Orphan Tractors Find Homes
Little-known tractors, or "orphan tractors", stir collectors' interest
Carl Hering uses his 1947 Empire as a sort of mascot for his company, Empire Agri-Systems. He also serves as coordinator of the Empire Tractor Owners Club.
Gary Van Hoozer
During early farm tractor history, many manufacturers disappeared due to intense competition and economic adversity, leaving smaller numbers of treasures for today's collectors. Names like General, Custom and Besser are rarely recognized today.
Such rare tractors, or "orphans" as they're sometimes called, are enjoying a surge in collector and restorer popularity. Several related organizations and events have been established as awareness of orphan tractors increases.
Sears, Roebuck & Co., for instance, included among its many catalog offerings the Graham Bradley tractor. The GB (which carried the last names of its inventors) was made for Sears in 1937-38. Production halted when the plants were converted to military use.
"Plans were to resume tractor production after World War II, but they merged with Kaiser-Frazier to manufacture automobiles instead," explains GB collector Kenneth Walters, rural Akron, Ind.
The first tractor Sears sold – the Economy – resembled an International Harvester F-12, Kenneth says. Later, but before the introduction of the more streamlined Graham Bradley, Sears offered the David Bradley, which resembled an IH F-20. There's also a smaller garden tractor-variety DB, so it's evident that avid collectors can concentrate on "families" of orphan tractors.
"I purchased my 1938 Graham Bradley tractor in 1996 after seeing it advertised in a farm paper," Kenneth says. "It had been restored 12 years prior to that. It has a Continental six-cylinder motor, a four-speed rear end, and can easily pull a two-bottom plow.
"The Continental motor was also used in many taxi cabs," he says. "One unique thing about the GB is that it has a throw-out on the rear end to use a belt pulley, which can be engaged forward in four different speeds, or reversed. My GB has a rear-end assembly made from a 1937 Ford truck rear end, and is called an Eaton axle. The GB can be pretty quick for an old gal: she can do about 30 miles per hour in fourth gear."
Kenneth belongs to the Echoes From the Past antique tractor club, which organizes and participates in parades, shows and other activities.
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