compressors, belt or shaft driven equipment) and of course a tractor.
How does the Jeep’s 3-point lift work and why was it so important? – The 3-point hitch revolutionized farming in 1939 with the introduction of the Ford 9n tractor and 3-point implements. The term “3-point hitch” derives from fact that the plow or other implement attaches behind the tractor at three places- two movable lower steel arms and a third top or center fixed point.
The Ford/Ferguson system used hydraulic fluid under high pressure to raise farm implements weighing hundreds of pounds with the movement of a small hydraulic cylinder. The cylinder was connected by linkage bars to the lower movable arms. Extending or retracting the cylinder rod raised or lowered the lower arms and the attached implement.
Formerly farmers had to raise heavy wheeled plows by using their muscle power to move ropes and levers. They often had to dismount the tractor at the end of each row to complete the task. This took time and energy. The hydraulic lift meant the farmer could raise or lower the implement without leaving his seat, allowing him to do more plowing or field work with less time and effort. That led to larger farms and equipment and a more productive farmer.
The Jeep’s lift worked like the Ford/Ferguson system. A small hydraulic pump connected to the engine creates the pressure to move the hydraulic cylinder up or down. A reservoir for the hydraulic fluid and a control valve completes the system. The farmer moved a small lever next to the driver’s seat to raise or lower the plow or other equipment.
The Jeep was the only “tractor” beyond those sold by Ford and Ferguson that could use the new 3-point implements. Other tractor manufactures were prohibited from copying the Ford/Ferguson system for two decades. John Deere, IH, Case and others used their own proprietary systems of lifts and implements, but none could match the performance Ford/Ferguson/Jeep implementation.
How many “Farm Jeeps” were sold? – That answer will never be known. Because the options that transformed the Jeep to a “tractor” could be installed at the factory, a dealership or by an owner, there are no production or sales figures available. Furthermore, equipment such as the hydraulic lift could easily be moved from one Jeep to another. A farmer who purchased a Jeep with a lift in 1948 could move that lift to a new Jeep in 1958 (say on a CJ3b model) and again in 1968 (on a CJ5 model). To date, we have found no records of the number of hydraulic lifts produced.
Efforts are underway to create serial number databases for the hydraulic lifts to gauge the number of units produced. Production numbers for Jeeps are available, but there is no real way to determine how many of these in a given year were sold as “Farm Jeeps.”
Why wasn’t the “Farm Jeep” more successful or why weren’t there more Jeeps sold as tractors? -Jeeps that could be equipped for tractor use were in production for 25 years, from the introduction of the CJ2a in the summer of 1945 and ending with the CJ5 around 1970. The CJ5’s gas tank was moved from under the driver’s seat to between the frame rails behind the rear axle, eliminating the PTO and underbody lift options. By many standards, any product that existed for 20 years would be called a success. However, there were factors that may have prevented the “Farm Jeep” from being more successful.
Farming changed drastically in the two decades following WWII. Farms got bigger – lots bigger – and farmers demanded bigger tractors and specialized equipment. The “Farm Jeep” remained the same and a two-bottom plow tractor simply was too small for the growing acreage. Marketing did change from the Jeep being the only farm vehicle needed (car, truck, tractor all-in-one) to the Jeep being a general-purpose vehicle for hauling, towing and large farm transportation.
Weren’t surplus WWII jeeps available for $50 in a crate and wasn’t that why they didn’t sell more “Farm Jeeps”? – The $50 jeep in the crate was a scam. For $20 you got information on how to buy government surplus equipment, which was free from the government for the asking. Crated jeeps were all sent overseas and there were not great stores of surplus jeeps in the states. Surplus parts were used in some early CJ models, but the civilian model had many changes from the military model.
Testing of the military jeep for farm use began as early as 1942 by the USDA. Willys used those test results and its own testing to make the changes needed to make the Jeep a useful tractor. Willys didn’t want people to buy surplus equipment and showed the shortcomings of the military versions as a farm vehicle in ads.