Tractor Designs: Styled or Unstyled?

Early tractor designs were strictly functional, but in the '30s took a new approach

A vintage McCormick-Deering, unstyled.

A vintage McCormick-Deering, unstyled.

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Rusty iron collectors glibly toss around terms such as "styled" or "unstyled" that can be confusing to the unenlightened. While most of you know the difference, I'll expound on the subject anyway. 

During the first 35 years of farm tractor development, the machines were strictly functional. Little or no thought was given to how they looked. Engines, running gear and operator controls were exposed to the elements, although some manufacturers copied the canopies used on steam traction engines as protection against rain, snow and sun.

By the late teens and early 1920s, most tractor designs made some effort to protect the engine, although the driver's platform was almost always exposed. A long, flattened fuel tank – sometimes supplemented by a short hood – was usually placed above the engine. Some models also had engine side panels, but those were frequently removed to help keep the engine cool. After being removed, those side panels were often thrown on the junk pile. That's why original side panels are so scarce today, with tractor restorers paying high prices for good originals (or even reproductions).

A refinement on many early tractors was a pair of large sheet metal fenders over the rear wheels. These fenders were there for practical reasons rather than for appearance. The huge steel wheels revolving on either side of the operator were not only dangerous, but the steel lugs threw up an incredible amount of dirt, mud or dust.

Along with the functional design of early tractors went plain, unimaginative paint jobs. Virtually all were painted dark gray or green, usually with red wheels. One major exception was Deere and Co., which inherited its bright green-and-yellow paint scheme from the Waterloo Boy tractors it acquired in 1918. That color scheme continues in use today.

In 1929, Allis-Chalmers head Harry Merritt saw "acres of brilliant orange wild poppies" in California. He had the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. develop a paint that duplicated that color. Starting in 1929, Allis-Chalmers machines were painted "Persian Orange."

Other manufacturers followed suit. Oliver green was used on the 1935 Model 70 Row Crop, and IHC changed to red in 1936. Minneapolis-Moline first used "Prairie Gold" on the Model Z, introduced in 1937. Massey-Harris went to bright red with yellow wheels on the 1937 Challenger and Pacemaker models, while J.I. Case featured "Flambeau Red" on its 1939 models.

Bright, attractive paint helped, but by the late '30s most tractors began to take on a streamlined appearance with rounded fenders, sculpted hoods, and cast or sheet metal grilles covering the steering gear and radiator.

Oliver Corporation was one of the earliest with the 1935 Model 70 Row Crop being very sleek and modern looking. Interestingly, Oliver also built the last unstyled tractor with its Model 99 not being streamlined until 1953.

The 1934 Massey-Harris 25 and the 1936 Pacemaker had radiator grilles, as did the 1936 Silver King. In 1937 the streamlined Huber B 30 and the "Visionlined" Minneapolis-Moline Universal Z were introduced. Allis-Chalmers announced its streamlined Model B in 1938 and Avery came out with its unique "Ro-Trak" model that turned out to be unsuccessful, even though it was painted bright yellow with red wheels. Also in 1938, John Deere unveiled the new A and B, created by renowned industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss. That same year the sleek Graham-Bradley appeared in Sears catalogs, and Massey-Harris demonstrated its steam lined "Twin-Power" Challenger and Pacemaker series.

The year 1939 brought many additional streamlined tractors, including the Allis-Chalmers C, RC and WC, Case DC, John Deere L, H and D, Massey-Harris 101, and the Minneapolis-Moline R, U and G, as well as the Farmall A, B, H and M. The Ford-Ferguson was introduced, and Oliver brought out the 60 Row Crop.

J.I. Case introduced the VC, S and LA ir 1940, and IHC unveiled the O4 and O6 orchard tractors, along with the W4, W6 and W9 standard tread machines.

By the time World War II intervened, there was only a handful of unstyled tractors still on the market. Those included the Oliver 80 and 90 series, as well as Johr Deere's G, BO and BR, and AO and AR. The G was updated and redesignated the GM in 1943; the BO and BR were discontinued in 1947 and were never styled; while the AO and AR were given the streamlined look of the new Model R in 1949. Oliver updated the 80 in 1947, and the 90 in 1953.

These early styled tractors are my favorites. Their clean lines and classic good looks have never been surpassed by the later models. FC 

Ever since his days as a boy on a farm in western Pennsylvania, Sam Moore has been interested in tractors, trucks and machinery. Now a resident of Salem, Ohio, he collects antique tractors, implements and related items.