The Indiana Tractor

Star Tractor Co.'s Indiana tractor was a pioneer in the development of small, light tractors in the early 1900s.

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The Michaels’ Indiana tractor after restoration. Replacement parts included the engine, radiator and drive chains. Rims and some spokes were rebuilt.

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What a sight to see: a two-wheeled, overgrown garden tractor with a big engine and a two-wheeled riding sulky with a seat and a hitch. It is called, simply, an Indiana, and you can find it at the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association show, Portland, Ind. Father and son Don and Dwain Michael, Bryant, Ind., regularly display their Indiana there.

This little machine was developed in 1917 by Star Tractor Co., Findlay, Ohio. It is a front-end-drive tractor with a special hitch for a pair of wheels and a seat. It has a steering wheel, clutch, transmission and brakes, and uses a Le Roi 4-cylinder engine with 3-1/8-by-4-1/2-inch bore and stroke. This tractor was sold from late 1917 to early 1919 as the Star.

Most tractors of the era were huge, cumbersome, expensive machines. But farmers accustomed to working with teams of horses wanted something smaller and easier to handle. Henry Ford caught on first with his unit-bodied, gear-enclosed Fordson tractor. This lightweight tractor sold at a price comparable to that of a team of good horses. Other manufacturers followed suit, and the age of the small tractor was born.

In 1919, Indiana Silo Co., Anderson, Ind., bought Star Tractor Co. Indiana Silo & Tractor continued to manufacture the tractor in Findlay for a short time. Then it was produced at the Anderson plant. Later models were simply called the Indiana. The Indiana tractor also sold as the Indiana All 'Round tractor.

Fighting stiff market competition, this machine survived only a couple of years. The Indiana tractor was tested in September 1920 at Nebraska (Test No. 62), rated at 11.34 brake hp and 5.66 drawbar hp. That made it capable of pulling a 2-row cultivator and similar size implements. It weighed 2,200 pounds. Lightweight, front-end drive tractors such as the Indiana were none too good on backing with a heavy load. Often the tractor's back end reared up, creating a dangerous situation for the driver perched over lightweight implements.

During the Indiana's production life, other manufacturers began to make implements for the tractor. The 1-bottom, 16-inch Oliver no. 61 plow was a popular choice. According to Dwain, almost any horse-drawn tool could be modified to fit the Indiana tractor, including riding discs, grain drills, grain binders and corn binders.

Decades ago, farmers in many areas could defray part of their property tax bill by maintaining the dirt roads in front of their property. Many adapted horse-drawn mowing machines for use with early tractors like the Indiana in maintaining roads and right-of-way. A Russell grader was even available for use with tractors.

Indiana Silo Co. ceased tractor production some time between 1921 and 1924, making the Indiana tractor a rare bird indeed. Only a few are known to exist and even fewer are restored. If you see one of these little silver-and-black machines, stop for a good look. It's a treat for tired, old eyes. FC 

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. Email him at jboblenz@aol.com