Proud Survivor: International Harvester Co. Type A

1908 International Harvester Co. Type A perhaps the oldest running gas tractor in U.S.

IHC Type A Roof

The roof on the International Type A is not original to the tractor. It replaces one built of corrugated steel by Vernon Iverson.

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During the time Spencer Iverson was serving with the armed forces in Vietnam, his father sent him a precious gift to remind him of home. “He recorded the sound of our 1908 International Harvester Co. tractor so I could hear it over there, and to remind me of all my relatives,” the Lamberton, Minn., man says, choking up at the memory. “That’s how important that tractor is to our family.”

Eureka!

In the early 1900s, Spencer’s grandfather, Vernon Iverson, was a 16-year-old immigrant from Norway. He walked 7 miles from the rail station in Storden, Minn., to the farm where he was to work. “The story goes that he came over the hill and saw the beauty of the farm, and said ‘Eureka!’ or ’I found it,’ and that’s how the farm got named,” Spencer says.

Vernon worked on the farm for a number of years. When the owner’s health deteriorated, the neighbors asked him, “Why don’t you give the farm to this young kid?” “That’s how it started,” Spencer says. “The owner signed the farm over on a piece of paper, and it’s been legal ever since. That’s how Eureka Farm started.”

In 1908, Vernon took his horses from the farm to the railhead at Storden. When he returned, it was with a brand new 1908 IHC Type A 15 hp tractor (serial no. 1402). “It’s one of the lowest frame numbers we’re aware of involving International,” Spencer says.

On the farm, the new tractor was used strictly for belt-and-pulley work during threshing and to blow silage into a silo. “They tried hitching it to a plow once, but it just didn’t work out,” Spencer says. “Grandpa also took the machine over to the neighbor’s and helped them with some of their work.”

One of the first gas-powered tractors at the time, the International was the wave of the future. “My grandpa thought that gas business was the new deal, and by golly maybe we ought to run with that because gas power is easier to operate,” he says. “You didn’t have to fire it so early in the morning like you did with steam, and it took fewer people to run it.”

Granddaddy of them all?

Spencer thinks his International Harvester Co. Type A may be one of the oldest running gas tractors in the U.S. “If it’s not the oldest, it’s got to be one of the oldest, when you consider the frame number,” he says. “I heard a few years ago that there might be one up in Canada and maybe one in the Carolinas. In those days, there were still a lot of steam engines around, so having this tractor was a first, at least in this area.”

The IHC Type A is powered by a small, 15 hp Famous engine. Starting it takes some effort. “It’s a two or three person job to start this one-cylinder hit-or-miss engine,” Spencer says. “Someone has to hold the valve open by hand, and one or two guys have to spin the large cast iron flywheel. It takes quite a bit of strength to overcome the inertia to get it to fire.

“In the old days it was a big deal to be able to turn the flywheel and get it started, showing how strong you were, kind of a rite of passage. Once you think you have the flywheel going fast enough, the operator of the engine will let the valve engage and it will fire. There’s an igniter instead of a spark plug. It has a governor on it, and when inertia slows it down, it will fire again to keep it going.”

The early tractor could be dangerous, Spencer says. “There are a lot of moving parts that you have to be aware of,” he says. “Some farmers in the old days got hurt when they stuck their hand into the wheels that work the governor. I know when it loses inertia, large weights smack together and it fires again a couple of times to get it up to revolutions again.”

The International is water-cooled; lubrication is accomplished by oil dripping into the cylinder. “An oil canister on top of the cylinder has a glass viewfinder to show how much oil is left,” Spencer says. “The amount of dripping is regulated with a knob controlled by the operator, and that’s how the engine is oiled. There’s always new oil dripping down into the cylinder, so it’s never changed.” Other parts of the engine are hand-oiled and hand-greased.

Chain of command

Steering the International Harvester Co. Type A is an interesting proposition. “It’s chain steered; you have to turn the steering wheel 14 rounds to the right or left to completely turn the front wheels,” Spencer explains. “When you turn to the left, the chain connected to the axle pulls that way; turn to the right and the chain pulls that way. It’s pretty functional and was a pretty good idea for its day, so you have to give the inventors credit for that, but it’s slow to react.”

When it comes to show displays, Spencer has slowed down considerably. These days, the International’s only outing each year is to the Butterfield (Minn.) Steam & Gas Show. It still draws a crowd. Onlookers are surprised by its age, and the fact that it still runs. Spencer thanks his forebears for that. “My relatives had the foresight to keep it going so the younger generations can see what farming was like back in the early 1900s,” he says. “If you set it beside one of the big, new IH tractors, you can see the progress that has been made. If you think about it, it’s just incredible.”

High-fat diet

The only major work ever done on the 104-year-old tractor was cosmetic. Spencer’s uncle, Marvel Iverson, researched the proper paint colors and repainted the tractor in the early 1970s. “I think they also changed how it fires,” Spencer says. “In the old days, I think it used a coil and that’s how they’d make it run. Today they use a 6-volt battery for a spark.”

Other than that, everything on the tractor is original, except for one gasket and the cab top. “When they needed a gasket, they knew an old-timer in Storden named Fritz Henkel. They took it to him and he used an unsalted pork rind to make the gasket, because in those days there was no other way to get a gasket for the tractor. That gasket is still in there today.”

The tractor originally came without a top, but Vernon built one of corrugated steel. “Afterwards, when they worked on the restoration, they added the top that’s still on there today,” Spencer says. “Other than that, as far as I know, all the metal is original.”

Eventually the Eureka Farm relic was mothballed in favor of stronger Hart-Parr tractors and more versatile Fordsons. For a number of years the International Harvester Co. Type A languished in a shed. Then, in the 1970s, a parade was held in nearby Lamberton. Family members and friends decided to get the old machine running. Other than adding rubber tires (to avoid tearing up asphalt streets), it didn’t take much work. (The tractor’s original steel wheels have since been reinstalled.)

A very good year

Along with the 1908 International tractor, Eureka Farm also has a 1908 International Harvester high-wheeler Auto Buggy. “It was originally bought by a guy who ran the mail route in Lamberton, and Grandpa bought it from him in 1910,” Spencer says. “It has been in our family ever since. It sat in a shed for a while, and then my uncle, who loved to restore things, and a friend took it apart and fully restored it.”

The family’s elders never threw anything away and they took care of what they had. “That’s why these machines are still around and still run,” Spencer says. “The 1908 tractor has been out here since the day they bought it. It’s a piece of our history that we’re very proud of. It’s been a big thing for our family. I’m the last of the Iversons to live on the farm here and kind of keep it going. The tractor is in my grandfather‘s machine shed, and I have an opportunity to look at it every day. That tractor still has magic for me.” FC 

For more information: Spencer Iverson, 37703 240th St., Lamberton, MN 56152; (507) 330-4083. 

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.