At the Florida Flywheelers swap meet, I came across an unusual tractor called the Chev-All, the creation of David Radius, Kissimmee, Fla.
Actually, it was a homemade tractor using an F-12 Farmall rear end and a 6-cylinder Chevrolet in-line overhead valve engine.
The frame of the Farmall had been cut off just ahead of the bell housing and a wider channel-iron frame had been installed to hold the engine. The tractor had an altogether different front end and steering mechanism than did the original F-12. It was no longer a cultivating tractor. Instead, a wide front end had been installed along with all the necessary steering gears, linkages, tie rods, etc.
To modernize the tractor, an unusual 3-point hitch was installed, sufficiently different from others so as not to cause patent infringement. And most of the controls had been changed, although I noticed that the F-12 hand throttle and foot clutch had been retained. Both hand brake levers had been elongated, making them easier to reach for the operator. Since the engine had an electric starter, an ammeter was added to monitor generating amperage.
Along each side of the hood was “6 Minus 3.” When you looked over the tractor’s engine carefully, you could see that the sparkplug wires had been removed from cylinders 1, 2 and 3. It boggled my mind to try to figure out how this engine could even run with 3 cylinders disconnected. But it did run and it ran well. Sounded quite decent, too.
David is quite a tinkerer and it got me to thinking about some of our great tinkerers in the history of agriculture. There were many:
- John Froelich – The very first successful gas tractor was built by John Froelich in 1892. This tractor was assembled from parts and pieces of other machines with a few parts made by Froelich in his shop. He used a Van Duzen vertical stroke gas engine to power his contraption. Even though ignition and carburetion had not been perfected, the tractor was a success.
- Huber – Huber bought the Van Duzen Co. of Cincinnati so he could use the engine in his first gas tractor. Huber built 30 machines to be sold commercially. The ignition and carburetion caused sufficient problems that Huber discontinued gas tractor production until 1911.
- Harley-Davidson – Harley-Davidson worked on the carburetion problem. When the company built its first motorcycle in 1903, it used a tomato can as a carburetor. Wonder how that worked?
- Henry Ford’s repairman – But one of the most important tinkerers spoken of in the automotive industry worked at least one day for Henry Ford. Ford used Thomas Edison’s DC electric power in his factory. Edison’s dynamo used a gas engine to power a generator to charge a large bank of batteries from which power was distributed to the shop. The story has it that one day the dynamo stopped working. Ford called in a repairman to solve the problem. The man came in and spent an hour or so working on the engine to get it to run properly. When he left, he handed Ford a bill for $50. Henry about had a fit. He reportedly said to the repairman, “Your bill is outrageously high. Why, I pay my men a dollar a day for a full day’s work. You were here only about an hour tinkering around with that machine. I think you should adjust your bill.” The repairman supposedly revised the bill thusly: $1 for 1 hour of tinkering; $49 for knowing where to tinker. This man’s name is not part of the lore, but his story is.
Tinkerers are still out there working on and adapting machines to fit their individual needs. Simply attend any antique tractor show and you’ll spot an “improvement” to some piece of equipment or another. There were many more at the Florida Flywheelers swap meet, but this is the one that intrigued me the most. You, too, can spot a tinkerer’s creation as you walk down the many rows of equipment. Just keep an eye peeled.