Only the Strange Remain

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Custom Model E tractors

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Finding four Custom Mfg. Co. tractors in one collection is pretty unlikely, but finding them in the company of tractors with names like Earthmaster, Hart-Parr and Huber is downright unlikely. It's just that low-probability challenge that stokes the fire of Springville, Pa., resident Brent Naylor's collecting passion.

'With so many different tractor manufacturers out there, I decided to focus on rare brands or unusual models from less rare brands,' Brent says as he throws open a shed door revealing several beautifully restored machines.

Brent's tractor collection started with a 1949 McCormick-Deering Model WD-9 Wheatland tractor over 11 years ago. 'I really like the look of the standard [Wheatland] style tractors, and I bought this machine from its original owner,' Brent says as he affectionately wipes the fender of his Model WD-9 before starting it up. The gas-started, diesel-powered Model WD-9 is an unusual find for the eastern part of the United States.

'The WD-9 only needed paint and front tires,' Brent says, explaining that his first tractor was relatively easy to clean up. However, most of his other tractors have required major mechanical and body work, and at times Brent has had to make critical parts, or have them made. No stranger to the shop, Brent does almost all the work himself when he brings a decayed machine back to its former glory.

'I was always around machinery, and I still help Dad out at the farm now and then,' Brent explains modestly about his skills as a restoration artist. Brent enjoys working alone, although he does have a friend who helps him out from time to time. 'Some projects go better and are more fun with a friend,' he says.

A few favorites

Brent is quick to point out that he is pretty fond of most of his machines, but he does have some favorites. Tractors built by Custom are pretty high on his list. 'Custom [Mfg.] built tractors for a number of different companies,' Brent explains. 'Tractors with names like Wards, Rockol, Lehr Big Boy and others were all made by Custom.'

Brent has several early-1950s vintage Custom tractors in his collection, including three Model Es and one Model H unit. The Model E and Model H tractors have Chrysler Industrial 251 and 235-cubic-inch displacement, six-cylinder gas engines, respectively. Both models have a belt-driven governor, Vickers hydraulic pump and hydraulic brakes. Engine power is delivered to the Timken rear axle and final drives through a five-speed heavy-duty truck transmission, dry automotive-type clutch and torque converter.

'What makes these Customs really stand out is a torque converter between the engine and the drive clutch,' Brent explains. Brent's Model E and Model H Customs are both equipped with the Chrysler Gyrol fluid-drive torque converter. Clutching is still required to select gears, but the fluid coupling acts both as a drive train shock absorber and a torque amplifier of sorts. When the tractor is under a load, torque converter slippage helps to keep the engine rpm up. The downside to the system is that torque converter slipping generates heat and wastes fuel.

Brent's Custom tractors have a belt pulley and a non-live, offset rear PTO. Both run off the transmission's PTO gear. 'Not having a live PTO is really a drawback on these tractors,' Brent says. Another interesting detail of the Custom tractors is the Sun-made electric aviation tachometers. Most tractors used mechanical tachometers in the 1950s. One of Brent's Model E tractors also sports an exceptionally rare set of mounted cultivators.

'It would be hard to talk about my favorites without mentioning the Hart-Parr,' Brent says of his lovely 1929 Model 12-24. This tractor was built around the time Hart-Parr merged with the Oliver Chilled Plow Works to form Oliver Machinery Co. The 12-24 features a Madison Kipp Mfg. oil injector system to lubricate the pistons, main bearings and rod bearings. Excess oil then drips into the crankcase and is drained through small pipes that deposit it on gears in the tractor's final drives. The oil eventually ends up on the ground. The Marvel Schleber carburetor features a water-injection system that can put water from the cooling system into the intake to prevent pre-ignition knock when the engine is run hard on kerosene.

Brent's restoration of the Hart-Parr included rebushing the front axle, installing new piston rings, refacing the clutch, rebuilding the magneto, having a new magneto retard lever cast, new reproduction fenders and a beautiful paint job. 'I was surprised the oil lens was intact,' Brent says pointing to the top of the oil injector - they are pretty hard to find. Purists will note the ridge on the front wheels is considerably worn, but Brent doesn't mind.

A beautifully restored 1949 Earthmaster Farm Equipment Co. Model C is another of Brent's favorites. 'Earthmaster was only in business for a few years, and they didn't make many tractors,' Brent says, pointing out his 1949 model was built in Burbank, Calif. Brent found the Model C about 5 miles from his home. 'It was very rough, but I had to restore it because it is so unusual,' Brent explains.

The Earthmaster tractor shares the same model Continental flathead N-62 four-cylinder engine with at least two other small tractors, the Allis-Chalmers Model G and the Massey-Harris Pony, and driveline components - such as the three-speed transmission and rear axle - appear to have been borrowed from the automotive industry.

Pennsylvania pride

When Brent found his R.H. Sheppard Co. diesel tractor in New York state, he knew he had to buy it. 'I didn't know that much about Sheppard, but it was built in Pennsylvania, so I had to have it,' Brent explains about why he has a nice 1950 Sheppard Model SD-3 in his collection. The tractor was initially delivered to a dealer in Unadilla, N.Y., and Brent found it near there.

'It had been restored, but it still needed a few things and paint,' Brent says. He only had to put a water pump on the tractor, paint it and add decals.

Brent's Model SD-3 is one of about 1,500 made. It features a three-cylinder diesel engine with a 22-to-l compression ratio built by the R.H. Sheppard Co. in Hanover, Pa. The Model SD-3 has Timken drive train parts much like the Custom, and ironically it employs a Ross Mfg. Co. steering gear, not a Sheppard. Heavy-duty steering gears are a principal part of R.H. Sheppard's business today.

The Model SD-3 makes about 27 tip at the drawbar, and it was sold as a three-bottom plow machine. Brent still uses his Model SD-3 to occasionally plow at local events, although he says it makes a better two-bottom plow machine than a three-bottom puller.

Rounding out a collection

Brent isn't sure just how many tractors are in his collection, but there are quite a few. He has several Hart-Parr, Oliver Hart-Parr and Oliver tractors, including a very rare 1937 Oliver Hart-Parr 70 orchard tractor. Among several International Harvester tractors, an International 1-4 stands out with a beautiful yellow paint job, alongside a beautiful set of big McCormick-Deering W-40 series tractors including the WA-40, WD-40 and WK-40 models. This unlikely trio includes the all-fuel (WA), kerosene (WK) and diesel (WD) versions of the big-displacement four-cylinder Wheatland tractors of the 1930s.

Brent says his 1935 Model WD-40 - the first year of production - is one of the very first diesel-powered tractors ever made. It features gasoline starting with automatic switching to diesel fuel and makes about 49 hp at 1,200 rpm.

How is it possible that Brent has managed to group so many rare tractors into a single collection? Dedication, careful reading of auction sale bills and friends who help with leads to rare pieces. However, Brent's own livestock artificial-insemination business and his school bus route keep him on the roads where he sometimes stumbles upon something.

One recent addition, a 1936 Huber Mfg. Co. Model HK tractor, was added to Brent's collection by chance. 'It doesn't hurt that I am out on the back-roads nearly every day of the year,' Brent says with a smile. 'You'd be surprised at what you can see in the winter when the leaves and crops are gone.' Brent is always on the lookout for new prospects, but they have to be rare, unusual, or Pennsylvania-made. Tractor-matched implements are also high on his wish list.

- Brent Naylor can be reached at Rural Route 1, Box 277, Springville, PA 18844; (570) 965-2568.

Oscar 'Hank' Will III is an old-iron collector and freelance writer who retired from farming in 1999 and from academia in 1996. He splits his time between his home in Gettysburg, Pa., and his farm in East Andover, N.H. Write him at 243 W. Broadway, Gettysburg, PA 17325; (717) 337-6068; e-mail: willo@gettysburg.edu