Oldsmar: A Tractor for Florida

Built by automobile industry inventor Ransom Olds, the Oldsmar garden tractor was intended for the newly-begun Florida farming industry.

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The Oldsmar Garden Tractor. 

Courtesy C.H. Wendel

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In 1913, Ransom Olds bought 37,541 acres of ground on the northern shore of Tampa Bay and started a town. Originally named R.E. Olds-On-The-Bay, the awkward name was later changed to Oldsmar. Olds intended his city for working people and had his engineers lay it out with wide, tree-lined streets leading from the bay to downtown.

There was a lot of vegetable farming around the Oldsmar area, and Olds decided the neighboring farmers needed a locally built tractor to work the fields. Around the end of World War I, Olds organized the Oldsmar Tractor Co. and built a factory in Oldsmar.

The Oldsmar Garden Tractor was a small machine weighing 1,270 pounds and powered by a one-cylinder engine with a 5-inch bore and a 5 1/2-inch stroke. The Oldsmar's engine was mounted low between the two cast iron drive wheels with angle iron lugs. The operator sat on a lightweight, two-wheeled sulky behind the machine and steered with a horizontal steering wheel connected to a simple curved rack-and-pinion. A small, single-plow bottom with a rolling coulter is mounted ahead of the operator and just beneath the steering mechanism. According to C.H. Wendel's book Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, the tractor sold in 1920 for $375.

Apparently, land clearing was a problem because the regular plows of the day couldn't easily break the tough palmetto roots. According to one account, those pesky plants even defied a dozer blade. Since the little Oldsmar tractor couldn't tackle the roots, Ransom located a stronger machine built by the Kardell Tractor & Truck Co., of St. Louis, Mo., and bought the firm.

Kardell built the 20-32 Kardell 'Four-in-One' tractor with a big Waukesha engine, as well as a smaller 'Utility 10-20.' FC 

- For more information about R.E. Olds and his Oldsmar experiment, see the June 2004 Gas Engine Magazine