Homemade Tractors, Huber, Indiana and More

2006 Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association Reunion puts spotlight on rare and unusual tractors.

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A 1907 IHC 20 hp friction-drive tractor owned by Glen Wickham, Upper Sandusky, Ohio. The tractor was built by the Ohio Tractor Mfg. Co., Upper Sandusky, for the International Harvester Co., Chicago.

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Looking for a show featuring gas engines? The Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association Reunion (Portland, Ind.) is the show to see. Held each August, the show got its start in 1965 as a venue for engine displays by southeastern Indiana, southwestern Ohio and Kentucky collectors.

But you'll see more than engines at Portland. Although the 2007 gas engine display drew nearly 1,800 engines, the show also drew some 720 gas tractors, 330 garden tractors, 19 steam engines, 545 model tractors, 131 model engines, 21 antique cars, 71 antique trucks and about 840 miscellaneous exhibits. The 2006 show featured exhibitors from 33 states, Washington, D.C., Canada and Australia.

Daily demonstrations included sawmill, shingle mill and buzz saw operations. Steam engines were on the job, and plowing demonstrations were held like clockwork. The Girard family demonstrated old-time methods of harvesting grain. They threshed wheat, demonstrated corn husking/shredding, shelling and grinding, and used silage equipment – all wearing the International Harvester label.

International was in fact the featured gas tractor at the 2006 show. The display included at least one of every early numbered series tractor (10-20, 15-30, 22-36 and so on), every Model F Farmall, every letter series Farmall and most of the number tractors from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The stars of the display were a 1906 friction-drive tractor, an early evaporative cooled 10-20 (just 85 of that model were built), 15-30 gas Moguls and a pair of enormous prairie tractors (a 30-60 Titan and 30-60 Mogul). Other crowd pleasers: an IHC cultivating tractor, an 8-16 Mogul, a 10-20 Titan and an 8-16 International. The display did not break the feature tractor record at Portland, but did boast an array of 365 IHC tractors.

Each day one could stand by and listen to the continual whomp-whomp-whomp of the friction-drive tractor, the muffled thumping of the big 30-60 Mogul and 30-60 Titan or the heavy roar of the 6-cylinder diesel industrial engine. Each tractor was operated at least twice daily and at different times, so enthusiasts could take it all in without missing a beat.

A casual tour of the tractor exhibit area is not sufficient to see all the rare and unusual tractors there. "Doodlebug" homemade tractors were very interesting; other standouts included Indiana, Huber, Minneapolis, Rumely GasPull, Russell and Toro golf course tractors. A brief history of each:

"Hoover" tractors

During the years of the Great Depression, the poor farmer could not afford a tractor. Some could not even afford a team of horses. But an old car of some sort could be found abandoned in almost every backyard. The resourceful farmer would make a "tractor" out of the old car by removing the body, fixing the motor and transmission, shortening the frame at the rear and adding a second transmission and an old truck axle. The resulting tractor was known variously as a Doodlebug, a homemade tractor and, occasionally, a Hoover tractor, with a not-so-flattering nod to then-President Herbert Hoover.

Later, companies like the Thieman Harvesting Co., Albert City, Iowa (see Farm Collector, January 2007), provided "conversion kits" that transformed a Model A Ford, Chevrolet or Dodge car into a tractor. Thieman sold kits until the World War II years. Even Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery Ward Co. got involved and sold conversion kits for Fords.

Huber Mfg. Co.

Huber Mfg. Co., Marion, Ohio, produced its first tractor in 1898. The tractor used a Van Duzen gasoline engine mounted on a steam traction engine chassis. The tractor was not terribly successful, so Huber retreated from the tractor market until improved ignition and fuel supply systems became available. In 1911, Huber introduced the Farmer's Tractor, a 15-30 2-cylinder tractor. (Later it was offered in a huge, 20-40 4-cylinder model). The first successful Huber tractor was the 1917 Light Four 12-25 cross-motor. In 1927, Huber manufactured the Super Four tractor line using Stearns engines. When Allis-Chalmers bought Stearns, Huber redesigned its tractors and began using Waukesha engines. In 1936, the 2-plow, streamlined Model B went into production. Huber continued producing farm tractors until the World War II era, when the War Department dictated an exclusive focus on road construction equipment.

The Indiana tractor

The Indiana tractor is a favorite son at the Tri-State show. Developed in 1917 by the Star Tractor Co., Findlay, Ohio, the Star 5-10 tractor was first marketed in 1918. The front-end drive machine, weighing in at about 2,200 pounds, used a LeRoi 4-cylinder engine with a 3-1/8-by-4-1/2-inch bore and stroke. The company was soon purchased by the Indiana Silo Co., Anderson, Ind. That firm continued to produce the tractor at the Star company plant at Findlay; production later moved to the Anderson facility. By the mid-1920s, production of the Indiana tractor was discontinued.

The Minneapolis 17-30

The Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co., Hopkins, Minn., got its start producing steam engines and threshing machines. As a result, the company established a substantial line of tractors. One of them, a 17-30 Model A, was on display at Portland. It was equipped with a 4-cylinder gas engine with 4-3/4-by-7-inch bore and stroke. Because the belt pulley on the tractor was mounted so low, an idler pulley was mounted on the right front axle to prevent the belt from rubbing on the axle hub.

The Minneapolis-Moline UDLX

In 1938, Minneapolis-Moline brought out its famous Model U Deluxe (UDLX) tractor. It was specially equipped with cab, headlights, radio and high-speed road gear. Company advertising claimed a farmer could work in the fields all day, then drive to town in style (at a speed of 30-40 mph) for supplies and groceries. However, the concept was far ahead of its time, and the tractor was not a commercial success. Farmers accustomed to hard work and rough equipment were suspicious of a tractor offering comfort and amenities. Most UDLX tractors ended up being disassembled and the parts returned to stock.

The Rumely GasPull

In about 1852, Meinrad Rumely opened a blacksmith and machinery shop in Portland, Ind. In later years, the operation was moved to LaPorte, Ind. The popular Rumely OilPull (making its debut in 1911) was the company's most successful tractor. OilPull production ended in 1931 during the Great Depression.

Rumely made its first GasPull tractors in 1912 after purchasing the Northwest Thresher Co., Stillwater, Minn. The GasPull was rated as a 15-30 tractor. The GasPull remained on the market until about 1915, by which time Rumely had reorganized as the Advance-Rumely Thresher Co.

The Russell Big Boss

Russell & Co. started operations in 1842 when the Russell brothers began building threshing machines. When they later began building steam traction engines, it wasn't much of a leap from that to gas traction engines. The Russell "Big Boss," produced beginning in 1917, carried a 20-40 designation. The Big Boss used a Climax 4-cylinder engine with a 5-1/2-by-7-inch bore and stroke. According to C.H. Wendel in Standard Catalog of Farm Tractors 1890-1980, production of Russell tractors ended in 1927 when the company was sold at auction.

The Toro golf course tractor 

Toro Motor Co., Minneapolis, Minn., produced a cultivating tractor as early as 1918. For a time, Bull Tractor Co. tractors were built at Toro's Minneapolis factory. Ironically, "toro" is the Spanish word for "bull." Another interesting play on words, as noted by Wendel: In the Toro cultivator of the 1920s, the company named appeared on the radiator shell as "To-Ro," which could be pronounced "two row," an apt description of the unit.

In about 1925, Toro began producing power lawn mowing equipment. The line was continued with self-contained lawn mowers and golf course trucks, tractors and mowers. TORO remains in operation today as a leading manufacturer of lawn and garden equipment. FC 

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. Email him at jboblenz@aol.com