The story of the Farm Jeep stretches across two decades, beginning with the introduction of the CJ2a in 1945 and ending, at least unofficially, when the CJ5 gas tank was moved from under the driver’s seat to between the rear frame rails around 1970. As defined for this series, a “Farm Jeep” was any post- WWII Jeep equipped with parts needed to perform the functions of a tractor. The first four articles have focused on the “Jeep Approved” hydraulic lifts; the Love/Newgren Lift and Monroe lift. This last installment will cover the years following the introduction of the Monroe lift, and the fourth “Jeep Approved” lift produced by the Stratton Equipment Company.
The “Official” Farm Jeep
While the major engineering surrounding the “approved” lifts took place in the years between 1945 and 1948 little else changed in the technology that made the Jeep a tractor. Early ads showed the Jeep as a true farm tool, with equal emphasis on towing, hauling, stationary power and tractor work. The introduction in 1951 of the “Farm Jeep” and the “Jeep Tractor” models marked a change at Willys.1 Willys formed a special department to address slumping sales and the result was an ad campaign to make it clear that the Jeep was a serious farm tractor. How the “Jeep Tractor” was ever a good idea is hard to understand. From the very beginning, what made the Jeep special, and different from every other tractor, was its ability to move quickly from field to town all year long in any kind of weather. The “Jeep Tractor” was just that, a nothing special tractor.
The “Jeep Tractor” was a very stripped down CJ3a, so there wouldn’t have been any production investments required. Yet someone felt having a “Jeep Tractor” was an important marketing tool, even though it was the antithesis of the “Universal” vehicle. Perhaps it was a case of the public just not “getting” the idea of a Jeep as a tractor.
The author has displayed his 1949 CJ3a with a Newgren Lift at numerous antique tractor shows. It wasn’t until he mounted a plow on the back that visitors could “get” the concept of the Jeep as a farm tractor. The very low production numbers in may well be a clue to Willys’ intent.2 They wanted the Jeep to be known as a “real” tractor but didn’t plan on a large sales volume of the model. They did plan on and required the “Farm Jeep” to be a major player in agricultural marketplace. The marketplace faced by Willys in 1951 was changing rapidly.
A common question heard is “Why weren’t more Farm Jeeps sold?” Part of the answer may be found in the timing of Farm Jeep’s introduction and in a brief review of agricultural history. The first “agricultural revolution” occurred in the 19th century with the invention of a number of horse-drawn implements. The second revolution occurred in mid-twentieth century with the replacement of draft animals with tractors. 3 The Farm Jeep (here we return to broader definition) was a part of the trend that saw the number of tractors exceed the number of horses and mules used for farming in 1945.4
According to an article by the Economic History Association, tractor production reached 564,000 units in 1951.5 While the Ford 9N/8N, as discussed in prior articles, was the primary competition, a farmer in 1951 could choose among dozens of tractors. The big tractor producers (Deere, Ford, Massey-Ferguson, Case, Allis Chalmers, Oliver and Minneapolis Moline) held 98.8% of market share in the period of 1950-55.6 Willys would need to fight for even that 0.2% share against several other small, specialty tractor producers.
The tractor and associated technologies radically changed farming in the 20th century. In 1900 40% of the US workforce was involved in agriculture.7 By 2000/2002, that number had fallen to just 1.9%. Willys’ first target was the farmer with 40 acres and a couple of mules, still a significant market in 1945. But with the improvements in tractors and equipment, the average farm acreage grew, and the number of farms declined. In 1940, the average farm was 175 acres, by 1950 had increased to 216 acres and by 1960 was 303 acres.8 Farmers wanted and purchased larger tractors and specialized harvesting equipment to allow them to keep up with the growing farm. The Farm Jeep remained focused on the dwindling family farm. It was the same 2-bottom plow tractor in 1956 and indeed in 1965 as it was in 1946. The tractor marketplace was not the same.
The Second Decade
One measure of the importance to Willys of the agricultural market can be found in the number of farm-related items listed in the Jeep Optional Equipment catalogs provided to dealers. These books, which appear to have been printed yearly, contain add-on equipment that had been “tested and approved” by Jeep engineers. Individual books are rare, but reproduction copies covering multiple years are readily available. They make for fun browsing but can also provide some insight to the changes occurring in the tractor and related products industries.
The reproduction book covering 1946-49 contains over 60 products including about every farm implement available at the time and, of course, the Monroe lift. The book is divided into agricultural implements and industrial equipment. The 1957-59 books contain only a dozen or so farm implements in addition to the Monroe lift. The farm equipment producers had changed with the market and were now selling equipment for larger tractors and the large variety of implements for a 2-bottom plow tractor seen in 1946-49 were no longer available.
Up until 1954, ads for the Universal Jeeps had shown them as the only vehicle needed for the farm. The Jeep could handle all the jobs: transportation, hauling, stationary power and field work. At the beginning of the second decade of the Farm Jeep, ads began to change, reflecting the new realities of farming.