This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 edition of Small Farm Canada magazine, and is reprinted here with the permission of the author and of the editor of Small Farm Canada.
This year marks the 175th anniversary of the Massey-Harris Company – a company well-known for its contribution to the evolution of agriculture in Canada. From plows pulled by horses to stationary engines, to the first tractors and on to combines and today’s modern machinery, Massey-Harris and Massey-Ferguson have been there for it all.
The Massey-Harris Company got its start in 1847 when Daniel Massey, a man with a keen interest in labour-saving farm machinery, started the Newcastle Foundry and Machine Manufacturers in Newcastle, Ontario. The company began making plows, harrows, cultivators, and rollers, and eventually some of the world’s first mechanical threshers. The company grew and Daniel’s son, Hart Massey, joined his father in the business. Hart renamed the company the Massey Manufacturing Company and in 1879 moved it to Toronto, where it became one of the city’s leading employers.
A. Harris, Son & Co. Ltd. were having great success selling Kirby mowers and reapers and Brantford binders. It became a major competitor to the Massey company. Hart Massey, recognizing his competitor’s potential, proposed a merger of the two companies.
On May 6, 1891, Massey-Harris Company Ltd, was formed, becoming the largest agricultural equipment maker in the British Empire. The Massey-Harris Company advertised extensively and became one of the best-known brands in Canada. In the mid 1900s most towns in rural Canada had a Massey-Harris dealership.
During the first half of the 1900s the company expanded into the United States, France, Germany, Australia, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The company bought, invested in, or partnered with many other companies through the years, including the J.I. Case Plow Works in Wisconsin. These purchases and partnerships helped Massey-Harris to become a worldwide name in farm machinery. In 1953, the company merged with the Ferguson company to become Massey-Harris-Ferguson, and eventually Massey-Ferguson in 1958.
Many advances were made, including the development of some of the world’s first mechanical threshers, the first self-propelled combine harvester, one of the first four-wheel drive tractors, and the introduction of the first electric control system for the three-point hitch.
There are many people, often farmers, who appreciate the history of early tractors and farm implements and the ingenuity of their makers. Some of these collect farm machinery and memorabilia. Collectors who are interested in Massey-Harris tractors, engines, and implements can be found worldwide, and there are collector clubs dedicated to the brand in many countries, including the Canadian Massey-Harris-Ferguson Collectors Club (countryheritagepark.com/massey-harris-ferguson).
Doug Lang is a farmer, and a Massey-Harris and cast-iron seat collector. He grew up in southwest Quebec on his family’s dairy and cash-crop farm, which has been in the family for five generations. Massey-Harris and Massey-Ferguson machinery was used every day on the farm. His appreciation for the brand grew under the influence of his uncle, Donald Lang, who was a Massey-Harris collector and the owner of a Massey-Ferguson dealership.
Lang has been a collector since his college days. He attended Kemptville College of Agricultural Technology, graduated in 1979, and returned home to farm full-time. Life was always busy on the farm, but time could usually be found to go to an auction, or head out in search of a good Massey-Harris find.
Lang owns ten Massey-Harris tractors, including a 1932 General Purpose 4WD on steel wheels, and a 1938 101 on steel wheels. One of Lang’s favourite items in his collection is a rare early 12-horsepower stationary engine. Some of the tractors in his collection are original to the farm, including a 1941 Model 81 that Lang’s grandfather traded in to the dealer in 1954 for a newer model; in 1987, Lang tracked it down and brought it back to the farm.
About half of Lang’s 10 tractors are in working condition; the rest are in need of restoration. He does all his own repairs and hopes to eventually have them all in running order. Parts for these vintage machines are becoming harder to find and sometimes need to be custom-made at a foundry or machine shop. When asked whether “farm memorabilia” or “farm collectibles” is the correct term for the things that he collects, Lang just smiles and answers, “junk.”
In the almost 45 years that Lang has been collecting farm machinery and memorabilia, a lot has changed. Lang remembers that forty years ago he could go for a drive down a country road and spot good junk – implements with good cast-iron seats, seeders with cast-iron ends, and tractors with usable parts – abandoned in a field. After locating the owner, a deal could usually be made. Tools were always brought along on these outings, so he was prepared to remove a cast-iron seat from a plow or parts from a tractor. Farm auctions were also a good source to find old tractors or implements to add to the collection.
The internet has also changed things. Being able to buy and sell items online and attend online auctions has made it easier to find items. Lang is also open to the odd phone call from an enthusiast looking for parts or information, especially from a new generation of enthusiasts to keep the learning and history alive.
Farm machinery was by far Massey-Harris’ main focus, but they also sold fridges, freezers, stoves, and wringer washing machines.
Massey-Harris observed the increasing popularity of bicycles and in 1895 they got into the bicycle business, producing good quality, low-cost bicycles. In 1899 they merged with several other bicycle manufacturers to form the Canada Cycle and Motor Company or CCM. Massey-Harris sold its shares of CCM, but Massey-Harris bicycles continued to be produced by CCM into the 1920’s.
Massey-Ferguson manufactured the Ski-Whiz line of snowmobiles from 1969-1977.