Trek Across America

Australians plan cross-country tractor ride summer 2009

Priscilla, one of the restored Chamberlains

“Priscilla,” one of the restored Chamberlain 9G tractors that will cross the U.S. this summer. The 9G averages about 12 miles per gallon.

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Every collector sees something different in an antique tractor.

For some it’s a solid investment. For others, it’s a hands-on hobby or a connection to the past. For a group of Australians, a fleet of antique Chamberlain tractors is a unique set of wheels that will carry them on a 5,000-mile adventure across America. (Follow along on the blog Aussie Trek Across America.)

A caravan of six Chamberlains built in the early 1960s will set off from Baltimore on July 1, bound for Los Angeles in mid-September. Maintaining a “leisurely daily average of 72 miles,” according to trip coordinator Ron Bywaters, the group will meander across the U.S., taking in the sights and soaking up a diverse cultural experience.

The Chamberlain 9G, built by Chamberlain Industries in Western Australia, was produced between 1955 and 1966. The 9G has become a popular recreational vehicle in Australia, where it is commonly used on treks of up to three months’ duration. The 9G features an automobile-type bench seat, windshield and canvas cab, and moves along at a good clip. “They came off the line equipped to go 30 mph,” Ron says. “They’re fully licensed to go anywhere a car can go in Australia.”

The group’s route winds through Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois (with a planned stop at the Historic Farm Days show at Penfield, Ill., July 9-12); on through Kentucky and Tennessee (with a stop in Nashville); then follows the Mississippi north to Moline, Ill. (home of Deere & Co., which entered into partnership with Chamberlain in Australia in 1969 and ultimately became full owner); across Iowa and then south to Independence, Mo., where the route will trace historic American wagon trails west, with visits to Denver, Cheyenne, Mt. Rushmore and Salt Lake City. “We’ll get onto the trails whenever we can,” Ron says. A visit to Las Vegas will precede the stopping point in Los Angeles.

Tractor drivers and support crew (a total of 16) will be housed in campers and mobile homes. The group has conducted extensive advance work, including a two-week visit to the Midwest last summer that sold them on the undertaking. “We found the people to be lovely,” Ron says, “and the countryside very nice.”

The procession will avoid metropolitan areas and stay off interstate highways. Speeding violations should not be a problem. “We’ll put lessons learned into practice,” Ron says. “One is not to go too far in one day. It’s important for us to see what we can see. If you go too fast, you can miss a lot. We want to have time to stop off and have a look around. And hopefully we can show a little about what we do in Western Australia.” FC