Schramm Pneumatractor Still Going Strong

Schramm Pneumatractor does double duty as working collectible

Between it’s unusual features and fine restoration, David’s Pneumatractor gets plenty of second looks.

Between it’s unusual features and fine restoration, David’s Pneumatractor gets plenty of second looks.

Photo by Bill Vossler

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David Ammerman is not generally attracted to odd tractors to add to his collection of old iron, but he admits the first time he saw a Schramm tractor at an auction, he was intrigued. “I couldn’t figure out what it was. It looked like it had an LP tank on it. I looked at it for a while and figured out what it was, and then I was interested in it. The next thing I knew, the auctioneer said ‘sold!’” he recalls with a laugh.  

Starting with a mystery crawler 
Growing up on a farm, David became fascinated by old iron as he grew older. “The first time I thought that way was back when I was interested in the steam-type shows,” he says. “I went to a few, like at Rollag (Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion) and discovered I just like to see that stuff moving and working.”

The first tractor he bought was an unknown crawler. It appears to be a pre-Case 300-type machine. “I don’t know a lot about this tractor and I’d like to find out more,” he says. “I’d appreciate information on it from anyone.”

David’s been told that it fits the description of an earlier Case 300-type tractor, except the tracks are only about half as wide (six or seven inches) as those on the Case. However, he’s also been told it was used for military operations. In that case, smaller, lighter tracks make sense. “I was told that they dropped these machines in by parachute to build runways for airplanes,” he says, “and when they left, the crawlers were destroyed so the enemy couldn’t use them.” He used his for digging and landscaping on his large river lot. “It worked a lot faster than a shovel,” he says.

A versatile machine
Since then, he’s procured quite a line of old iron, like an IH TD-18 with a Bryce dozer, 1947 Caterpillar D8, Farmall F-12, John Deere A and others, but nothing quite as unusual as his 1957 Schramm 125 Pneumatractor, a piece in a class by itself. “The Schramm wouldn’t do well on the farm compared to other tractors of its era,” David says. “It would only be able to do light work and it wouldn’t be able to plow.” (for more on the history of Schramm, click here.)

But the work it could do is demonstrated by the add-ons available for Pneumatractors: front-end loader, snow plow, backfill blade, front and rear winches, mowers, post hole diggers, rotary brushes and pneumajack. The Pneumatractor was a versatile unit on the farm or a construction site.

What the Pneumatractor does best is produce compressed air, and that’s why David bought it. “When I saw the Schramm at the auction, I noticed that it had a sandblasting tank with it,” he says. “I do a lot of sandblasting on my tractors so I knew it would be perfect for me.” Later he learned that the Pneumatractor pumps 125 cubic feet of air at 100 psi, “which is absolutely remarkable,” he says. “But that’s why I bought it.”

The Schramm is a 6-cylinder tractor; the three front cylinders power the tractor, and the three rear cylinders run the air compressor. “The three front cylinders have spark plugs but the back three don’t,” David says. “They have a regular-looking intake, but the outtake is a spring-loaded three-inch brass piece, not on a cam.”

When David brought the Schramm home and pulled out the oil plug a couple of cups of antifreeze poured out. “So I knew there was trouble there,” he says. “The head was leaking; cracked as I found out. It was in pretty tough condition. It had been used in Montana to sandblast iron power poles and was probably a rental. It hadn’t been cared for very well and was in very unpainted condition when I got it, so I pretty much took it down to the block and stripped it down. I used a wire brush on everything and sandblasted it because the metal was in pretty tough condition. It had a lot of dents.”

Armed with electrolysis 
In using electrolysis to remove rust and paint from the Pneumatractor’s parts, David made a fortuitous discovery. “Anything made of steel, cast iron or wrought iron can be de-rusted by the electrolysis method,” says Paul Nelson in Ferguson Furrows.

The process is simple: Working outside (the process should not be attempted inside), add lye to water in a plastic container (for detailed directions, go to http://www.ferguso
nenthusiasts.com/restoration helps/tech/Rust Removal Using a Battery Charger.pdf
) set the part inside, hang the negative from a battery charger to the part, clip the positive to a piece of angle iron and wait for the results.

“The directions said to soak the part – in this case a front rim – for 24 hours. When I took it out all I had to do was wire brush a few spots and power wash with water,” David says, “and it came up really nice and clean.”

Meanwhile, David added another part to the brew. He wanted to see how fast the process worked. “Four hours later I pulled it up and scraped it with my fingernails, wire brushed it a little more, and two or three hours later had it clean. It’s amazing how fast and how well it works,” he says. “I had wondered how I was ever going to get the rust and paint off, but this was the answer.”

Finding resources 
After that, David had a valve job done on the tractor and reconditioned it. The most difficult part of the project involved the gas tank. “The tank is welded together with a lip on it and a flat bottom,” he says. “When I got it, that bottom piece of sheet metal was caked with rust. I don’t know how the tractor ran but it did. So I ground the lip back until I could take the tank apart, cleaned it out, coated the inside with a professional tank coater (which sealed it) and had it wire-feed welded together. That was probably the most difficult part of the job.”

An elderly Kentucky man proved to be a rich source of information on the Schramm line. “He didn’t work directly for Schramm, but traveled in the field repairing Schramm tractors,” David says. When the company discontinued tractor manufacture the service man bought the remaining parts inventory.

“Through him I got the head gasket and decals,” David says. “He said if I had any problems with my Schramm we could fix it over the phone.” David also found a source for Schramm parts in Texas.

Built from IH parts
Produced from 1957 to about 1970, the Schramm was assembled from International Harvester parts. “The IH emblems show on a lot of the parts, but I’m not sure about the engine,” David says. “Maybe Schramm made their own. Maybe IH built the block, because people who see the Schramm and a Farmall C in pictures think they look exactly alike, especially the rear castings.”

However, David says, the main casting is considerably deeper than that on the C, and the Schramm has smaller tires than those on the C. “It also has a tendency to look stockier than the C,” he says. Coincidentally, David bought a Farmall C last fall. But Schramms are rare.

“I’ve never seen another Schramm,” David says. “I talked with a guy in Kentucky who deals in old tractors and he says Schramm tractors are worth more for parts than whole. He says he sells more parts to Australia than anywhere else.”

David says the typical reaction to his Schramm – especially when people come to understand that’s not an LP tank near the rear – is, “What on earth is this?” The Schramm really can’t be compared to other tractors of its era, David says, because the Schramm wasn’t made to do heavy farm work. “It was designed with a huge bulky engine air compressor on a small usable tractor,” he says, “pulling a small load to a work site, and then operating as an air compressor.” For David, that does little to diminish the appeal.

“I’m not sure I’m interested in odd tractors, but when I saw that Schramm I was interested in it because it was odd,” David says. “I feel privileged to have it at shows where people say it’s the only one they’ve ever seen.” FC 

For more information: David Ammerman, (763) 444-5474. 

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; e-mail: bvossler@juno.com.