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Canada Agriculture Museum


They have names like Cockshutt, Allis-Chalmers and Holt. They can be two-storeys tall or as small as a pickup truck. They are used on most Canadian farms and most children dream of sitting in one. What are we talking about? The tractor. Visitors to Tractors, the exhibition at the Canada Agriculture Museum in Ottawa, will have their dreams come true. While they sit in a tractor cab, learn about the tractors on display, listen to farmers speak about tractors they have operated, and admire some objects used to market tractors, visitors will discover how tractors have evolved from an unfamiliar oddity into a commonplace tool on the Canadian farm in less than 100 years.

Section 1: Introduction

As you enter the exhibition, pause and admire a photo display of tractors and farmers from the past century. You will see many different tractors, some at work in the field pulling ploughs and harrows, and others displayed as treasured objects, with their proud owners standing on or near them. It is difficult to recognize the oldest tractors from the early 1900s, while the most recent from the 1990s, an enormous tractor, fits perfectly with our mental image of the tractor. In the midst of these photos, you will learn that, while these tractors may look different, they share the common role of tractors: to pull or power farm machinery.

Section 2: The First Tractors

the Sawyer-Massey 20-40
The Sawyer-Massey 20-40

As you move past the photo gallery, you will notice a massive tractor, the Sawyer-Massey 20-40. Dating from 1918, this tractor was typical of the period in many ways. It was large, expensive, hot to operate, and unwieldy. It was useful only on large Prairie farms with their expansive fields and valuable short-season crops. You can compare it to a model of a steam traction engine, on display, and discover that these early tractors were built to compete with steam traction engines in functions like ploughing and threshing.

What did farmers think of these first tractors? Reactions were mixed and most continued to farm with what they were familiar and with what they could afford, the work horse. You can learn about some of those reactions in advertisements and farmers’ quotes.

Before you move to the next section, you can try on a farmer’s coat, climb onto the seat of an old gas tractor and imagine what it was like to drive one of these first, large tractors.

A unique tractor timeline, combining photos, advertisements, quotations and small marketing artifacts, will help you understand key moments in tractor history. You will also see how tractor marketing, farmer education and the Canadian government helped to promote tractor use.

Canada's Got Treasures!

YouTubeVideo of the Sawyer-Massey 20-40 from the Canada's Got Treasures website. Canada’s Got Treasures is an innovative online destination where museum treasures and your treasures come together.

Section 3: The Modern Tractor

As you move from the oldest tractors to the largest section of the exhibition covering 1920 to the present, you will discover why tractors on Canadian farms increased from 12,000 in 1920 to nearly 750,000 in 1991 while work horses declined from 3 million to about 12,000 in the same period.

Two main groupings of tractors show how improvements in tractor technology contributed to the widespread acceptance of tractors. The first group, illustrating how today’s familiar multipurpose tractor evolved, features five tractors: the three-wheeled 12-24 Bull, the small, affordable Fordson, the half-car, half-tractor Taco Conversion unit, the attractively designed Cockshutt 30 and the propane-powered John Deere 720 LP. Nearby, sit on a tractor seat and compare the bumpy ride of steel wheels to the smoother ride of rubber tires. Decide for yourself why this improvement was so popular with farmers. Look for your favourite tractor on our second of three computerized Electronic Field Guides to Tractors, which combine photos, text, audio and video clips.

The second group of four tractors, the tracked Caterpillar 15, the row-crop Farmall F14, the Allis-Chalmers G market garden tractor and the towering Canadian-built Versatile 118, demonstrate some of the specialized tractors that evolved during this period. Manipulate a model of tracks and wheels to feel for yourself how tracks keep a tractor from sinking in soft ground.

Versatile D118 #4663
Versatile D118 #4663

Section 4: Today’s Tractor

Now it’s time for your dream to come true. Find out about the features of some of today’s most modern tractors, such as on-board computers and Global Positioning Systems. Then have a seat at the wheel of an 8500 John Deere cab and get a feel for the height and sleek design of a modern tractor. Are you sold? Well, learn about the price tag, read what some farmers told us about these most modern tractors and then appreciate the challenges facing today’s farmers as they decide what type of tractor they really need.

Section 5: The Tractor and You

Before you leave the exhibition, you will pass through one final section. Perhaps you have noticed several unusual "mystery objects" scattered through the exhibition: a shoe, a diaper, a granola bar, a rubber tire. What do they have in common... and what in the world do they have to do with tractors? This concluding section displays all of these objects in one place and answers the big question, what do tractors have to do with you? Each of these objects, together with the food you eat, the clothes you wear, and many other items you use every day, are brought to you with the help of a tractor.

So there you have it. Tractors: not only the machine of childhood dreams with a rich and engaging history, but a technology that is an important part of our everyday lives.