Massey-Harris tractors had a solid reputation north and south of the border when they debuted a big diesel tractor for 1949. The gasoline version of the Model 55 had debuted first in 1947, which also happened to be Massy-Harris’ corporate centennial and the diesel version covered them in that new segment of the market. The 55 emerged as the top tier of four new or restyled full-sized Massey-Harris (M-F) tractors that included the 45hp Model 44, the 36hp model 30, and the 31hp model 20.

In the early ‘50s, belt driven implements were fading away in favor of shaft PTO driven stuff, but there was still enough belt equipment around to keep the traditional side-mounted drum PTO standard equipment when this tractor was built. By the end of the Model 55’s production run, it had become an option. This tractor also has a rear shaft PTO, which was another option. The base price was around $4,100 in ‘52 dollars, and with the extras, the list price would have been around $4,200. Converted to ‘17 bucks, that’s about $39,000.

Where the smaller tractors came in rowcrop or standard configurations, the big 55 came only as a standard, fixed-tread tractor with a swinging drawbar. It was primarily designed for heavy tillage on the wheatlands of the northern plains, but Rice and Hillside Specials were also offered. These special tractors differed mainly in their track (70 inches vs 57.3), tires, high-clearance arched front axle, and hand clutch. The Rice Special used extra-deep lugged tires in back and single rib tires up front. The Hillside Special had tripleribbed tires up front and less deep-cleated rear tires. In 1951, the Hillside Special became known as the Western Special, but both terms are commonly used. While the Rice and Western Specials came standard with a hand clutch and the Standard 55 with a foot clutch, you could specify foot or hand clutches in any of the three models. Options included a variety of tires, steel wheels, extra lighting, and hydraulic systems.


The JD382 engine was a long stroke powerhouse with a modest 1,350-rpm redline and a torque peak at 700 rpm. It was unusual for the era in being direct start and having a glow plug in the intake with a fifth injector to aid cold starts. The wet-sleeved four-cylinder is a heavyweight and tips the scales at just under 1,000 pounds. A 3-main bearing engine, it was known for breaking crankshafts when spun up too high, despite having 3-1/4-inch journals. Part of that was likely the 3-main configuration but also from the inherent imbalances found in large displacement fours. As a result, the later JD382s got better crankshafts and balance shafts but they didn’t come in time to be installed in M-H tractors. The Bosch or CAV injectors were popped at 1,800 PSI and fuel was supplied by an American Bosch APE inline pump. For 1955, they introduced a Bosch PSB inline pump and later industrial engines had Roosa-Master rotary pumps. APE or PSB pumps could be specified in certain eras of production, so the is no hard cutoff for the change. Continental produced this engine well into the ‘60s and they were seen as power units, or running compressors and generators. They also powered the ’57-’65 Case 1000 dozers. As an industrial engine, Continental rated them at 72.5 hp @ 1800 rpm and 278 lb-ft at 700 rpm at the flywheel. In the Case dozers, they were rated at 100 hp at 2,000 rpm. For the ag applications, they were limited to 1,350 rpm, which dropped the flywheel horsepower to around 66. This engine was enlarged to 403 ci with 1/8-inch bore increase from a piston and liner change and called the JD403, but that was long after the 55 was off the market. Parts for these engines are almost nonexistent today.

The Massey-Harris 55 was introduced with a directstart 382ci OHV gas engine, as well as a distillate (essentially kerosene) version. The diesel came for 1949 with the same displacement and largely the same lower-end architecture. An LPG fuel version would come later. Like all the engines used by M-H in that day, they were from Continental. It was a big, slow turning unit with a Lanova combustion chamber M-H called the “Dyna-Cell.” Like other Lanova diesels, it was torquey, quiet, and fuel efficient.


Here’s Carroll turning dirt at the 2017 Alvordton Plowing Days at Alvordton, Ohio, with a matching Massey-Harris Model 28 fourbottom plow. The ground was “tough” that day, so the 55 really worked at times pulling the 4-14 plow through the hard-baked clay ground of NW Ohio. But that’s what Massey’s big tractor of the early ‘50s was built to do.

The post-World War II era left the ag landscape with big equipment shortages, so new companies started up and the existing ones radically increased their footprints to feed the need. By the early ‘50s, the market became more saturated and the economy was in trouble due to the Korean War. Like many other companies, M-H soon found themselves with a cash flow problem. A potential answer came in a chance to merge with Harry Ferguson Inc., makers of the Ferguson tractors in England and Detroit. That occurred in late 1953 and the company became Massey-Harris- Ferguson. The original plan was to keep it a “Two Line” company, maintaining separate M-H and Ferguson sales identities all the way down to the dealership level. It sounded reasonable in the beginning, but resulted in vicious turf battles in the boardroom and unproductive sales conflicts at the dealership level.

By 1958, the internecine battles for turf made tough decisions necessary. When the smoke cleared, the Harris name had been dropped from the corporate identity and the equipment lines were merged into the Massey-Ferguson (M-F) brand. Unfortunately, much of the Massy-Harris technical DNA disappeared in a flurry of redesigns and outside-purchased, rebadged tractors taking the place of the existing M-H units. Still, things did pick up for the reformed company after that and Massey-Ferguson became a powerhouse brand that still exists today in the AGCO stable of ag equipment.

The operator’s station is typical of the era. Carroll added some padding to the steel bucket seat but, hey, it has a spring at least. No power steering in this era but it would come to M-H tractors later.

The M-H Model 55 diesel was built into 1955, when it was replaced by the very similar but improved 555. The big news with the 555 was power steering and a new hydraulic system. The original 55/555 DNA disappeared in 1958, when Massey-Harris became Massey-Ferguson. The 555’s place in the line was taken by the M-F 95, which was essentially a restyled, rebadged Minneapolis-Moline tractor. The other Massey-Harris tractors disappeared in the same way and the M-H brand loyalists of today neither forgive nor forget.DW

ENGINE: JD382 Massey-Harris /Continental
BORE & STROKE: 4.5 x 6 in.
*RATED PTO POWER: 60.3 @ 1351 rpm
*RATED DRAWBAR POWER: 54.9 @ 1350 rpm
TIRES: Front- 7.50-18 Rear- 14-34
*DRAWBAR PULL: 5865 @ 16.6% slip
WEIGHT: 5,125 lbs.
FUEL CAPACITY: 27.5 gal.


ALVORDTON PLOW DAYS events/307942549661987


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