Of the dozens of vintage tractor makes and models manufactured in the U.S., one of the most elusive is the Haas tractor.
It is believed only a few hundred Haas Model A, B and D tractors were produced in the years between 1949 and 1951, and today, just over three dozen are known to be in the hands of collectors.
The story of the Haas tractor begins in the late 1930s. As the world prepared for war, American manufacturers converted their factories to the production of war materials. In New Orleans, Andrew Higgins began converting his boat-building business to produce the famed Higgins landing craft. In Buffalo and Seattle, Fort Worth and Burbank, Wichita and Kansas City, aircraft manufacturers began producing bombers and fighter planes. In Detroit, Chrysler began producing tanks instead of automobiles. And in Racine, Wis., Ed Haas, the owner of Metal Parts Corp., a machine shop and foundry, began manufacturing aluminum aircraft cylinder heads for Warner Aircraft and Continental Motors for use in the P-51 Mustang fighter.
As World War II came to an end, Haas kept his plant busy by subcontracting to Chicago-area firms. He also began producing a line of bacon griddles, electric mixers, aluminum skillets, deep fryers and other cookware under the Star Glow brand. With the experience he’d gained manufacturing aircraft engines, as well as parts for International Harvester, Allis-Chalmers, Case and Massey-Harris, Haas saw an opportunity to manufacture his own line of tractors.
Acquiring design rights
Bob Haas (no relation to Ed Haas) is a collector from Roanoke, Ill., and founder of the Haas Tractor Club. According to Bob, Ed Haas acquired rights to manufacture what would become the Haas Atomic A and B tractors from a Kansas City, Kan., man in December 1947. Haas subsequently purchased rights to what he would call the Haas D in Buchanan, Mich., and by 1949, the first Haas tractors began coming off the production line.
Bob, author of several articles on Haas tractors, says no information has been found regarding the number of Model A and B tractors produced. Only one Haas Model A is known to exist; that A and just 12 B’s are represented in the Haas Tractor Club, along with 18 Model D tractors. Ed Haas reportedly said he produced a total of 301 Model D tractors between 1949 and 1951, many of which he claimed were exported to overseas markets.
“I have a sale bill for our Haas D dated September 1949 with a serial number of 1014 – number 14,” Bob says. “In a 1949 trade magazine, the Haas Atomic A was introduced as a new model. The Model B was also mentioned as the same tractor with an additional transmission, thus giving it twice the speeds. Those two facts strongly suggest that 1949 was the first year of production on both tractors.”
War surplus components
Bob says Model A and B tractors were powered by a Haas Model 6-12 air-cooled engine claimed to produce 12-1/2 hp at 2,400 rpm. The tractor weight is shown at 1,600 and 1,700 pounds, respectively. A Borg-Warner T-96 transmission similar to those used in wartime jeeps, Fords and Studebakers indicated that the transmissions, like the tractor’s jeep wheels, were war surplus. A considerable amount of brass was used in the steering arms, final drive gears and the hand crank, suggesting use of war surplus (brass shell casings) for those parts as well.
According to product literature, the engine used in Model A and B tractors was produced in both kerosene and gasoline versions, although no kerosene burners have been found. Bob says Haas club member Ellsworth Olson, Viroqua, Wis., was likely the first to discover that internal parts of that engine were identical to Ford Model A parts still available today.
Ross steering, adjustable axles, pulley drive and a swinging drawbar were standard, and starter, generator and the pulley were factory options. Haas made the rear axle and housing, Bob notes, except for what appears to be a generic ring gear and pinion.
The Haas Model D, a somewhat larger tractor, could have competed with Ford, Ferguson and similar category one, 3-point hitch tractors. That model used the Continental F-140 (140-cubic-inch) gasoline engine. It was also offered in a kerosene version with a 162-cubic-inch engine (Bob says only one kerosene-burning Model D is known to exist). The tractor featured a Rockford clutch, Clark-made B.F. Avery transmission and Ross steering. Weighing about 3,000 pounds, the Model D was among the first to feature a live hydraulic system and 3-point hitch, with a lifting capacity of 1,500 pounds.
Bob says crop clearance was on the short side, with small, 11x24 tires, but drop boxes in the rear axle allowed for 20-inch clearance. The transmission had three forward gears and one reverse gear, “all rather slow,” Bob says.
Tracking variations … and a line of implements
“At our first Haas Tractor Club reunion, we discovered some minor differences in the D tractors,” Bob says. “The 1000 serial number Model D’s – I call them ‘boys’ – had a flat front bar on the grille; they’re flat-chested. My no. 1014 is one of these early 1949 models. We believe they were [painted] all red, with decals that may have varied in style. The 2000 serial numbers, probably started in 1950, have a different grille casting with raised lettering and a ‘bra strap’ arrangement to support the fuel tank. I refer to these as the ‘girls,’ and mine is no. 2009. I’m told the old casting likely gave some problems in manufacturing.”
Collectors have discovered other variations, including the hood, air cleaner and contrasting wheel colors. Bob believes the original color was likely close to Massey red with yellow wheels, but others could have been a darker red with off-white or gray wheels. He says both of his Model D tractors are IH red, but the ‘girl’ has off-white wheels. “It seems no two tractors were ever exactly the same,” he adds.
According to company literature, Metal Parts Corp. also offered a line of implements for Haas Model A and B tractors. They included a bulldozer blade; a 1-row corn, cotton and bean planter; plow; 5-foot single-action disc harrow; spring-tooth and spike-tooth harrows; and a soil pulverizer/crusher. Bob says it is not known if Haas made the attachments, as none have been found. Most likely, he speculates, they were made for Haas by another manufacturer.
When Ed Haas died at age 91 in 1993, he took the answers to many mysteries with him. No production records have survived. No one knows how many Haas tractors were shipped overseas, although there are reported sightings of Model D’s in Germany and Asia. Many Haas tractors found use in orchard and truck farms in Michigan and the upper Midwest, but stories are also told of Haas Atomic A’s used as factory mules, then melted down when they quit running.
And, finally, the oddest tale of all: According to Bob, there’s a story told of Ed Haas burying three of his tractors at the close of production. But no one knows where, or why, or even if the tale is true.