British Beefcake

1968 County 1124

The British County tractor isn’t one you see often here in the States, but you may wonder why not after seeing one. The story begins after World War I at Fleet, Hampshire, England. Ernest and Percy Tapp were two former British Army officers and WWI veterans. They set up a transfer company to haul meat to a meat processing business owned by Ernest’s father in law. Finding the available trucks too light for the loads they carried, and the trucks that could carry heavier loads too large for country roads, they converted some of their Ford trucks to a tandem axle design, giving them a 2-ton capacity.

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This 1968 County 1124 belongs to the Fredritz family of Northwest Ohio. It’s shown in memory of Roger Fredritz, who had recently passed when it was shot at the Northwest Ohio Antique Machinery Show in 2017. This tractor was imported in ’68 by Krystowski Tractor Sales of Wellington, Ohio, one of six 1124s they brought in via a special Ford program. It was sold to a Wellington area dairy farmer, who traded it in during the mid-1990s. Roger bought the tractor used in 1998.

Those conversions got enough attention to garner requests from other operators and pretty soon they had a business going. In 1929, they went big time, calling themselves County Commercial Cars, and developed kits that were offered by Ford in England to uprate their trucks. When the Second World War hit, they converted more than 14,000 trucks to tandem drive.

After the war, they settled towards agriculture. In 1948 County began building agricultural crawlers by combining Fordson Major tractors with IH TD-6 track assemblies. In 1954, they did a four-wheel-drive conversion of a Fordson, calling it the County Four-Drive. That tractor got them a lot of attention and the company began developing what would become the County Super 4 from a Fordson Super Major. A plethora of tractors followed, all built upon Fordson or Ford tractors.

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The working end of the tractor is largely the same as the Ford 5000 would’ve been: 3-point hitch, live PTO, and hydraulics. There weren’t Nebraska-rated drawbar power or pull numbers taken for these tractors, but it’s likely that they’d be impressive. Forry Fredritz reports this tractor has no trouble with a 5-bottom plow in tough NW Ohio ground.

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The operator’s station was more or less just like a 5000 as well. And that wasn’t bad!

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The Ford 2700 Series “Dorset” engines were among the best the company ever fielded in tractors. They also proved to be great medium truck and marine engines. They were nearly square, with the bore only 0.40-inch smaller than the stroke. The engine was indirect injected and had seven main bearings on a forged steel crankshaft. The tractors were fueled by a Simms inline pump, but the automotive usually had a rotary CAV. A four-cylinder 242 cubic inch version of this engine was also offered. As time went by, the Dorset engine evolved to 380 cubic inches (the 2710 Series) via a bore increase to 4.22 inches. Industrial and marine engines were commonly rated at around 150 hp, but a “Turbo Plus” engine is shown at 250 hp and 540 lb-ft. The Dorset evolved into the Dover (2720 Series) in 1982. They were largely the same engine, but with many small updates and upgrades. The Dover engines were produced into the early 1990s.

In the case of the wheeled units, County added new drive housings to the rear that included a PTO on both sides pointing forward. This was done differently depending on the era, but on each side a driveshaft led forward to an angle drive with a steering knuckle. The angle drives (our terminology, not County’s) were attached to a new front axle that mounted onto the original axle pivot. Though this arrangement sounds strange, it was nothing new. In the early 1900s several four-wheel-drive trucks used this idea, and over the years it appeared in a variety of vehicles, including armored cars built into the 1950s. The short-lived Dana V-Drive of the 1970s and ’80s used a similar principle. The nearby images will help you understand it better.

As the Ford tractor line evolved, so did County. The newest County models were based on Ford’s latest models. County bought the tractors partly built, did their magic, and then sold them bearing a County, not Ford, emblem—but still painted in Ford blue. In some cases the conversion required new sheet metal but most of the Ford tin was retained.

In 1967, County debuted the 1124, which was based on the Ford 5000. The conversion was a little more extensive because a 6-cylinder engine replaced the four. This involved building a special subframe, because on the Ford setup the engine is part of the chassis. The Ford “Dorset” six wasn’t built this way, so it required some extra pieces to support the front axle.

The engine used was one of Ford’s best 6-cylinder diesels of the period, the 2704E. It was 363 cubic inches and conservatively rated at 112 gross flywheel horsepower at a modest 2,250 rpm. The Dorset engine family saw use in every venue from tractors to trucks to power units and to marine (commonly as the Ford Lehman). Used extensively in trucks all over the world, the early 363 commonly cranked out 128 gross flywheel horsepower at 2,800 rpm (116 net) and 266 lb-ft at 1,400 rpm. A turbo version was also available in some applications in the mid and late ’60s that cranked out 140 gross horsepower.

The Country tractors delivered a lot of drawbar power for their weight, using equal size tires front and rear. Because they weren’t marketed extensively in the United States, they never had a Nebraska test. A few were imported but the sales numbers are unknown, as are the number of survivors. In England, County tractors are fiercely collected and highly prized. County continued to 1990, but then folded. The ’80s recession hit the company hard and it was bought out in ’83, but the new owners couldn’t maintain a market presence. With the advent of factory-produced four-wheel-drive tractors, there just wasn’t the bandwidth in the market for a small conversion company.

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The powertrain is what really sets the County apart. Power for the front wheels is taken individually for each side at the back and separate driveshafts feed into gear housings that pivot inside the C-Section of a heavy duty axle made from a sheet of plate steel.

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Power is taken from the rear final drive, shown here. We aren’t exactly clear on how that power was directed, but according to driver reports it has the turning radius of the Titanic and really scrubs in hard turns on pavement, so there appears to be no front-to-rear differentiation. This would be a major downside in many venues, but if you needed an economical tractor capable of putting power to the drawbar, the County was it.

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When you see the general look and the color, you expect to see a Ford emblem. Ford and County had a close relationship and County tractors were sometimes sold at Ford tractor dealers in a handshake agreement reminiscent of the one Henry Ford made with Marmon-Herrington in the 1930s. County made a product Ford didn’t offer but used a lot of Ford hardware to do it. Plus, the County four-wheel-drive tractor complemented the lineup at a Ford dealer and could add to the bottom line, so it was a win-win at all levels. Ford eventually started building its own four-wheel-drive of FWA or large four-wheel-drive tractors.

Specifications

1968 County 1124
Engine: 6-cylinder, IDI Ford 2704E
Displacement: 363 ci
Bore & Stroke: 4.125×4.52 inches
Flywheel Power: 113 hp @ 2,250 rpm (gross, 96 net)
Flywheel Torque: 276 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm (gross)
Compression Ratio: 16.5:1
Transmission: 8-speed (4×2)
Tires: Front—12×38
Rear—12×38
Weight: 8,900 lbs
Fuel Capacity: 20 gal.
Top Speed: 19.82 mph

SOURCES:

Northwest Ohio Antique Machinery Association
nwoama.com/nwoama1/