At The Karen Blixen Museum Lies A Piece of Ancient Groundbreaking Technology

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A 1922 Fordson Model F tractor that was in use at the Karen Blixen Museum. Photo courtesy of Henry Muuthia

A 1922 Fordson Model F tractor that was in use at the Karen Blixen Museum. Photo courtesy of Henry Muuthia

When I first saw the old, blue 1922 Fordson model F tractor at the Karen Blixen Museum, I was awe-struck by the very thought that such a legendary piece of technology had somehow found its way in to Kenya at a time it was making its début in 1916 in American and later, in 1917, in European farms as the first lightweight mass-produced tractor in the world.

The Fordson, priced at about US$ 750.00, allowed average farmers to own a tractor for the first time. Before this model, tractors were a preserve of the filthy rich – in fact it is said there were only 600 tractors in the whole of the USA by 1908.

The Fordson, as you may have guessed, was another history-making product by the brilliant businessman, inventor and engineer, Henry Ford. Henry had just given the world Ford Model T in 1908, the first affordable auto mobile in the world that opened up travel possibilities for the masses worldwide.

The Fordson brand name was used on a range of mass-produced general-purpose tractors manufactured by his company, Henry Ford & Son, Inc.. from 1917 until 1920 when it was merged into the Ford Motor Company, which used the name until 1964.

The Fordson Model F made up of 4,000 different parts used a 20 horsepower (15kW), four-cylinder vaporising oil engine, a three-speed spur gear transmission that did forward speeds ranging about 2¼ to 6¼ mph. The Fordson did not have any breaks. To stop the tractor, the driver had to depress the clutch.

The Fordson succeeded in being cheaper to maintain than horses, as the Ford Model T had previously done. A government test concluded that farmers spent $.95 per acre ploughing with a Fordson compared to feeding eight horses for a year and paying two drivers, which cost $1.46 per acre.

But as much as the Fordson Model F was revolutionary, it was equally without its share of flaws. Key among them was the lack of weight, which allowed wheel slippage in some conditions, and the habit of rearing over backwards if the plough encountered an obstruction.

Despite numerous design and assembly improvements, Fordson tractors remained very high maintenance machines with costs in some cases reported to be well over US$ 1,301 in 1921. Some farmers even claimed the Fordson was a dangerous piece of technology that needed to be banned especially because of its tendency to flip over backwards if sudden resistance on the draw-bar created excessive torque in the transmission.

Whatever the verdict on the safety and reliability of the Fordson F, the fact remained that, in a stroke of genius, Henry once more offered the world an amazing technology that was affordable by average people to shape the industrialization – the fun part of this story was that seating at the Karen Blixen Museum was a piece of this great legacy for all Kenyans to see. Should that not be reason enough to visit the museum. Let me hear your view by commenting below.

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About Henry Muuthia

Henry Muuthia is a travel writer and photographer. He writes for a range of online platforms including Technorati, Google+, EzineArticles and ArticleBase where he has published several articles, mostly on Kenyan travel. He is a resident writer for Enchanted Landscapes Travelogue and also occasionally writes for the travel section of Nakumatt''s SmartLife Magazine.
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