H.A. Wetmore Turned Adversity into Advantage

Iowa businessman invents tractor after losing Waterloo Boy dealership

Wetmore ad about two girls cutting wheat

“My two girls cut 175 acres of wheat in seven days,” reads this ad. “Anyone with a little horse sense can run it.”

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Editor’s note: This brief biography of H.A. Wetmore and his company is in addition to “The Wetmore Tractor,” Loretta Sorensen’s article on Wayne and Roxie Ebright’s restored circa-1920 Wetmore.

Traction supremacy was the hallmark H.A. “Harry” Wetmore lauded in advertising the tractor he designed and built in Sioux City, Iowa, from 1919 to approximately 1938.

Early ads crowed, “Wetmore 12-25 Holds the World’s Plowing Record.” Writers hailed the tractor’s ability to handle “three plows in heavy gumbo 9 inches deep,” conditions that offered little resistance to the innovative tractor.

“At Fresno, Calif., it was put to work in a field spotted with hard ground and loose soft sand with the thermometer registering 110 degrees – a most severe test for any tractor,” the ad continued. “In the face of these conditions, the Wetmore 12-25 pulled three disc plows on second speed, 14 inches deep, without a halt at a speed of a little over 1/3 mile in five minutes [or 4 mph]. The fuel cost was extraordinarily low because on second speed you deliver all your power direct to drives and no transmission gears are at work.”

An enterprising businessman and inventor, Wetmore launched several successful undertakings before tackling tractor design. From 1901-08, he operated an automobile and farm implement dealership in Anthon, Iowa. During that time he also manufactured a flexible harrow of his own design and sold more than 1,800.

In 1908, Wetmore moved to Sioux City, then Iowa’s second largest city (population 61,000). For the next 10 years he sold a variety of automobiles and became a successful distributor of Waterloo Boy tractors, selling 1,000 units.

Six years later, in 1914, Wetmore built an auto showroom, shop and distribution center (the building still stands at 613 Douglas St.). To promote the speed and reliability of the autos he sold, he raced them at the Sioux City Raceway, a leading Midwest track. Famed drivers of the era competed there, including Wetmore’s friend Eddie Rickenbacker, later a renowned World War I flying ace.

When John Deere purchased the Waterloo Boy line in 1918, discontinuing Wetmore’s distributorship, Wetmore seized the moment and began designing his own tractor. Production was underway within a year in his factory at 123 Main St., located conveniently alongside Milwaukee Railroad lines. In 1920, Wetmore tractors were advertised for sale at $1,445 ($15,400 in today’s terms). A soundly designed tractor, the Wetmore fared well in competitions. However, an agricultural economic downturn left many orders unfilled.

Wetmore continued to sell cars, manufacture tractors and experiment with implement designs, including a self-propelled cultivator. He farmed with Wetmore tractors through the mid-1940s.

About 350 Wetmore 12-25 tractors were manufactured during the production run, with some shipped as far afield as Budapest, Australia, Mexico and South America. Wetmore sold the factory in 1938; he died in Sioux City in 1965 at age 88. FC