Tractor Conversion Boom

The tractor conversion market exploded in the early 1920s but not everyone was enthusiastic.

Me-Go convertible ad

An ad for the Me-Go convertible attachment from Convertible Tractor Corp., circa 1920.

Image courtesy Bill Vossler

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Judging by the amount of information available on the Staude Mak-a-Tractor conversion, the Staude was perhaps the best-known of the dozen or so conversions manufactured in the years around 1920. It was produced by E.G. Staude Mfg. Co., St. Paul, Minnesota. In the Nov. 30, 1917, issue of Farm Implements, E.G. Staude claimed the company had 20,000 orders, with the capacity for 30,000 more.

The article described the Staude conversion kit as an attachment designed to convert any car into a farm tractor, and, the writer noted, “The sale of 7,000 machines in 1917 demonstrated the practical value of the device.”

The key, Staude noted, was in the old vehicle found abandoned on most farmsteads. “The power plant, any automobile, is in the farmer’s yard,” he said, “and his daughter or his son under draft age can operate the machine.”

Putting its reputation on the line

The Smith Form-a-Tractor, manufactured by a Chicago company of the same name, was another popular conversion of the era. In its April 30, 1917, debut in Farm Implements magazine, the Smith was described as being a 15-minute installation.

“The tractor attachment designed for Ford cars … consists merely of a channel section frame which attaches to the Ford front axle, extends under the Ford chassis beyond the Ford rear axle, and is connected with a dead tractor axle made of 2-inch cold rolled steel designed to receive two unusually sturdy tractor wheels. The entire attachment can be made in 15 minutes without boring a hole or changing the mechanical construction of the car in any way.”

The writer noted that the wheels needed to be removed, replaced with driving pinions that fit over the brake band and the brake drums, and that the 10-inch-wide tractor wheels “afford exceptional traction,” giving a “big gear reduction” to pull two 14-inch plow bottoms at 7 inches deep “in virgin sod.”

Later in 1917, Farm Implements reported that “Demonstrations held in nearly every state of the union establish the fact that the Smith Form-a-Tractor will meet and surmount successfully and satisfactorily all conditions anywhere in tillage or harvesting operations which four or five horses are called upon to encounter. Also it is demonstrating its practicability in road work and hauling.”

Cost savings were said to be immense. It would involve “actually the lowest cost ever introduced to the farm… This…will and can do at lower cost per horse power than the farmer has ever experienced.”

Threatening the status quo

But not everybody was enthusiastic about tractor conversions. In Fremont, Nebraska, Smith leased land for a demonstration through a representative. According to an Aug. 28, 1917, article in Farm Implements, a week before the demonstration, a local “commercial club sent tractors onto the ground and attempted to plow it up in order to make it unavailable for demonstration purposes.”

When the court termed such action illegal, the commercial club had a back-up plan. All traffic was diverted from the demonstration area by plowing up part of the road accessing the site and closing the rest of it “for repairs.” Ultimately, Smith and Staude were forced to find other venues for their demonstrations.

Jumping on the bandwagon

About a dozen companies manufactured tractor conversion or attachment kits, including the Me-Go, (or Megow) convertible tractor manufactured by Convertible Tractor Co., St. Paul, owned by Charles F. Megow in 1916, which disappeared shortly after development.

Farm Tractor Co., Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and Knickerbocker Motors, Inc., New York, joined forces to create the Knickerbocker Forma-Tractor, which went into receivership in 1920.

Several conversion manufacturers met in Chicago in 1917 to form the National Tractor Attachment Assn., including Smith, Staude, Curtis Form-a-Tractor Co., Chicago; Geneva Tractor Co., Geneva, Ohio; Pullford Co. (sometimes “Pulford”), Quincy, Illinois; 3-P Auto Tractor Co., Davenport, Iowa; and Unitractor Co., Chicago.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery Ward & Co. also offered conversion kits, along with Shaw Mfg. Co. of Galesburg, Kansas. Doubtless there were other entrants into the market, all hoping to capitalize on the sudden popularity of tractors while making use of Henry Ford’s vehicles – vehicles that could be found on 75 percent of all farms that had automobiles at the time. – Bill Vossler