As Good as Gold

Sheppard Diesel tractors draw loyal following

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Like the "Forty-niners" panning for gold in "them thar hills" of California, modern day prospectors turn over many rocks looking for a certain "yellow gold" tractor … a Sheppard Diesel. Few are found, but the rare nugget is worth all the effort. And, like the Forty-niners, these prospectors cherish their bits of gold as much as those rugged individuals did 150 years ago.

This year, the Sheppard Diesel Club celebrated its 10th anniversary in August at the Maumee Valley Antique Steam and Gas Association Show at New Haven, Ind. Technically, this was the group's 11th meeting, but the first year - before the club was formally organized - the event was simply called "The Sheppard Diesel Reunion." In 1994, Lynn Klingaman, Columbia City, Ind., called several friends who also owned Sheppard Diesels and suggested they get together to show their tractors. At that gathering, the Sheppard Diesel Club was formed. Since then, each year they meet at a different location to exhibit tractors and equipment.

Jim Reed, Gibsonville, Ohio, is the current president of the group. Jim is an avid collector of Farmalls and International Harvester equipment. However, his pride and joy is a Sheppard Diesel SD-2 that he displays at Sheppard anniversary shows all over the country.

R.H. Sheppard, Hanover, Pa., produced diesel engines for U.S. Navy lifeboats during World War II. He knew he had a good product and knew he could build a worthy farm tractor at a reasonable price. He started manufacturing tractors in 1948, halting production 10 years later in 1958.

His first tractor was a small, 1-cylinder air-cooled tractor (quite like a garden tractor) advertised as being a "small diesel-powered farm tractor for the big jobs on the small place. It can do everything a team can do - and more!"

Next came the 2-cylinder SD-2, then the 3- and 4-cylinder tractors, SD-3 and SD-4. The model numbering system he devised was simple: SD stood for Sheppard Diesel. "One" stood for one cylinder and one plow. The numbers two, three and four similarly stood for 2-cylinder 2-plow, 3-cylinder 3-plow and 4-cylinder 5-plow tractors.

Horsepower ratings cost in 1955 were:

Sheppard built an experimental 6-cylinder tractor, but never brought it to the marketplace. It served its working life on a farm near Hanover.

To better fill farmers' needs, Sheppard added orchard/grove tractors to the mix as well as tractors and cars used in mining applications. The company manufactured a full line of farm implements, including 2- and 4-row cultivators, mounted corn planters, pull-behind corn planters, 2-, 3- and 4-bottom plows, disc harrows, cultipackers, sickle bar mowers and loaders. Also in the offering were diesel engines to power hay balers, combines and other farm equipment.

Sheppard produced conversion kits for Farmall Model M tractors. From company promotional materials: "The kit contains everything needed for complete conversion to FULL diesel power in less than a day. You can continue to use all your present Model M implements … conversion does not alter the frame in any way."

Although no conversion kit was advertised for B.F. Avery tractors, a B.F. Avery Model R converted to use a 2-cylinder Sheppard Diesel engine was a premier show piece at the Maumee Valley show.

Interestingly, every model tractor, most agricultural implements and many of the power units and generators produced by Sheppard were exhibited at the show. There were 16 tractors, two conversion units, 10 miscellaneous pieces of equipment, one mining tractor and trailer and 12 different power units/generators. Ignoring high gas prices, exhibitors came from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Oregon. Given the fact that the Sheppard was an unusual tractor for its time, produced for just 10 years, it was quite a display of items from a wide geographic area.

Although Sheppard no longer produces farm equipment, production of other mechanical devices continues at the Hanover plant. That's an accomplishment, too.

- 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. E-mail him at JBoblenz@aol.com