Huber Tractors: A Proud Tradition

Huber tractors among early leaders in innovation, design

Huber's first gas tractor, 1898

Huber built its first gas tractor in 1898. The tractor used a vertical 1-cylinder engine mounted on what was essentially a steam tractor engine chassis with special gearing. Having built 30 of these tractors, Huber is generally recognized as marketing the first mass produced tractor for commercial sale. The product, however, was less than successful and Huber dropped out of gas tractor production for more than a decade.

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Although Huber Mfg. Co. made fewer tractors during all its years (a total of about 14,000 tractors) than either Farmall or John Deere in any one year, Huber tractors had a long and fruitful history. The company’s product line was rather impressive for a small company. Based in Marion, Ohio, Huber tractors were produced from 1898 until 1942, when the U.S. War Department decreed that Huber cease making farm equipment and concentrate instead on road construction equipment in support of the war effort. After the war, Huber did not return to the farm equipment business. 

In 1892, John Froelich produced the first recorded successful gas tractor. He used a Van Duzen vertical cylinder engine on a Robinson running gear and incorporated a traction drive of his own design. In 1894, Van Duzen Gas & Gasoline Engine Co., Cincinnati, built a tractor very similar to the Froelich tractor using its own 1-cylinder, vertical engine. This tractor met with some success.

Early experimental tractors

Manufacturer Edward Huber was so impressed with the Van Duzen engine that he bought the company. In 1898, Huber Mfg. Co. produced its first gas tractor. These tractors incorporated a traction engine frame, transmission and steering mechanism upon which the Van Duzen gas engine was mounted. They were specifically designed for belt power for Huber threshing machines. Huber built 30 units to sell, making Huber one of the earliest manufacturers to mass produce a gas farm tractor for commercial use. This first tractor was less than fully successful, in part because the engine had no true ignition or carburetor system. Huber discontinued production of gas tractors for the next 10 years.

Formative years, 1911-17

When Huber returned to gas tractors in about 1910, significant improvements had been made in both ignition and carburetion systems. The earliest effort was called the “Farmer’s Tractor” with the driver perched in front of the machine. The company’s sales record starts with number 100. The tractor had a 2-cylinder engine with a 5-3/4-by-6-inch bore and stroke. It was sold as a portable power unit. Serial no. 103 lists the same machine as a traction engine.

By serial no. 106, sales records show a 17-19 (17 hp at the drawbar and 19 at the belt) tractor, but do not distinguish whether this 17-19 is the same as the previous tractor. Records do note that the tractor used a Stintz engine. During this period, Huber conducted extensive testing. 1911 sales records for serial no. 148 show this tractor to be a 15-30 with a 7-by-8-inch bore and stroke engine. Later notations show the engine to be an opposed 2-cylinder engine manufactured by Stintz-Wallen. Rather than a radiator, this tractor used an evaporative cooling system.

Serial no. 178 (built in 1911) shows a 30-60 tractor using a 4-cylinder engine with a 6-3/4-by-8-inch bore and stroke. This tractor became the famous “Prairie” tractor. Huber built the 15-30 2-cylinder and 30-60 4-cylinder tractors until 1916. In 1916, the 30-60 was re-rated as a 35-70. In 1915, Huber brought out a 20-40 2-cylinder engine with a 8-1/4-by-9-inch bore and stroke. Records suggest that these tractors were made only in 1916-17. None are known to exist.

The next generation: lighter farm tractors

The next generation of Huber tractors, the Light Four 12-25, appeared in 1916. The last unit was produced in 1928. This tractor used a 4-cylinder Waukesha engine with a 4-by-5-3/4-inch bore and stroke mounted crosswise on the frame. In 1919, Huber upgraded the Light Four using a Waukesha engine with a 4-1/2-by-5-3/4-inch bore and stroke. These high-front wheel models were Huber’s first truly successful tractors.

Starting in 1921, Huber upgraded to a Super Four 15-30 using a 4-cylinder Midwest engine (4-1/2-by-6-inch bore and stroke), again mounted crosswise. In 1925, starting with serial no. 7837, Huber built a few tractors using a 4-cylinder Hercules engine with a 4-3/4-by-5-3/4-inch bore and stroke. Also in 1925, Huber’s Super Four had a Midwest engine (4-1/2-by-6-inch bore and stroke) and was reclassified as an 18-36 tractor. A companion tractor, the Master Four 20-40, was introduced in 1925. It used a 4-cylinder Hinkley engine with a 5-1/2-by-6-inch bore and stroke. None of these tractors are known to exist.

In 1926, Huber designed a uniframe (or unit frame) tractor for an inline 4-cylinder Stearns engine. These Super Four models came in three sizes: 18-36, 20-40 and 25-50. After testing at Nebraska, the tractors’ horsepower ratings were increased to 21-39, 32-45 and 40-62. The 18-36 (21-39) used a Stearns AU engine with a 4-3/4-by-6-1/2-inch bore and stroke. The 20-40 (32-45) used a Stearns DU engine with a 5-1/8-by-6-1/2-inch bore and stroke. The 25-50 (40-62) tractor used a Stearns EU or EU Reserve engine with a 5-1/2-by-6-1/2-inch bore and stroke.

A practical tractor

In 1929, to prepare for the next stage in tractor evolution, the heavy uniframe construction was discontinued. That reduced the weight of the tractor by about 2,000 pounds. This tractor used a Waukesha engine that became an integral part of the tractor’s design.

The first engine was a Model DK with a 4-3/4-by-6-1/4-inch bore and stroke. The DK engine was a flathead with cylinder blocks cast in pairs for easy repair or replacement. The blocks were set on a common crankcase.

At some point during production, the DK engine was replaced by either the Waukesha CHS or CHK engine. The CHS was a valve-in-head with a 4-3/4-by-6-1/4-inch bore and stroke. It continued to be rated as a 20-36 tractor and was known as the Huber HS. The CHK engine, also a valve-in-head model, had a 5-1/8-by-6-1/4-inch bore and stroke. It was rated a 32-45 and was known as the Huber HK.

In 1930-31, nearly 350 of this model (primarily the HS) were sold to B.F. Avery Co., Louisville, Ky., for use on the company’s sawmills. Stan Winch, Marion, Ohio, has loaned a tractor in this serial number range to the Huber Machinery Museum. Although several engine models were used, the 20-36 was Huber’s threshing tractor and continued in production until the company shifted to production of war materiel in 1943.

In 1930, keeping pace with development of the cultivating tractor, Huber used the standard-tread John Deere GP as a pattern for its arched front axle 10-20 Modern Farmer tractor. A companion cultivating tractor was patterned on the Farmall Regular. Both tractors used a flathead Waukesha VK engine with a 4-1/4-by-5-inch bore and stroke.

Beginning in 1931, Huber eliminated the arched front axle design and used a straight front axle for the standard-tread tractor. The company continued production of the tricycle design for the Modern Farmer cultivating tractor. The Waukesha flathead engine was replaced by the Model VIS (4-1/8-by-5-1/4-inch bore and stroke), the VIL (4-3/8-by-5-1/4-inch bore and stroke) and finally the VIK (4-1/2-by-5-1/4-inch bore and stroke).

Using variations of controls and engine upgrades, this tractor (depending on the engine installed) was known as the Huber Modern Farmer K/KC, S/SC and L/LC. The K, S and L were standard-tread and KC, SC and LC were the tricycle-style cultivating tractors. In 1935, some 300 of the Model S/SC and L/LC were sold to Farm Bureau as CO-OP tractors. Modern Farmer L and LC tractors were built up to the end of production in 1942.

The last of the line

In 1936, the final evolution of Huber farm tractors was marketed. It came equipped with a 4-cylinder Buda engine with a 3-13/16-by-4-1/2-inch bore and stroke. Listed as the Model B, this 2- to 3-plow tractor was Huber’s only styled tractor and was marketed until 1943.

This series of B tractors included a standard-tread (named the B-4), an orchard tractor called the BO and a small grader model named the BG. Huber produced only 13 BO orchard tractors; five are known to exist.

The Model B tractor, however, was to have a long lasting heritage. It became the platform for the Huber Maintainer, which turned out to be a major success story. The machine was originally named the Model BG (for Model B Grader). Later, when farm tractor production ended, the BG was renamed the Huber Maintainer. With the many attachments fitted to the machine, the Maintainer became a motor grader, a loader, bucket, bulldozer, side dozer, scarifier, berm leveler, road sweeper (broom) and a sickle bar roadside mower. Production of the Huber Maintainer ended when the parent company, ATO, closed the doors to the manufacturing facility in 1984. FC 

For more information: Huber Machinery Museum, P.O. Box 6010, Marion, OH 43301-6010; phone (740) 387-9233. 

James N. Boblenz grew up on a farm near New Bloomington, Ohio. He now lives in Marion, Ohio, and is interested in antique farm equipment, particularly rare and lesser-known tractors and related items. E-mail him at