The saga of Lyle Osten’s Frick tractor began when the Callaway, Minn., man bought out an antique collector in Escanaba, Mich., in 1978.
It was pretty mundane stuff — except for a Frick 15-28. And as one of only two known running, the Frick wasn’t part of the package.
“He had six tractors, including an Allis-Chalmers 15-25 and a lot of small stuff,” Lyle recalls. The AC 15-25 was actually an AC 12-20 (an older version of the 15-25 before the model was re-rated after its Nebraska Tractor Test). “My dad has an Allis-Chalmers 15-25 all fixed up, so when we got mine home, I didn’t fix it up. It just sat there, until Steve Rosenbloom [Pawnee, Iowa] found out we each had one. He was collecting one of every Allis, and he didn’t have a 15-25, so he was bound and determined to get one from us, whether it was a 12-20 or 15-25. Actually, he wanted both.”
Victor, Lyle’s dad, had no plans to sell his. Instead Lyle and Victor made a list of rare tractors they’d be willing to trade for the 15-25/12-20 AC. The list included a 10-20 Townsend, a Mogul and a couple of others. After searching, though, Steve called to report. “I looked for all those other tractors you wanted,” he said, “and I can’t find any. But I found a tractor you might be interested in: a Frick.”
Lyle didn’t know anything about the Frick tractor, so he asked for a few days to do some research. “I found out it was a rare tractor too, so we made the deal,” Lyle recalls. “I told him what my Allis-Chalmers 15-25 looked like: It needed fenders and the hood required quite a bit of work. He said the Frick had a rusted-through gas tank, fenders were shot, the deck was gone, top and bottom of radiator tanks were gone, so I said it sounded like we both had tractors that needed a lot of work. Both engines were stuck, too, so we made the deal.”
They met halfway in Hector, Minn. “After looking at it, he was a lot more excited about the Allis than I was about the Frick,” Lyle says. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know how long this one is going to take me.’” He took it home to his Callaway farm where it sat for five years.
Getting down to business
In 1984, Lyle decided to work on the Frick. “We had two other tractors in the shop at the same time, an Allis-Chalmers WC on full steel and a WC wide-front. We finished those off pretty quickly, and went on to the Frick. I thought we would get it finished in a couple of months, but no way.”
First the tractor had to be wiped clean. “The original owner of the Frick had several hundred tractors,” Lyle explains. “He sprayed every one of them with oil to slow down deterioration. So when we got mine, it was quite dusty, but the oil had helped slow the rust.”
The tractor was disassembled, measurements were taken for a new gas tank (which was rolled at a radiator/blacksmith shop), fenders were made at an iron works, maple planks were sized for the deck, and the myriad other time-consuming bits and pieces of restoring a tractor got underway.
The magneto was gone, and Lyle couldn’t find the correct model Splitdorf magneto. He put a usable replacement magneto on the tractor until an older gentleman saw it and said that it was the only part on Lyle’s Frick that wasn’t original. “He said, ‘I have more than a hundred mags, so go to my shed and start digging.’ I found three Splitdorfs, but not a one was complete. I asked how much he wanted, and he said, ‘Take them to your friend that fixes mags and see if he can make one out of the three.’”
Eventually the three were parted out to make one usable and original-type Splitdorf magneto for the Frick, and the mag owner said he only wanted $10 in exchange. “He just wanted to see the tractor run with the correct magneto,” Lyle says.
Shock and awe
The most difficult part of the entire reconstruction was hand-scraping the Frick, but the work that took the longest was the engine head. Two valves were immovable. “I heated them, pounded on them, everything under the sun, but they wouldn’t budge,” Lyle says. “I took it to a machine shop where a guy put it on a wood block and took a big hammer to it. They say only 820 of the Fricks were made, so there aren’t any extra ones around for parts, so I was scared we would break something that we couldn’t find a part for or repair. It was a Beaver engine, and I didn’t know of another Beaver engine to get parts for it.”
Lyle watched in horror and amazement as the mechanic smacked it with a big hammer. “I saw the valves bend and the header pieces go flying out of there,” he recalls. “When the valve guide split, it flew across the room and I died in my heart. He looked at me and said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’ll make a new one.’” That’s what he did, and he made new valves for the Frick as well, using scrap Caterpillar D-8 valves.
Lyle’s Frick has a fast low gear, and the wheel lugs are quite worn, which makes him think it was used for road work. “The rear drive wheel gears are worn way down and are really sharp,” he says, “so we have to be awfully careful when we load it.”
Based on serial numbers and company shipping records he found in a book, Lyle determined that his Frick was originally sold to an Indianapolis farmer. “But my engine number wasn’t the same as the serial number of the tractor, so I started looking for that number,” he says. “As it turned out, it had been shipped to a dealer, so the company must have had the dealer switch a bad engine with the one that’s in mine now.” Lyle also discovered that only two of the Pennsylvania-manufactured tractors had been shipped west of the Mississippi, both to Nebraska for the Nebraska Tractor Tests.
Ready for Rollag — almost
After about a year of work, the 15-28 was ready. The Wednesday before it was to be shown at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion (WMSTR) in Rollag, Minn., in 1985, Lyle and Victor got it painted and started. But there were still a few bugs: The engine would run for a little while, and then stop — and that was enough to run a chill down Lyle’s spine, as he considered an invitation to drive the Frick in the Rollag parade.
Eventually he found a small chunk of rust that had worked its way through the screen in the carburetor (which hadn’t been installed exactly right) and lodged in an elbow in the line. Soon the machine was purring, and it’s been a regular at WMSTR ever since. “It’s one of the easiest-starting tractors I have,” Lyle says. “Most of the time after you prime it, it will start on the first quarter turn. Guaranteed on the second. When we used it for parading purposes, it will idle down in first, but we still have to clutch it.”
Besides an extensive Allis-Chalmers collection, Lyle and his wife, Bonnie, have other rare tractors, like a Centaur, an Allis-Chalmers D-10, Hart-Parr 28-50, 1906 Minneapolis 22-65 steam engine, Case VI, Gray and an unrestored Frick 12-24. He’s still looking for an Erd engine for the 12-24.
The only other piece of Frick equipment Lyle has run into is a Frick clock owned by a friend. “I didn’t know they made anything like that,” he says. “We were visiting one day, and there was this clock with ‘Frick’ on it. It looks like a clock used in school, or maybe in the company, because it has little electric leads to ring bells.”
For now, Lyle’s pretty content with his collection. “But that doesn’t stop me and Bonnie from having a little fun,” he says, “driving around the countryside, trying to spot one or two more.” FC
Read about George Frick and his company: “Engineer’s Genius Launched Diverse Frick Line.”