Last of the Old Timers

International W-450

Out with the old and in with the new. You’ve heard that expression a million times. In the late 1950s, International Harvester was bringing in the new at a very rapid pace. The new direct-start four- and six-cylinder diesel and gas engines sucked up all the oxygen, but a few of the previous generation soldiered on, including the W-450.

The standard-tread Internationals of the ’50s had a burly look to them, and the larger rubber really accents it. This ’58 belongs to Hugh Forbes and was seen at the 2016 Red Power Roundup in Wisconsin. Regrettably, we couldn’t make contact with Hugh but the tractor was parked in such a clear spot we couldn’t not shoot it. Judging by the serial number it was produced in the middle of the 1958 W-450 production. Note that the “W” on the hood cowl is missing on this tractor, and apparently it’s a hard part to find. Hugh’s tractor has both a drum PTO and a rear PTO.

The W-450 was the standard tread variation of the 450 line that included the rowcrop, adjustable tread Farmall 450 and the 450 Industrial. All had debuted in 1956 as an update to the 400 series. In large part the 400 and 450 were the same, but the 450 series got an engine update that included a 1/8-inch bore increase that pushed the displacement from 263 to 281 cubic inches. That didn’t result in a huge gain in Nebraska test numbers, but the jump from 48.37 to 50.77 horsepower on the belt was welcome, as was the gain from 44.72 to 46.18 horsepower on the drawbar. The W-450 wasn’t tested at Nebraska, so the numbers you will read here are for the Farmall 450. The PTO output would be the same but the W-450 might have delivered a bit more on the drawbar.

Besides being standard-tread tractors, W-Series 450s differed from the Farmalls in being platform tractors, where the operator mounted at the rear and was ensconced between two large full fenders. The W-Series also did not have three-point lifts, only a large swinging drawbar. Typically, they were heavier than a rowcrop tractor and had larger tires. They were most often used on the expansive wheat fields of the West and upper Midwest. They were also found on farms that needed a powerful utility tractor. The IH industrial tractors were similar fixed-tread units.

The working end is typical of a standard tractor, with a platform arrangement. It’s been debated as to whether the “W” stood for Wheatland, and while we don’t know the answer to that, the description certainly fits in this case. It has all the normal accoutrements, including the full fenders and chaff guards at the front of the platform.

The W-450 coexisted with and was eventually replaced by the International 560, which was the new International six-cylinder kid on the block. Like the others in the 60 series, the 560s were plagued by final drive issues that cost IH its long-held top sales place in the tractor world. This was due to putting a much more powerful engine in front of a very old final drive. Truth be told, the W-450 also suffered from some of these issues due to it having the most powerful older generation engine put in front of that final drive. As the 560 era issues were solved by upgrades, many of those trickled down to the older tractors like the W-450 that used nearly the same final drive.

The W-450 had a relatively short run, really only two model years. Production started in November of 1956 and ended in April of 1958. Just 1,809 were built in gas, diesel and LPG configurations, with 1,108 of those being diesels. All the “last of the era” 450 series tractors have become very collectible as the final evolution of a line of IH tractors that debuted in 1939.

Lots going on here but it’s a relatively comfortable place to work… in context of the era. Power steering was standard.


The IH gas-start diesels in tractors were about to fade out in 1958 after 26 years, 17 years with this engine family. Technology had passed them by, but in the era they debuted diesels were a hard sell due to cold weather starting and weak electrical systems. The gas-start diesels offered farmers a viable, practical diesel alternative. The D281 four was the largest in this family and made about 60 horsepower at the flywheel when spun up to its maximum 1,800 rpm. In tractors, rpm was limited to 1,450, which would be around 55 horsepower. Flywheel torque was listed at 194 lb-ft at 1,150 rpm. The engine had three main bearings and was wet sleeved. At this time, IH built its own diesel injection pumps. This engine started on gasoline and had a separate combustion chamber and spark ignition system that was uncovered by a third valve, called the starting valve. With the starting valve open, the compression ratio dropped to about 6:1 and the engine was warmed up on gas. Closing the starting valve reduced combustion chamber size, bringing the CR up over 17:1, engaging the diesel injection pump and voila, diesel!
Cool badge for a very cool update. The Torque Amplifier, commonly known as a “TA,” allowed clutchless shifting to split gears. It used a planetary gear that split the normal ratios in half. Ground getting a little tough and engine beginning to lug? Pull the TA lever and run a little slower until the tough ground is behind you. Though International updated this technology several times in the ensuing years, the concept remained the same and the TA added to International’s popularity.
[divider] Specifications [/divider]

1958 International W-450

Engine: 4-cylinder gas start diesel, IH D281
Displacement: 281 ci
Bore & Stroke: 4.13 x 5.25 in.
*Rated PTO Power: 50.77 hp @ 1,450 rpm
*Rated Drawbar Power: 46.18 hp @ 1,449 rpm
Compression Ratio: 17.45:1
Transmission: 10-speed (5×2)
Tires: Front—6.50-18
*Fuel Consumption: 3.6 gph @ full power
*Drawbar Pull: 6,634 lbs. @ 1,457 rpm
Weight: 6,699 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 21 gal.
*Top Speed: 16.15 mph

*As Rated by Nebraska Tractor Test 608 (Farmall 450- same PTO power but drawbar may be lower)


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