Little-Known Tractors

10 little-known tractors that might have been contenders for success.

The hood sides have been lifted in this side view of the Tom Thumb tractor to better show the machine's various attributes

The hood sides have been lifted in this side view of the Tom Thumb tractor to better show the machine's various attributes.

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More than 900 American companies have manufactured tractors since the early 1900s. So it's no surprise that some of those manufacturers and their tractors fly under the radar of even the most ardent tractor aficionado. Any of these 10 tractors and their companies, little-known to most people in the tractor-collecting world, might have been contenders for success.

The Klumb

The Klumb tractor (also known as Klum) burned kerosene perfectly, says a 1920 advertisement for the machine.

The Klumb began life in Sheboygan, Wis., in the Klumb Engine & Machine Co. in 1913, and by 1918 the concern was manufacturing a 4,000-pound Model C 10-20 tractor. It carried a 2-cylinder engine of 6-inch-by-6-1/2-inch bore and stroke, and weighed 4,000 pounds. (Presumably Models A and B were also made, but that information is lost.)    

For reasons known only to history, the company moved to Dubuque, Iowa, and took on the name of Liberty Tractor Co., identical but unrelated to two other companies producing tractors at the same time. Perhaps the discovery of these similarly named companies impelled Klumb/Liberty to change its name, within a few months, to Dubuque Tractor & Truck Co., which manufactured Klumb Model F 16-32 tractors. The Climax 4-cylinder engine used in the Model F boasted a bore and stroke of 5 inches-by-6-1/2 inches, smaller than the Model C. The F weighed 5,200 pounds. 'As a selling tool,' a 1920 advertisement notes, 'the Klumb tractor is unsurpassed.' Perhaps. But by the end of that year, tractor manufacturing had passed the company by, and it disappeared. Despite the fact that it was not successful, the Klumb, along with many other tractors, took on a consistent, classic look that would help define the appearance of tractors in the future.

Tom Thumb

This odd-looking little tractor, first produced in 1915 by Tom Thumb Tractor Co. of Minneapolis, was a 12-20 4-cylinder crawler tractor that ran on kerosene and gasoline with its Waukesha motor of 4-1/4-inch-by-5-3/4-inch bore and stroke. The crawler-type drive wheel, centered under the rear of the tractor, was just 16 inches wide, and only 2 feet in diameter. Speeds for the Tom Thumb varied from 1-1/2 to 3-1/2 mph.  

In 1917, the company became the Federal Tractor Co., but continued to sell Tom Thumbs until about 1919. Pictures make the machine look smaller than it actually was (128 inches long by 88 inches wide by 66 inches high). It weighed 4,500 pounds.

The Whitney

One little fact says more about what happened to the Whitney Tractor Co. of Cleveland, and its Whitney tractor, than anything else: the $1,175 price tag when it came out in 1918, compared to its price for the same 3,000-pound 9-18 tractor 700 days later ($595). It wasn't that the Whitney tractor suddenly became cheaper to make; rather, it was the era. Three big tractor companies began the great tractor war, reducing prices of their machines to cost (or even below) to rid themselves of competition from smaller companies, just about the time a great agricultural depression set in. Thus the Whitney, the successor to a series of smaller test tractors made by WTC, as well as its earlier Ohio Manufacturing Co. of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, began life at a huge disadvantage.

A writer for the Chilton Tractor Journal noted, in announcing the price change, that the Whitney had been in the field for five years, 'and through this experience has come a machine that meets practically all the demands for performance in its class. There is nothing new or radical in the design. Minor changes have been made from time to time as experience under various conditions indicated.' The Whitneys had Gile 2-cylinder engines of 5-1/2-by-6-1/2-inch bore and stroke.   

The remaining history is murky. As R.B. Gray writes in The Agricultural Tractor, 'In 1921 this company seems to have combined with the Post Tractor Co., Cleveland, Ohio, which produced the Post 12-20 beginning about 1918, to form the Post-Whitney Co., Cleveland, and which were marketing both tractors.' If so, the combined company failed almost immediately afterwards.

The Capital

Though the C.H.A. Dissinger & Bros. Co.'s Capital tractor was an archaic-looking beast, having had its start in 1892 in the Wrightsville, Pa., plant, it hung on to the 'old look' ? the high, house-shaped radiator, high and large flywheel, scalloped-edged canopy and so on ? until 1920.  

R.B. Gray writes, 'These brothers, as boys, had been apprenticed with Schliger, Schumm & Co. of Philadelphia who had brought the first Otto engine to this country in 1886. Soon the Dissinger Bros. were to withdraw and organize the company bearing their name. The 'Capital' traction engine was not put to practical use, however, until 1899. It was not regularly produced until 1904, when it came out with a 1-cylinder engine used in five sizes of the machine: 16-, 20-, 24-, 35- and 45-hp gasoline 'traction engines' (the word 'tractor' would not be used regularly until Hart-Parr's advertising manager, W.H. Williams, used it in a company advertisement in 1906). These Capital models had 2-speed transmissions, unique during the very early days of tractors.

In 1910, four Capital tractor models were available: 10-20, 15-30 and 25-40, as well as the monstrous 40-80, which contained a 4-cylinder engine of 10-inch-by-15-inch bore and stroke. Capital tractors were no longer manufactured after 1920.

The Antigo Quad-Pull

This tractor with the unusual closed wheels hove into view in the Antigo (Wis.) Tractor Corp. plant, in 1921, and lasted for two years. It was an early four-wheel drive machine of 15-25 hp rating. The Quad-Pull was a small tractor, with four 36-inch wheels, yet was listed as being able to pull three 14-inch plows.  

The ignition system included a high-tension magneto with impulse starter, and 7/8-inch extension spark plugs. It weighed 4,500 pounds. All gears were enclosed and running in oil, and it used a 4-cylinder 4-inch-by-6-inch bore and stroke engine, with a final drive of enclosed bevel bull gears. The sliding-gear transmission moved the machine along at 1-1/2 to 4 mph.

The Beaver

The original Beaver tractor was built by Goold, Shapley & Muir Co. of Brantford, Ontario, Canada starting in 1918. GS&M had come a long way from their original 1892 roots of concrete mixers, water tanks, saw frames and steel windmills, having won major prizes in the windmill tests of the Royal Agricultural Society in London, England. GS&M also began to make gasoline engines by the turn of the century, which led naturally into the manufacture of tractors, starting in 1909.

Two models of the Beaver tractor were built by GS&M. The 12-24, which used a Waukesha 4-1/2-by-6-3/4-inch 4-cylinder motor, was rated for three 14-inch plows, and weighed 5,800 pounds. In 1921, the 15-30 Beaver was introduced with a larger Waukesha 4-cylinder engine of 5-inch-by-6-1/4-inch bore and stroke. The 15-30 weighed 6,300 pounds. It is unclear how long Beaver tractors were built; the company's assets were liquidated in 1934. Today a Beaver tractor can bring up to $20,000, depending on condition.

The Phoenix

The Phoenix tractor first appeared in 1912 and was manufactured by the Phoenix Tractor Co. of Winona, Minn. The 20-30 Model weighed 7,000 pounds and was bright red. It featured the early innovation of running all gears in oil, protecting them from dirt and other elements (unlike the best-selling Little Bull tractor of the same era, models of which were returned to that company's factory in droves when the open gears failed).

  A photo of the Phoenix tractor was used in a general description about tractors in a magazine of the time, discussing possible problems: 'The main troubles of the power plant are loss of power, irregular action, overheating and noisy operation.'

Within a year, like the bird of legend, the Phoenix disappeared, but it did rise from its ashes when the company was purchased by American Gas Engine Co. of Kansas City, and renamed the Weber tractor. The company disappeared shortly thereafter.

The Wolverine

Both the name of the Wolverine tractor and its company, Ypsilanti Hay Press Co., are probably little known. Three sizes of Wolverine tractors (18, 25 and 35 hp) were built starting in 1912. The Wolverine had a sliding-gear transmission with forward speeds of 1-1/2 and 3 mph, and 2 mph in reverse.

The Vim

The Vim Tractor Co. of Schleisingerville, Wis., could not have come onto the market at a worse time. Its 1919 appearance coincided with the take-over of the Standard Machinery Co. of Schleisingerville, and a looming agriculture depression and a battle between major tractor companies trying to establish supremacy, often selling tractors for less than $400. As a result, it was impossible for the $1,650 Vim 10-20 to compete.  

At 3,300 pounds, the 10-20 Vim was a small tractor. It carried a 4-cylinder Waukesha with a 3-3/4-inch-by-5-1/2-inch bore and stroke engine, and bears some resemblance to tractors produced by another Wisconsin manufacturer, Lauson.

The front of the Vim showed the Vim logo in a small circle set far to the left of the radiator. The tractor was rated for two or three 14-inch plows, pulled with a sliding gear transmission of 2-1/3 to 5 mph forward. It could also travel 5 mph in reverse.  

Almost nothing is known about the Vim 15-30, except that it weighed 3,970 pounds, and looked similar to its smaller brother. By 1921 the company and the tractor were out of business.

The Illinois

Not many tractors were named after states, but the Illinois was one exception.

The first Illinois tractor was a 1916 motor cultivator, an 8-16 built by the Illinois Silo Co., of which none are known to exist. Drive wheel diameter on this Illinois tractor cultivator was 48 inches in diameter with a 7-1/2-inch face. The tractor cultivator was 90 inches long, 60 inches wide and 60 inches high, and used a Sterling 4-cylinder vertical motor of 3-inch-by-4-1/4-inch bore and stroke.

The Illinois 12-30 tractor followed in 1918 as the company changed names to Illinois Silo & Tractor Co. This newer tractor kept a few features from the motor cultivator, including the basic body design, but gave the 3,700-pound tractor more power. It was also larger, with 56-inch drive wheels with 9-inch face. The 12-30 sold for $1,200.  

When the company name was changed to Illinois Tractor Co. in 1919, it also began making a different tractor, a 16-36 Illinois, which weighed 5,200 pounds and sold for $2,250. The tractor had a Climax 5-inch-by-6-1/4-inch bore and stroke L-head 4-cylinder engine which could pull four 14-inch plows.  

The best-known Illinois model was probably the 18-30 'Super-Drive' tractor, which came out in 1919. With a 4-cylinder Climax engine of 5-inch-by-6-1/2-inch bore and stroke, the 18-30 weighed 5,500 pounds and sold for $2,250. The 18-30 had springs between the rear wheels and spokes to minimize strain on the engine.

In 1920, Illinois Tractor Co. came out with its 6,200-pound Super-Drive 22-40 tractor, but after that, the company faded quickly; 1921 trade directories no longer list it.

Tractors and manufacturers that did not survive went under for a variety of reasons: poor financing, poor design, competition, war, the economy or a myriad of reasons beyond their control. Had history taken a different course at any point, today's leading tractor might be a Whitney or Vim or Phoenix, or any other of these 10 little-known tractors. FC 

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at (320) 253-5414; e-mail: bvossler@juno.com