History of Aultman & Taylor Part X

The debut of Aultman & Taylor's steam engines and tractors

8 HP Aultman & Taylor

8 HP Aultman & Taylor owned by Vic Johnson.

Photo by Dr. Robert T. Rhode

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This issue of the Iron-Men Album brings us to the 10th installment of Dr. Bixler's history of the Aultman & Taylor Company, as edited by Dr. Robert T. Rhode. The Album is serializing Dr. Bixler's book. Dr. Bixler, a professor at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, passed away before he could publish the manuscript on which he had labored for many years. This installment looks at the debut of the steam engine and the Aultman & Taylor tractors.

Click here for part I of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part II of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part III of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part IV of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part V of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part VI of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part VII of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part VIII of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part IX of the history of Aultman & Taylor.


The Debut of the Steam Engine and the Aultman & Taylor Tractors

Allusion has already been made to the fact that the vibrator thresher required a steady power that was impossible to secure with the horse powers. Then, too, there arose in the major grain growing areas of the country a demand for a larger separator, but horsepowers were inadequate to operate those machines efficiently.

Under the pressure of these demands the companies began to build steam engines. At first portables then a few years later traction engines came into general use.

In spite of the skepticism that prevailed among the farmers, the demand for steam engines continued to grow apace. Among the first manufacturers to recognize and meet that demand was C.&G. Cooper Company of Mount Vernon, Ohio. During 1868-69 they built an experimental traction engine that was steered by horses.

Keenly aware of the changing conditions of the time, the Aultman & Taylor Manufacturing Company had no intention of permitting other companies to preempt the market. They quickly came to the realization that it would be necessary to build steam engines if they were to remain in business.

Consequently, during 1876 they selected a portable engine that was deemed the most perfect of all those proposed for their consideration. The design of the Aultman & Taylor engine was similar to that of the Cooper engine. They were built in 6 and 12 HP sizes and were mounted on horizontal boilers. The steam chest was placed at the rear on the left side of the boiler with the flywheel on the right side near the front of the engine. It was mounted on wooden wheels and drawn by horses. It was named "The Aultman & Taylor Farm Engine."

The Aultman & Taylor Manufacturing Company was not among the first to produce traction engines but designed and built its first traction engine during 1880.1 It was a bevel gear engine, one of many of those engines built by the company and that contributed significantly to the reputation and success of the firm . The traction engine followed the same design as the portable engine. The company continued to use this design until 1906. That year they built only four of the engines so designed, and that was the last year that they built them.2 Shortly before, the firm had introduced a spur gear traction engine that differed greatly from the bevel gear style and that proved quite successful. The firm's building of bevel gear engines extended over a period of 26 years. Aultman & Taylor built steam engines for a period of 39 years.

The company's first self-propelled engines were known as the "Aultman & Taylor Traction Engine" and were attractive in appearance. After the very first traction engine was built and having satisfied itself that it was superior to any on the market, the company invited seven men to witness its operation and to render a judgment with respect to its suitability for the purpose for which it was built. The men were considered experts on steam engines: E.S. Downey of Aurora, Ind.; Edward Smith of La Gro, Ind.; C.F. Adams of Parkman, Ohio; Daniel Harmon of Fort Wayne, Ind.; Oscar Adams of Parkman, Ohio; and R. R. Blair of Cincinnati, Ohio. The men were requested to render an honest judgment relative to the engine's merits. The engine was given a severe test, and the group of carefully selected men recorded the following judgment:

"The undersigned have each had a very wide and at the same time intimate acquaintance with traction and self-propelling engines in the market; have each of us sold them and operated them and are practically familiar with them and can, without claiming any unreasonable amount of shrewdness, say we are competent to give an intelligent opinion on the subject, and think it will be safe for all parties who intend buying traction or self-propelled engines, or intend to sell traction engines to others, to accept our judgment in the matter. While we wish cordially to admit the merits of other traction engines, and while we do not criticize other makes, nevertheless it is our unanimous opinion the Aultman & Taylor traction engine is today the most perfect and desirable in the American market. In every point and feature, the Aultman & Taylor is at least abreast of the best, while in general workmanship, neatness in detail and perfection in finish, we have never seen its equal, and in some important points it is absolutely without rivals:

"1. The two propelling-wheels are mechanically the most perfect we have ever seen, and their height is such as to recommend them over any in the market, and their location for sustaining the weight of the engine and securing freedom of motion in bad roads has never, to our knowledge, been equaled.

"2. The lugs rolled into the tire of these wheels by a process secured to the Aultman & Taylor Company by letters of patent, is far in advance of the pins usually used, and will be found a great daily convenience in moving from place to place, especially over bridges, where the objections to pins is apparent.

"3. In the Aultman-Taylor traction engine the propelling power is communicated directly from the main shaft to the rear axle, thus entirely doing away with the supplemental shaft and complicated gearing of the same, in use on all traction engines we are acquainted with. How great this advantage is will at once be understood by all who know anything about traction engines; to others we would say, in this respect the Aultman-Taylor traction engine has several distinct advantages: (a) simplicity; (b) economy in fuel; (d) increased durability; (e) decreased weight; (f) ease of management; (g) decreased liability to delays from breakage. We should think these advantages would add at least $100 to the value of the Aultman-Taylor traction engine.

"4. The Aultman-Taylor traction engine has what all others lack, and what every traction engine should have, and that is a simple, easily managed arrangement for reversing the motion and propelling the engine backward as well as forward. In bad roads, and especially when the roads are full of mud-holes, this really is a prime necessity, and it is a feature we cannot praise too highly, as many men will now feel free to buy traction engines who have always refused to buy them because they feared in heavy roads they might get 'stuck in the mud,' and being unable to get any purchase by backing, would be greatly annoyed and delayed.

"The points named by us, taken in connection with the general excellence of the Aultman-Taylor traction engine, are so important as to lead us to say that, unquestionably, in our opinion, this engine is worth to any purchaser more than any traction engine in the market; and as it meets and overcomes all the objections ever made to traction engines, it must find a very general and, we cannot help but feel, an enormous demand."

A team was used only to steer the engine, for it propelled itself. The testimony of this group of men became a selling gimmick. Such testimony given by a group of competent men whose prestige was high carried considerable weight with prospective customers and so became an effective instrument in selling the engine.

The engine was propelled by an inclined shaft on the right-hand side of the boiler extending from the crankshaft of the engine to the rear axle and that was connected with large bevel gears. Hence they became known as bevel gear engines. They also became popularly known as the "Sunflower Engine" since the large bevel gear connected with the crankshaft resembled a sunflower. For many years an exact model of this first engine was on display in the office of the company .

Within a few years following the building of their first engine a number of improvements were made, such as self-steering, the link reverse, and iron wheels. With the rapid increase in the demand for these engines it became necessary to construct additional shops exclusively for the building of the Aultman & Taylor farm engine and the Aultman & Taylor traction engine.

From the bending of the boiler plates to the painting of the finished engine all of the work was done under one roof. Even at that time there was a considerable amount of division of labor so that the men who were responsible for certain jobs became competent in those phases of engine building.

During the 1870s and 1880s, when the firm began building steam engines, Aultman & Taylor enjoyed rapid expansion of its business. In a typical year during those decades the company used the following amounts of materials in the manufacture of threshing machinery: molding sand, clay, etc., 50 railroad car loads; coal, 300 cars; oil and varnish, eight cars; sail and wire cloth, seven cars; lumber, belting, etc., 507 cars; hardware, nine cars; and iron, 326 cars. A total of 1,207 car loads of materials were used during one year. It was stated that this number of cars would make a train of 15 miles in length.

In 1878 the Aultman & Taylor Company was one of the largest builders of threshing machinery in the country. From 1868 through 1880, with the exception of one year (1878), they were able to fill all of the orders for their machinery. During those years they were compelled to increase production several times to meet the demands for their machinery. This was accomplished by working extra time and by the enlargement of their working force.

Then, too, in order to achieve increased production it became necessary to add extensions to their plant, such as shops, warehouses, offices, and yards. These additions increased the total area to 35 acres.

Another interesting set of figures portrays the magnitude of the firm's business. In 1867 the company used $200 worth of postage stamps while the firm's expenses for postage in 1880 were over $5,000. It should be remembered that this was many years before any increase in postage occurred.

The Tractors

The successful development of the gasoline automobile gave rise to a demand for a gasoline tractor capable of replacing the steam engine as a source of power. The first record of the Aultman & Taylor Company's interest in the building of a tractor was evidenced by action taken by the board of directors on July 1, 1906. At that meeting a committee was appointed, the members of which were Arnold Kalmerten, James Reynolds, and G.W. Gans. That committee was instructed to investigate the merits of a certain patent for a gasoline engine in which Kalmerten was interested.3 Apparently the idea of building an Aultman & Taylor tractor had its origin in the mind of one man, Kalmerten.

The committee was empowered to formulate a plan for adoption, if the committee were to deem it advisable to build and sell such a gasoline engine, or tractor. The committee was invested with the power to act, and so no report of the committee was ever made to the board of directors. However, later events show that the committee must have considered the plan to have had merit and so proceeded to act. Yet, four years elapsed following the appointment of the committee before the company's first tractor was built. It was manufactured during 1910, sold, and shipped to Fargo, S.D., where it was tested.4 

The firm's first tractor, Number 1, nicknamed "Old Trusty," was sold by F.W. Galland on July 4, 1910. By 1920 that tractor had plowed 10,000 acres and was used for threshing each fall. It was still running well in 1920.5 

Following the testing of that tractor, the company placed its tractors on the market. In 1910 the executive committee of the board of directors was authorized to build in lots of 25 from time to time as the conditions of the trade required. The records do not show the number of tractors that the company built each year. However, the executive committee was authorized to build 160 in 1915, 224 in 1916, and 300 in 1917. A fair estimate of the total number of tractors built would be approximately 4,500. The firm produced more tractors in the 30-60 size than in any of the other sizes.

Company catalogs stated: "Our motors are built for heavy-duty service; are of the 4-cylinder, 4-cycle type, cylinders are cast in pairs and arranged parallel and in horizontal position. Being cast in pairs, the weight is lessened, perfect water circulation provided, greater rigidity with fewer joints secured by bolts and a simple water and carburetor connection."

The firm claimed, "With the drop forge cam shaft used in Aultman & Taylor tractor motors, the timing is fixed before leaving the factory and will practically never need adjusting."

Catalogs also said, "All Aultman & Taylor tractors are provided with both battery and magneto. Battery consists of 10 No. 6 dry cells arranged in two series." The company stated, "The speed of our motors is automatically controlled by a fly-ball governor, placed intact in the crankcase, driven by a gear off the cam shaft. The speed may be varied from 125 to 500 revolutions per minute on 25-50 and 30-60 sizes, and from 125 to 600 revolutions on 18-36, by simply moving a lever."6 

The firm's catalogs said, "We wish to call your attention to our valve-in-head construction. This construction insures maximum power and efficiency, with a minimum consumption of fuel. The valves are easily removed by pressing down on the spring and removing the pin after cylinder heads have been removed. A cap holds the pin in position, preventing its loss or removal except by compressing the spring. The valve rods have a ball on one end that fits in a socket in the upper end of rocker arm."

The firm stated, "The cylinders are cast from a mixture of semi-steel of a special chemical analysis so that they will wear smooth and hard as glass. Contrast this with soft-coarse grained cast iron as used by many other tractor builders. The cylinder heads are cast in pairs, and secured to the cylinders by heavy stud bolts provided with copper asbestos gaskets. These heads can be readily and easily removed to clean out carbon deposits in combustion chambers. To secure best results from an internal combustion engine, carbon deposits must not be permitted."

The 30-60 achieved immediate success and was specially adapted to the needs of large farms. It was capable of pulling eight to 12 plows and operated the largest thresher built.

During the season of 1918 the company announced a new and smaller size, a 15-30 HP tractor. It was designed for the 200-acre farm and was the smallest tractor that the company built. With it they hoped to satisfy the demand for a small tractor, as well as to meet the competition from other companies that had placed small tractors on the market. While it may have been a good tractor, it did not capture the market and was not as popular as were several other tractors of that period. It was capable of pulling four 14-inch plows. The company's 1920 and later catalogs stated that the 15-30 tractor could handle the firm's 27-inch New Century separator fully equipped. No figures are available as to the number of that size tractor that they built, but it is probably fair to state that it was fewer than any of the other sizes

The firm's tractors received considerable favorable publicity as a result of the records they made in tests, particularly those staged at Winnipeg, Fremont, and Lincoln. In 1912 the company's tractors were submitted to tests at Winnipeg and were proved to be superior. At the Fremont Power Demonstration in 1917, Aultman & Taylor tractors pulled one 14-inch plow seven inches deep for each 3 HP drawbar rating. It was claimed that the Aultman & Taylor tractors at that demonstration showed approximately 20 percent greater efficiency than any of the other tractors entered.

Then in 1919 Nebraska enacted a law that any company that sold a tractor in Nebraska was required to submit that tractor to tests. Those tests were conducted on the state fairgrounds at Lincoln during the latter part of June and the early part of July in 1920. The description of those tests is presented in considerable detail in a statement written by W.H. Worthington, who was the company's chief engineer: "In the early part of last year (1919), Nebraska put into effect a law designed to encourage the manufacture and use of improved types of tractors, and to contribute to their more successful adoption for farm purposes, and at the same time to protect the farmer against untrue and unfair claims regarding any tractor offered for sale. In order to check the claims and statements made by the manufacturer, it was decided that a stock tractor of each model sold within the state should be tested and passed upon by a board of engineers under the management of the state university.

"The test on each tractor was run in seven parts as follows: First, each tractor was given a running in or limbering up period of 12 hours on a dirt track, during which time it pulled a load ranging from one-third to its full rated drawbar horsepower. Second, the tractor was taken indoors and belted to a Sprague electric dynamometer where it carried its rated belt load at rated speed for two hours. Following the rated load run on the belt was, third, a one hour variable load test wherein the tractor developed from no load to full load, and, fourth, one hour run at one-half rated load, followed by, fifth, a one hour maximum load run with the governor wide open. After having passed these indoor tests, the tractor was taken to the cinder testing track where the sixth part of the test was applied by causing it to pull its rated drawbar load for a period of 10 hours. This rated drawbar run was immediately followed by, seventh, a maximum load test which consisted of a series of short runs with increased load for each run until the engine was either overloaded or the drive wheel slipped excessively. The drawbar horsepower of the tractor was measured by means of an electric dynamometer car especially designed and built by the university for the running of these tests. The draft of this car could be changed at will with a maximum limit of 5,000 pounds so that any desired load could be applied and maintained. A regular Gulley traction dynamometer was built into the hitch of this car in such a way that the exact pull of the tractor in pounds, together with the number of feet traveled, could be measured and recorded.

"Until such time as a tractor could be tested, the manufacturer was granted a temporary permit to sell tractors subject to the results of the tests. As a result, some 93 tractors were offered for test, and the work of testing them at the university began early this spring.

"Owing to the fact that a number of tractor manufacturers who were entered previous to ourselves were unable to get their tractors ready for the tests at the appointed time, we entered ahead of our turn. Our tractors were shipped the early part of June, arriving at Lincoln Saturday night, the 26th, when Mr. Hoig of the Lincoln branch wired us and immediately Mr. Cedarburg and myself went out there to arrange the tests.

"It was necessary for us to run the tractors out to the state grounds some three miles from the center of the city before bolting on the lugs. As a result of the delay, we did not get the first tractor started on the limbering up run until Wednesday morning, the 30th. During the entire time of the tests, there were always delays due to rains and other unavoidable happenings, so that we were nearly three weeks making the entire series of runs, which, however, were successfully completed without any especially exciting event, except that our 30-60 first broke the spring in the traction dynamometer, tore the 10-inch belt down about 40 feet of its length. There were no casualties suffered by this accident, although one of the testers came very nearly being spanked to death.

"The following excellent performance of our several tractors, as taken from the official reports, speak for themselves:

  • 15-30 Tractor Maximum horsepower on the belt, 34.37
  • Maximum drawbar horsepower, 21.19
  • 22-45 Tractor Maximum horsepower on the belt, 46.66
  • Maximum drawbar horsepower low gear, 28.10
  • Maximum drawbar horsepower high gear, 25.58
  • 30-60 Tractor Maximum horsepower on the belt on kerosene, 75.49
  • Maximum horsepower on the belt on gasoline, 80.10
  • Maximum drawbar horsepower on kerosene, 55.35
  • Maximum drawbar horsepower on gasoline, 58.05

"To give us enough load during the maximum test of the 30-60, we pulled, in addition to the dynamometer car, an Avery 18-36, our own 22-45 with clutch in and the engine turning, two stone boats, each loaded to 1,500 pounds weight, and a pair of heavy rolls with concrete. The entire load made quite a dignified looking procession, and caused no end of comment. At the time this test was run, the track was covered with dust to the depth of over three inches, but owing to the design of the lug equipment used on our drive wheels slippage was but 4.3 percent, which established a new low slippage record for this track. It is interesting to note that our 30-60 is the most powerful tractor tested by the university.

"There is, of course, a very considerable degree of opposition to these tests among manufacturers whose tractors do not come up to their ratings, but there are a good many, who, like ourselves, really build tractors capable of satisfactorily doing everything claimed by them, who welcome this opportunity of getting an official test on so scientific and unvarying a basis.

"The university authorities, while obliged to live up to the absolute letter of the law in these tests, nevertheless were extremely courteous and obliging at all times and did everything in their power to secure the best results possible. Except in the limbering up run, our tractors were operated entirely by the university engineers, and neither Mr. Cedarburg nor myself were permitted to make any adjustments whatsoever.

"We really feel that our tractors made an enviable record, especially in view of the Winnipeg contests which were held eight years ago in which our 30-60 tractor made a medal winning performance. However, we find at this time it developed but 61.2 horsepower on kerosene and 73.4 horsepower on gasoline, and did not have to pull the radiator fans, which consumes at least three horsepower. Furthermore, an allowance of 7 percent for belt slippage was made at Winnipeg, whereas no such credit was given at Lincoln, all of which shows that the performance of our tractor has been continually improved. This bettering of past performances, however, indicates the trend of the industry in general. Nevertheless, it is gratifying to feel that we are maintaining the lead that it has always been our privilege to assume."7 

In light of Worthington's excellent report on the tractor tests at Lincoln, one can understand the confidence and pride, which the company displayed in its tractors. It was a rare privilege for those who witnessed the tractors performing under the severest and most rigid kinds of tests that it was possible to devise at that time. Small wonder then that the Aultman & Taylor tractors received wide acclaim and became a favorite among many users!

As a young man, Herbert C. Rupp was employed as a service man for the International Harvester Company and covered the northwestern states, including Minnesota and the Dakotas. The following incident occurred near Bismarck, N.D. A group of men were threshing with an Avery tractor that was giving them trouble, and Rupp was asked to rectify it. He rode from Bismarck with a minister in a Model T Ford. When they approached the farm, Rupp remarked to the minister that one of the valves in the tractor was not working.

The men were Germans, and, while Rupp worked on the tractor, they engaged in conversation in the German language. One of them remarked, "If this young fellow can't fix this tractor, we will kick his as_ out of here." Presently they began talking about the Ford and inquired as to how many cylinders it had. Rupp replied in German. They were highly embarrassed by the fact that the young fellow had understood every word that they uttered.

Rupp fixed it, and the man in charge offered him $10 per day, if he would stay with them and keep the tractor running. His reply was "no," since he was working for IHC. Then the separator man said, "I'm getting $6 per day, and I'll give you a dollar a day in addition to the $10 because, if you are not here, we will lose much more than that in delay."

Rupp then called his boss at IHC and related the circumstances. His reply was, "Herb, if you don't take care of yourself, no one else will. You go ahead and help them out." So he worked for them at eleven dollars per day and long enough to earn $400 or $500. With that money in his pocket he went to Highland Park College in Des Moines, Iowa, and completed his engineering education.

He went to Mansfield in 1919 and was employed by the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company as a designing engineer. He assumed a major role in the development of the carburetor for the company's tractors. It was so designed as to save fuel . About that time the company employed E.L. Brunger as Works Manager and placed him in charge of the engineering department in spite of the fact that Worthington was the chief engineer. Brunger had been an employee of the Advance-Rumely Company . He was a disappointment, and the Advance-Rumely Company was delighted to get rid of him.

Brunger attempted to model the Aultman & Taylor 15-30 tractor similarly to the Rumely Oil Pull. Rupp was of the opinion that the frame of their tractors should have been made straight instead of having a curvature. As a result of Brunger's experimentation, the company lost the whole year of 1917 testing that tractor. When it was finally built, Rupp tried it out, plowing for sixty days, and at the end of that time the differential broke. It was not until about 1920 that the company overcame the problems. Rupp stated that many of the tractors that they sold during 1917-1919 were defective and that wherever they sold one they never sold another one. In the meantime the Fordson was placed on the market, and Aultman & Taylor lost its trade.8 

In all fairness it must be emphasized that the preceding discussion represents Rupp's opinions, but, since he occupied a prominent position in the building of Aultman & Taylor tractors, they cannot be dismissed lightly.

Aultman & Taylor tractors proved to be successful, and the company was numbered among the leaders in the building of tractors. Due credit should be accorded to the officials of the company for being alert to the requirements of that bygone day.


1. In Chapter 12 Dr. Bixler says that Joe Rynda's wooden-wheel, bevel gear Aultman & Taylor traction engine was built in 1877. Dr. Bixler gives the date as 1878 in a caption accompanying a photograph of Rynda's engine. These dates conflict with Dr. Bixler's statement that the first Aultman & Taylor traction engines were produced in 1880.

2. At one point Dr. Bixler says that four bevel gear engines were built in 1906, but in another place Dr. Bixler says that five bevel gear engines were constructed in that final year of production of bevel gear engines.

3. The term "gasoline engine" as used in this connection and in the board's deliberations refers to a tractor and probably is used in contrast with the term "steam engine."

4. Record Book, Minutes of the Meetings of the Stockholders and Directors of the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company.

5. The Rooster, September 1920. 2.

6. Aultman & Taylor catalogs, 1910-1923.

7. The Rooster, August 1920. 12.

8. Interview with Herbert Rupp.