Heider Tractors Are Three of a Kind

A rare trio of Heider tractors showcases the innovation of the Heider tractor line.

Heider B tractor

Marvin Stochl’s 1913 12 hp Heider B tractor, thought to be one of only three of these models still running.

Photo by Bill Vossler

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When it comes to collecting old iron, patience can be the biggest part of the puzzle. Take Marvin Stochl of Tama, Iowa. Decades passed as he waited for collectors to let go of tractors he had his eye on. For a rare, early Heider, he had to buy the tractor’s engine from one man, and then wait three years until the owner of the rest of the tractor would finally let it loose.

But good things come to those who wait, and that’s been the case for Marvin, whose collection includes three rare Heider tractors: a 1911 12 hp Heider A, a 1913 12 hp Heider B and a 12 hp Heider C built between 1915 and 1917.

Truly preserving the past

Marvin never left the family farm where he grew up. The house where he and his siblings grew up, starting in the 1940s, is across the road from his home. “A few years ago, I saw that raccoons were getting into the house,” he says, “so I told my sisters I should start working on it.” They decided to fix it up the way it was when they were kids.

Today, the house is home to its original cook stove, dry sink (using water from a cistern), cast iron bathtub and stool. “We had an outdoor toilet, but that rotted away,” Marvin says. “If we want water in the house now, we use the main pressure tank over here to get water over there. All I have to do is hook it up. People who go into the house can’t believe it, because it’s actually livable right now. It’s like a museum.”

That affection for the farm is the key to Marvin’s love of old iron. His collection numbers about 100 old tractors stored inside. He has 300 more outside.

Putting a package together

The first tractor produced by Heider Mfg. Co., Carroll, Iowa, made its debut in 1911. The small, 4-cylinder Heider Model A was a lightweight, weighing in at just 4,300 pounds. At that time, America’s farmers were looking for smaller tractors. This 8-12 model with a friction drive transmission, and the Heiders that would come after it, fit the bill.

In 1994, when Marvin first saw a 1913 12 hp Heider Model B, he stopped dead in his tracks. “Something about that tractor caught my eye, so I worked on trying to get it,” he says. “It was different. It had a chain drive and a drip radiator for cooling, and I knew it was something I wanted to add to my collection.”

The owners, however, were in no hurry to sell. They’d found the Heider in a grove of trees near Newton, Iowa. It had been used on a sawmill until it blew up and was pulled out into the timber. “It sat there for a good 35 years before these guys bought it in partnership,” Marvin says.

The engine was taken to one man’s shop for restoration; the rest of the tractor remained at the other man’s shop. Time passed, but the project never got off the ground. “That’s how I first saw it,” Marvin says. “The 80-year-old guy who had the Heider body didn’t want to sell it, because he wanted to fix it up.”

Then the partners had a dust-up. Pieces of the Heider remained as far apart as the partners, and Marvin couldn’t get hold of both parts of the tractor at the same time. “I bought the engine in 2001, three years before I bought the rest of the tractor,” he recalls, “and the only reason he let me have it was because he had prostate cancer. He wanted to see it run before he passed on.”

Working from the ground up

The engine had to be completely torn apart. “Anything that moved on it was stuck,” Marvin says. “After sitting for 75 years, the bottom half of one of the round roll bearings had deteriorated, so I matched up a set of bearings for each side and put them in,” Marvin says. “It’s amazing that the weather could rot out ball bearings as big around as your thumb.”

Three years later, in 2004, Marvin was able to buy the body from the other partner. “There wasn’t much metal left on it,” he says. “It had all been eaten away. I had to replace all the metal on the sides of the fenders. To cool the engine, water was pumped from the engine to the radiator, and dripped through the louvers back into the tank.”

He had few resources to guide the restoration. “At that time, I didn’t know anything about the tractor,” he says. “As time went on, I found bits of information here and there. A lot of information on these tractors got lost when the factory in Carroll closed.”

Restoration with no shortcuts

Removing and restoring the tractor’s 15-foot drive chains was a major undertaking. “I had to hold them in my hand, all rusted,” Marvin says, “and take a torch and heat each link individually to get it to loosen up and get rid of the rust, to loosen the pin connecting each link. I’d take a hammer and beat on it until it limbered up. Then I’d put it back on the sprocket and see if I could turn it by hand. If not, I had to heat it a little more, until it got loose. Then I put oil on it. I did that with the drive chains on each side of the tractor.”

Some parts had to be made from scratch and then custom-fit, like the bearings on the friction clutch. A Texas company said they could make the clutch part, but they’d need a pattern of the casting in order to drill holes for bolts to hold the clutch in. “So I drew up a diagram off the casting I had and sent it to them,” Marvin says. “They made the clutch part, and all the bolts fit in the correct holes, and everything fit.”

Getting the tractor’s color right was also a challenge. In a protected area on the tractor, Marvin found a trace of old paint, presumably the original color, and used that as a sample. “We had to guess at that,” he says, “and it’s hard to know if it’s exactly right. I also assumed that the Heider C was painted the same color as the B.” He followed the same process to recreate the tractor’s canopy. “We found a little piece of the cloth and looked at old pictures,” he says, “and went from there.”

Uncovering the La Crosse connection

Marvin started work on the Model B in 2004. “On June 24, 2005, the tractor took its first breath, after 74 years of sitting idle,” he says. “It was just a challenge to fix up something like that.”

At that point, Marvin called the man who’d sold the tractor’s engine to him and invited him to come see the finished product. During the year Marvin spent restoring the tractor, the man had survived his battle with prostate cancer. When the man saw the Heider, Marvin says, he shed a few tears. Later, at Marvin’s urging, he would drive the Heider B in the parade at Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. “He was really tickled about that,” Marvin says.

The Heider B was rated as a 4-plow tractor, with a Waukesha engine and a conventional radiator. When Marvin started cleaning the radiator, he uncovered more than he’d bargained for. “I was surprised to find ‘Heider’ on one side,” he says, “and ‘La Crosse Plow Co., La Crosse, Wisconsin,’ on the other.”

That discovery is likely the result of an early arrangement between Heider Mfg. Co. and La Crosse Plow Co. In 1912, La Crosse Plow was named an agent for Heider. During a three-year period, the Wisconsin company purchased as many as 44 Heider tractors. At the same time, La Crosse Plow announced plans for a complete line of tractor plows.

Completing the set

Marvin put together a full set of Carroll-built Heiders after receiving a call from the owner of a Heider Model A in Carroll, Iowa. “They had the Heider C and Heider A, and I had the Heider B and Heider C,” he says, “so they came over here and tried to buy the B from me. They were hoping to have a complete collection of Heiders on display in the town where the line originated.”

But it didn’t work out that way. Eventually, Marvin bought the 1911 12 hp Model A from Carroll, completing his trio. “From the information I’ve been able to find, this is the only one left in the world,” he says. “How it survived the war-era scrap drives, I don’t know.”

Quirks of the early model

Marvin suspects the Model A was essentially a prototype. “The wheels are only 6 inches wide, which would never work in a field,” he points out. “And it didn’t have any fenders, where the B has fenders and 8-inch wheels, and both were chain drive.” The Heider A had a Rutenber engine and pulled a 3-bottom plow; the Heider B had a Waukesha engine and pulled a 4-bottom plow.

Both early Heider models used gasoline, kerosene and water. “You started the A and the B on gas, warmed the tractor up, and then switched to kerosene, and if you wanted to, burned water with that,” Marvin explains. “You got more power out of it that way and saved fuel. And water is cheap. I have some Massey-Harris Challenger tractors that operate that way, too.”

The system used two tanks. One held gasoline; the second held kerosene and water in separate compartments. Product literature says the tractors held 20 gallons of water and 30 gallons of fuel in total.

The manufacturer clearly learned from early mistakes, Marvin says. “They improved on those earlier tractors,” he says. “The C was a good tractor and it really sold, and after that, the A and B dropped out of the picture. The Heider C has the same kind of engine as the B, but it’s more modernized. It sold for about $900 ($20,667 today) when it came out in 1913.”

The success of the C set the stage for a major transition. Rock Island Plow Co., Rock Island, Illinois, had begun selling Heider tractors in 1914, says C.H. Wendel in Farm Tractors 1890-1980. Two years later, in 1916, Rock Island bought out the Heider tractor line. Rock Island continued selling tractors under the Heider name until 1927.

On the hunt for new challenges

Buying old tractors to restore – even the occasional basket case – has been an enjoyable hobby for Marvin. But he’s looking for a bigger challenge now. “I know of a couple of steam engines buried in the river,” he says, “but the Department of Natural Resources won’t let you dig them up.

“I also know where there is an old tractor buried,” he adds, “and I always wanted to dig that one up and see what I could do with it. It’s on a farmstead not too far away from me. An old guy had a washout in the ditch, and they would throw junk down there. They pushed the tractor down there and pretty soon it got buried. “It would be interesting to see if a person could make anything out if it, considering it’s been sitting in the dirt for years.” FC

For more information:

— Marvin Stochl, 1983 365th St., Tama, IA 52339-9646.                                         

­— Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: bvossler@juno.com.