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Nebraska tractor tests held manufacturers to their claims

Wilmot Crozier, who farmed near Osceola in Polk County, Neb., 80 or so miles west of Omaha, was an educator-turned-progressive-farmer ready to embrace new technology and methods of farming. In 1916, he bought a shiny red and green Ford Model B tractor. The Ford was a strange-looking machine with a Giles engine and a spur gear transmission mounted between two large drive wheels up front. The driver sat above and behind a single, small wheel sticking out in the rear, which provided steering for the tractor. Crozier's new tractor had nothing to do with Henry Ford, but was built by the Ford Tractor Company of Minneapolis, whose owner, W. Baer Ewing, seemed more interested in promoting the company's stock than in selling tractors.

At the time, there was only one tractor in use for every 100 farms, and most farmers had 'a good deal of doubt and misapprehension' about the machines. These doubts were borne out by Crozier's experience with the Ford Model B. Although the 8-16 hp Ford was rated to pull two 14-inch plows, and sold for only $350, when most contemporary machines cost more than $1,000, it was no bargain. Crozier found that the thing would barely run, was difficult to handle and couldn't pull two plows. Thoroughly disgusted, Crozier made enough noise that the manufacturer took back his machine and replaced it with a new 1917 Ford. The new Ford was no better than its predecessor, so Crozier looked around for another tractor.

Introduced in 1913, the Little Bull tractor, also built in Minneapolis, was an overnight sensation. Rated at 5-12 hp and selling for just $335, 3,800 Little Bulls were sold during 1914. The Little Bull was badly underpowered and not very reliable, and the farmers who had snapped them up felt they had been cheated. Soon, many used Little Bull tractors were on the market, and Wilmot Crozier bought one!

After having nearly the same experience with the Little Bull as he'd had with the Fords, one would have thought Crozier would have given up and gone back to using horses. But he persevered and bought a used Rumely OilPull tractor that the manufacturer rated to pull three plows. Crozier '... pulled five bottoms satisfactorily with this tractor which gave him absolutely no trouble.' Of course, the OilPull probably cost Crozier close to 10 times as much as the Ford or Little Bull, but it worked better than it was supposed to.

Farmers and dealers had agitated for years for the federal government to establish a tractor testing program. However, politics and turf battles in Washington prevented progress. The American Society of Agricultural Engineers adopted a set of uniform tractor tests in 1917, and a few states, including Minnesota, North Dakota and Ohio, went ahead on their own, staging field tests and demonstrations.

Nebraska got into the act as well. Tractor trials began at Fremont, Neb., in 1913, and were held for several years. The Hyatt Roller Bearing Company introduced a hydrostatic dynamometer at the Fremont trails in 1917. This gadget, when coupled between the drawbar and the load, recorded the maximum drawbar pull of the various tractors and was a first attempt at making fair and objective comparisons of the competing tractors.

Crozier, by then a member of the Nebraska legislature, wrote later, 'After operating or attempting to operate two excuses for tractors, I finally [found] a machine that would really do what the company said it would. Then I began wondering if there wasn't some way to induce ALL tractor companies to tell the truth.'

Crozier and Nebraska State Senator Charles Warner teamed up to introduce a bill in the Nebraska legislature that was passed by that body on July 15, 1919. The bill provided that:

- A stock tractor of each model sold in Nebraska shall be tested by a board of three engineers under the management of the state university, with the results to be made public.

-Each company, dealer or individual offering a tractor for sale in Nebraska shall have a permit. The permit is to be issued after the tractor is tested at the university, and its performance is compared with the manufacturer's claims.

- A service station with a full supply of replacement parts for each model of tractor shall be maintained within the state and within reasonable shipping distance of customers.

By late fall 1919, a test facility was set up at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL), by L.W. Chase, E.E. Orackett, O.W. Sjorgren and C.K. Shedd. An electric dynamometer was used for belt tests, while for a drawbar test vehicle, the engineers removed the engine from an 18-30 Illinois tractor and replaced it with a large electric generator. When the Illinois was pulled backwards by a tractor under test, the generator provided resistance and the output could be measured by recording machinery. A couple of old steam or gas tractors could be towed behind the test vehicle to act as air compressors, adding to the load.

Tests were to consist of an initial 12-hour 'limber-up' run. During this test, each of the forward gears was used and the manufacturer's representative could make adjustments. Next was a series of belt tests on the dynamometer, and then, finally, a series of drawbar tests.

The first tractor scheduled for testing was a Twin City 12-20, but a heavy snow intervened and testing was postponed until the next spring. As a result of the snow storm, the first tractor actually tested at UNL was a Waterloo Boy Model N. The test ran from March 31 to April 9, 1920, with a maximum belt horsepower of somewhat more than 25, a maximum drawbar horsepower of 15.98, and a drawbar pull of 2,900 pounds. The UNL engineers found that the Waterloo Boy's governor performed erratically, but they did not disqualify the tractor.

After the tests were completed, the oil was drained and weighed, and parts of the tractor were disassembled and inspected to check for wear, and to make sure the test tractor met all of the manufacturer's specifications. A detailed test summary was then published, which gave the test tractor's specifications, along with details of the test results and any problems encountered during the test. Next month, we'll continue the story of the Nebraska tractor testing program.

- Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by e-mail: letstalkrustyiron@yahoo.com