The Sheppard Company's Innovative Diesel Tractors
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"They were just so different from the tractors of the day that they didn't gain wide acceptance," Peter says. "And there were starting difficulties. Gas engines start in any weather. The company was the first to introduce an all diesel-powered, rubber-tire farm tractor with a complete line of implements. They were marketed until 1956. In the sixties, the industry caught up, and probably surpassed what the Sheppards were capable of."
Of the 1,943 Sheppard tractors produced between 1949 and 1956, 14 were the SD1 model. There were 257 SD2 models built; 1,441 SD3s; and 231 SD4s, which were the largest model of the line.
"The SD1 at 5 hp was the smallest diesel built," Peter says. "It was really a footnote. It was the first lawn and garden tractor, and had automatic steering and transmission. It also had a disc plow and a front-end loader. The SD4 is the best one from a technological standpoint. It has a torque converter, a 13-speed transmission, and power steering. That's where our current product came from. We make power steering for buses and trucks."
Richard Sterner of Chambersburg, Penn., has a collection of Sheppard tractors. A retired toolmaker, he switched some years ago from restoring antique automobiles to seeking Sheppards, a link to his youth.
"I have to thank Mr. Bob (Sheppard) for giving me a job, and getting me started," he says. "I started work with them in 1949, the same year they started producing the tractors. I was with them for a couple of years."
Richard, a Hanover native and vice president of the Sheppard Diesel Club, has four complete tractors and one in the early stages of restoration. He also has a McCormick W-6 tractor from the late 1940s in which he's installed a Sheppard three-cylinder diesel conversion in place of the tractor's original four-cylinder gas engine.
"I saw them in Farmalls, but never in a W-6," he says. "I did it to be different. That's maybe the only one in the world. Some of the stuff is interchangeable. I only had to drill two holes in the frame. The water pump, clutch assembly, starter and air cleaner all fit together."
Richard says Sheppard tractors are hard to find, but he has had and restored a dozen over the years.
"Then someone comes along and buys them," he says. "There wasn't much interest until about nine years ago. I had two-cylinder, three-cylinder and four-cylinder, fixed them up and took them to shows. People hadn't remembered them. When they saw them, the interest came back and they decided to start collecting. How much they cost depends on what shape they're in."