Automobile’s Impact on the Farm

1922 Ford Model T Coupe

It would be difficult to overstate the impact the automobile had on the American farm.  Farmers accustomed to leading a relatively isolated existence were suddenly able to have regular contact with the outside world.  Instead of relying on horses to haul their products to market, they were able to use cars and trucks to quickly transport their butter, milk, eggs, grain, chickens and other livestock. The automobile changed production methods as well, used for everything from delivering inputs like fertilizer, fuel and feed to harvesting in the field. 

In one El Paso Herald story, “Automobile Crowding the Horse Out of Existence” by Frederick J. Haskin, the author described how the automobile had already conquered the city and was “carrying its active warfare to the very citadel of the stronghold of the horse, the farm.”  The author spoke with 15 farmers gathered at a local hotel. The year was 1909 and, although this was very early in the automobile’s existence, 12 of the farmers already owned automobiles and were hitching light machinery to them to mow and plow and even using them to herd livestock.

Using an automobile for farm work was made easier by inventions such as the Knickerbocker Forma-Tractor, an attachment for converting a Ford Model T into a tractor.  According to a 1918 ad, the Knickerbocker Forma-Tractor would pull two 12-inch bottoms in all soils, would plow four to six acres a day while being operated by “either a boy or a girl,” would disc 12 acres per day in heavy soil and would do the work of three or four horses.

Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska, has one on display:

1919 Model T with Knickerbocker Forma-Tractor attachment.

According to a 1935 story in the Muncie Sunday Star titled, “Auto Leads Way in Movement of Modernizing American Farms,” 60 percent of farm families owned at least one automobile by this year, while only 35 percent had electricity and a measly 12 percent had running water.  Seen as a necessity rather than a luxury as many railroad spur lines to rural areas were being abandoned, more than 1 million trucks were owned by farmers. The author added this observation:

“It seems more than passing strange that legislators on the one hand will try to aid the farmer through various relief schemes and at the same time favor the placing of higher and higher taxes upon the motor vehicle transportation that the farmer uses.” 

It didn’t get any better from there.

1931 Ford Pickup