CREATING A RED LEGACY SINCE THE '60S
After graduating with a teaching degree from the University of Nebraska -- where he was a standout football player -- Jim Irwin signed with the "then" Los Angeles Rams.
"I made it to the last cut, and was let go in mid-September," he says. "School had already started, so I couldn't get a teaching job." Then a semi-pro football team, the Omaha Mustangs, asked Irwin to join the squad.
"I said I'd play if they would find me a job," Irwin explains. "This led to an interview with International Harvester, at the stock office in Omaha. They hired me in the fall of 1964."
Not long after he sold his first tractor, and that sale is still one of the most unforgettable moments in his career. "That's probably my favorite memory, selling that 1965 IH 806 gas Farmall tractor, with a narrow front end and a two-point fast hitch. It's the first piece of new equipment I sold, and it helped launch a sales and marketing career that I have thoroughly enjoyed."
In a business where traditions run deep and bind the generations, Irwin made a decision that has been warmly embraced by many whose memories of farming are decidedly red. The Farmall name was reborn in 2004 on a line of tractors that promises to be as versatile and widely used as the originals.
Besides beginning Irwin's career in sales, a Farmall tractor was also the first tractor he ever drove. Back on his family's farm in Genoa, Neb., Irwin proudly sat behind the wheel of the family's "M."
Legendary WGN farm broadcaster Orion Samuelson explained the powerful symbolism of the Farmall name when he received the F20 Farmall his parents bought new in 1939, fully restored by the IH antique tractor club as part of an Ag in the Classroom fundraiser.
"When they rolled it out, it brought a tear to my eye," Samuelson says. "On that seat, I saw my dad, my mother, my sister, myself … we all drove it. I'm grateful that Jim recognized the importance of the Farmall name to a lot of people."
That emotion is not uncommon among farmers and agriculturists with a red background. "After all, Farmall tractors revolutionized agriculture beginning back in the 1920s," says Irwin. "That brand essentially drove the transition from horse-drawn era to mechanized agriculture as we know it."
Introduced in 1947 as a Farmall line extension, Cub tractors are an early precursor to today's rapidly expanding compact tractor market. "Cub" tractors were designed for farms of 40 acres or less. "The Cub was the smallest in the Farmall line," Irwin says. "It also was one of the most popular tractors ever, with more than 200,000 sold." The Cub eventually set the record for the longest production run of any tractor produced in the United States.
IH further extended that line in 1960 with introduction of the Cub Cadet tractor, allowing the company to venture outside of traditional agriculture. The Cub Cadet name and Louisville manufacturing facility were purchased by MTD International prior to Case Corporation acquiring select agricultural assets of International Harvester Company through its parent, Tenneco.
TRACTOR TO CARRY ON THE TRADITION
Irwin made sure that the new Case IH Farmall subcompact, compact and utility tractors more than live up to Farmall's reputation. "This market segment represents almost three-quarters of all tractors sold in North America, so we needed to make sure that we were poised to take full advantage of this growing segment."
Irwin's instincts were right on the money. Since the brand's launch last year, Case IH North America has more than doubled its market share in under 40 horsepower tractors.
"If you look at history, there have been very few brands that have been as successful as Farmall. To me, it was a natural step in solidifying the Case IH master brand as being a leader in the business. It was something that could help take us to the next level."
The Farmall brand is clearly near and dear to Irwin's heart, but it's only one of many product and service innovations that Irwin had a hand in during his long history with the company.
FARMALL TRACTORS OF THE PAST