The farms of Ireland didn’t see many of these endearing little creatures – the Farmall Cub – yet, back in the 1960s, my father was a proud owner. As a child, the Farmall Cub was the only tractor I knew; a bantam weight which carried a formidable punch and, ironically, it originated in Louisville, Kentucky – the home city of Muhammad Ali.
The Farmall Cub, or simply “Cub”, as it is widely known, was the smallest tractor manufactured by International Harvester (IH) from 1947 to 1981. IH also built Cubs for Europe at a factory in St Dizier in France, starting in 1955.
The market for this particular tractor was the small-acreage farmer of the southern US. After WWII, many of these small holders were still using horses and mules.
The smaller size (and price) made all the difference
IH spied this gap in the market, and the first Cubs rolled off the assembly lines in the late 1940s. The smaller size (and price) made all the difference, and IH soon captured the “Single Mule” farmer; then widespread in America’s deep south.
Our Cub arrived on our small farm in 1958. It came from the dealer complete with a plough and a finger bar mower, all piled high on an accompanying trailer. It saw off Edward – the last pony to plough a furrow on our land. This tractor was the only motorised vehicle my father ever drove. He religiously took on the instructions from the dealer: “Never start it in gear, never let it run out of oil or water and never, ever let it run out of petrol.”
Yes, it ran on petrol. The chirpy little engine sounded so important as its hand-operated throttle was eased up; the cogs that kept the engine at a steady rev.
In 1947, the Cub sold for around $550
The tractor was offset to the left, while the driver’s seat and steering wheel were to the right. This concept was called “CultiVision” and referred to the ability of the driver to have a perfect view of the mid-mount mower. In 1947, the Cub sold for around $550. Early versions of the Cub produced a meagre 8hp, but over the years, Cub engines steadily increased to 15hp.
Everyone in our family – all seven of us – had our first driving experience on board this Cub tractor. For many years, it seldom left the confines of the farm; plying its trade from one field to another, from one season to another, depending on the job at hand. The fully loaded trailer carried three cocks of hay. It was intense work; driving to the meadow to load the trailer with hay, only then to drive back to the farmyard and again fork the whole load into the shed.
It was a harder job, still, to man-handle six factory-ready pigs on to that same trailer – which didn’t have a loading door! The demented swine, who were about to be ferried to certain death, resisted every inch of the 40” lift it took to get them on to that trailer. If the trailer was designed by IH, it wasn’t one of their most creative attachments.
IH ended production of the Cub in 1981
At that time, not every local farmer had a tractor and, in the same way the one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind, we were very proud of our Farmall Cub. Eventually, however, other tractors began to appear and, beside the Cub, they looked huge. The front wheels of some newcomers were almost as big as the rear wheel of our little offering. Inevitably, change came and the Cub was replaced by a monster; the Ferguson 35.
IH ended production of the Cub in 1981. Over 245,000 had been manufactured, arguably making the Cub the most popular small tractor in history. Due to their versatility, many Cub tractors remain in use in the US, on small farms, and are also popular for mowing large lawns or golf courses. In 2012, a fully restored 1948 Farmall Cub sold for $11,000 at a Sotheby’s auction – the wee Cub proving, yet again, it was worth its weight in gold.