In 1913, not every farmer had the means to trade up from horses to horsepower. The Victor Traction Gear Company moved quickly to fill that void, providing the equipment to convert a gas engine into a tractor.
"Basically, it's a kit tractor," says Gary Cooper, Reynolds, Ind., who, with Gene Dallinger, owns a 1913 Victor. "They sold the gears and wheels, and you put it together. You'd use whatever motor or engine you wanted. It was made for hay baling, grinding, other small jobs, and some people used it to fill silos. It was not made to go in the fields and plow, but some people used it for that."
It was a simple premise: The company shipped gears, steel wheels, steering wheel and seat to turn an engine into a kit tractor.
"You made your own wood frame, and put in whatever engine you wanted," Gary says. "One guy supposedly used a Willis car engine, and used it to power a threshing machine."
Almost anything, it seems, was possible. Gary has an original Victor manual, filled with lofty statements (but no pricing information).
"It says one guy in Minnesota, basically a teamster, used four horses to pull a wagon. When he got the Victor, he got rid of all four horses, and ended up using it to pull two wagons," he says. "It'd go 1.5 mph, and he put 2,000 miles on it."
Gary's Victor has one forward speed, and one reverse.
"It was actually pretty progressive for its time," he says. "There were several tractors then that didn't have reverse."
Related memorabilia seems not to exist.
"I've never seen an ad for the Victor," he says. "And there were no dealers for it; it says in the book that they cut out the middleman. For the poor man, it was quite a deal. They'd ship it by rail (it probably weighed 1,000 pounds with the gears), and you'd go pick it up at the station."
Information on the Victor company has been equally hard to track down.
"Mine's a 1913," Gary says, "but I have no idea how long they were made. The Victor was built 15 miles east of Marion, Ohio, where the Huber was built. There's a good possibility that the gears were made by Huber, but we just don't know.
"We know of five of these still intact," he says. "We got it from Ken Wolf, who got it from Spokane, Wash., where it was used to make apple cider."
The cover of the catalog he has reads: Victor Traction Gear Company. Third annual catalog 1916. Manufacturers of differential and transmission gears, traction wheels, freight wheels, axles, steering gear parts, boxings, clutch sprockets, chain and other appliances for converting gasoline engines into tractors. Loudonville, OH.
Patented 1915. For complete set of gears applied to portable gasoline engines to make them self propelling.
The Victor's design is both unusual and clever, Gary says.
"It's a unique piece; something you don't really think about," he says. "You know, International used an Ohio tractor on one of the first traction engines. Those people in Ohio must have been extremely inventive, is all I can say." FC
For more information: Gary Cooper, 3682 W. 100 S., Reynolds, IN 47980. Phone: (219) 984-5055.