Tracing The TOWNSEND

Roy and Wes

Roy C. Townsend Jr., left, and Wes Rankin with the author's Townsend 10-20.

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N68 W 23784 Laurie Lane Sussex, Wisconsin 53089 Reprinted with his permission. It appeared in the 1985 EDGE&TA Wisconsin Branch No. 2 Show Book

On October the ninth, 1884, at Magnolia, Rock County, Wisconsin, a boy was born who was destined to become the designer and builder of a unique farm tractor the Townsend Oil Tractor. He was born with a bent for things mechanical and, as a teenager, he built a very neat one-inch scale working model of a Case steamer. He built almost every part, including the valves, oil pump, and governor.

In his middle twenties he was working as designer and engineer for Fairbanks Morse, and designed their big 30-60. When Fairbanks Morse went out of the tractor business, Roy, his brother George Elmer, and their father, Arba F. Townsend formed a company to manufacture the Townsend tractor, (1914).

At first Fairbanks Morse distributed it under the name 'Fair-Mor'. Others which were exported to Canada were called 'Bower City'. These were the 12-25 size.

After a couple of years, the 12-25 became the 15-30, and four more sizes were produced. A 10-20, 20-40, 25-50. and 30-60. The 20-40 was essentially a 15-30 with a larger engine, and the 25-50 and 30-60 were also the same except for engine size. Later in the 20's a few units of a more conventional looking '2 plow 20 HP' were built. As far as I know, none of these survive.

Until the economic recession after World War I, the company was unable to meet the demand for their tractors. But that prosperity turned to heavy losses and production ceased. Later in the early 1930's the LaCrosse Boiler Company built a few 15-30, 20-40, and 30-60's, but by that time the design was out of date and the Townsend tractor was history.

During the middle 1960's I was looking for a Townsend that could be bought, without success, when in the spring of 1968 I thought that my chance had come. The Oscar Rude estate at Sun Prairie was having an auction on which was a very nice 15-30. But it was not to be. My check book balance couldn't handle it.

On the way home, in frustration, I began to consider ways in which a working replica could be built. Just about a year later that replica was running and went to our 1969 show for the first time.

Later I heard that Mr. Earl Anderson of Friendship had a 10-20 and I went up to see it and got acquainted with Earl. I kept in touch, and one day in 1972 he told me,

'Wes, if you will make me a good offer for the Townsend, you can have it.' I made sure that my offer was a good one.

In checking with the Rock County Historical Society, we found that Mr. Townsend was still alive, and living in LaCrosse. We visited them for the first time in 1973. At the age of 89 and 82, he and his wife, Edna were still living in their own home, and we had a delightful time.

Early in 1984 I wrote to their son, Roy C. Jr. and told him I was toying with the idea of taking the 10-20 up to LaCrosse on October 9, and one thing led to another.

The first thing was that Roy Jr. and his wife Ellen Jane, son Brian and a grandson came to our 1984 show as honored guests. Roy drove the 10-20 in the parade, the first Townsend he had driven in, probably, sixty years!

Then, on October 14, we did take the 10-20 Townsend tractor to LaCrosse to honor the grand old gentleman who built it. It was an occasion I just wouldn't have missed for anything.

Mr. Townsend's 'past' came back to 'haunt' him at his hundredth birthday, and his delight was just about indescribable! After the tractor 'demonstration' we went into the lounge for ice cream and birthday cake. Then his daughter-in-law gave him the pillow with a Townsend tractor embroidered on it which she had bought in the Ladies tent at our show.

I think that the only thing that kept it from being a perfect occasion was that Mrs. Townsend had passed away last spring after some seventy years of marriage. She would have loved that party!