Fageol More Than Tractors
The Fageol brothers cut a broad swath with cars, trucks, marine engines and their unique tractor
A 1919 Fageol tractor at the Heidrick Ag History Center, Woodland, Calif.
A few years ago I saw a small Fageol marine engine at a local show. The owner told me it had been made in nearby Kent, Ohio. I knew that Fageol (pronounced fad-jl) made heavy trucks and busses during the 1920s and 1930s, along with the unusual Fageol tractor from the early ’20s, but that company was located in California. After some research, I found that the Fageol story reaches from Iowa to California and then Kent, Ohio, and involves cars, trucks, tractors, busses, marine engines, speedboat racing and race cars, with a few people movers thrown in along the way.
Starting in the heartland
William Fageol, who was born in 1880, and his brother Frank, who was born two years later, grew up near Ankeny, Iowa. As teenagers, the brothers – probably with the help of older brother and machinist Rollin – built an 8-passenger self-propelled vehicle. The machine (it’s unclear whether it was steam or gas powered) was claimed to be Iowa’s first car. The boys used the machine to haul Ankeny residents, for a fee, to the Iowa State Fair 10 miles away in Des Moines.
In about 1904, Frank and William relocated to San Francisco and went to work for a Rambler dealer named Louis Bill. Shortly after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Bill secured a Rambler agency in Oakland for the Fageol brothers.
In 1915, at the Panama-Pacific Exposition a ground transportation system was needed. Frank Fageol developed a small tractor powered by a Ford engine that pulled several 20-passenger trailers. The tractors and trailers were built at a factory owned by Fageol and were a great success.
In 1916, Charles Nash bought the Jeffrey Co., makers of the Rambler automobile, and took over the Fageol dealership. Bill lost his agency as well and joined the Fageols in a new enterprise in Oakland to build passenger cars, trucks and tractors. Probably only two Fageol cars were built. They used Hall-Scott aircraft engines and were big, luxurious and expensive, selling for $12,000 ($242,447 today). World War I demand for Hall-Scott airplane engines and other materials halted car production, but the truck and tractor business continued.
In 1915, California farmer Rush Hamilton patented a tractor on which the engine sat between the two front drive wheels and the operator rode a sulky at the rear. The Hamilton tractor cost $1,085 ($23,658 today) and had a pressed steel frame, a 4-cylinder engine, enclosed drive gears running in oil, and was advertised as pulling as much as a 4-horse team.
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