Custom (Tractors) Fit

Minnesota collector partial to Shelbyville, Ind., tractors

| January 2008

  • The Custom Model 98 is a sturdy-looking tractor.
    The Custom Model 98 is a sturdy-looking tractor.
  • A 1949 Lehr Big Boy Model B
    A 1949 Lehr Big Boy Model B. The Big Boy was manufactured by Custom for resale by Lehr Equipment Sales, Richmond, Ind.
  • The 1949 Lehr Big Boy Model B grille
    The 1949 Lehr Big Boy Model B grille. Charles' approach to restoration is methodical. "I took pictures of the tractor to make sure I knew how to get it back together," he says.
  • Shelbyville-built tractors were streamlined with everything under the hood except the muffler
    Shelbyville-built tractors were streamlined with everything under the hood except the muffler. This Model 98 was made toward the end of the Custom era, when the company had been bought and moved for a short time to Hustisford, Wis.
  • A rear view of the Custom Model B
    A rear view of the Custom Model B.
  • Custom Model B
    Though this Custom Model B is a 1948 model, it is similar to the 1950 model owned by Charles Haecherl's father, Andrew, except that it has a narrow front.
  • Precision restoration work is evident in this close-up of the 1950 Custom C tractor grille
    Precision restoration work is evident in this close-up of the 1950 Custom C tractor grille.
  • 1950 Custom Model C
    Charles' 1950 Custom Model C. All of the tractors built by Custom Mfg. Corp., Shelbyville, Ind., had Chrysler engines.
  • 1951 Rockol Model B77
    A 1951 Rockol Model B77. With the exception of wide-front and narrow-front parts, many parts on the Shelbyville tractors are interchangeable. Photo Credit: Nikki Rajala
  • Charles Haecherl on the 1950 Custom C tractor
    Charles Haecherl on the 1950 Custom C tractor his father bought new. Charles has restored the tractor, including the fenders, which he dented years ago in a fit of youthful frustration.
  • The engine in the Wards is identical to the 6-cylinder motor in the other Shelbyville-built tractors
    The engine in the Wards is identical to the 6-cylinder motor in the other Shelbyville-built tractors.
  • A line-up of Shelbyville, Ind.-built tractors with different names
    A line-up of Shelbyville, Ind.-built tractors with different names.
    Nikki Rajala

  • The Custom Model 98 is a sturdy-looking tractor.
  • A 1949 Lehr Big Boy Model B
  • The 1949 Lehr Big Boy Model B grille
  • Shelbyville-built tractors were streamlined with everything under the hood except the muffler
  • A rear view of the Custom Model B
  • Custom Model B
  • Precision restoration work is evident in this close-up of the 1950 Custom C tractor grille
  • 1950 Custom Model C
  • 1951 Rockol Model B77
  • Charles Haecherl on the 1950 Custom C tractor
  • The engine in the Wards is identical to the 6-cylinder motor in the other Shelbyville-built tractors
  • A line-up of Shelbyville, Ind.-built tractors with different names

Half a century afterward, Charles Haecherl of Veseli, Minn., discovered that in the old iron world, what goes around sometimes comes around. When he set out to restore the tractor he'd used as a 15-year-old, he encountered damage inflicted by an irate teenager … himself.

"I had to pound out dents in the fenders," he chuckles ruefully. "When I was a kid I'd get frustrated if the tractor wouldn't start, or if I'd get stuck while plowing, so I'd take a wrench or a hammer and pound on the fender."

Biggest tractor on the farm

Charles' father, Andrew, bought a new 1950 Custom Model B tractor for the Haecherl farm near Lisbon, N.D. Custom Mfg. Corp. of Shelbyville, Ind., made the tractors starting in 1947. "Custom tractors were different because they had a 6-cylinder Chrysler engine," Charles says, "and not a lot of tractors had a 6-cylinder at that time." It was equally unusual for Chrysler automobile dealerships to sell tractors.

"The local Chrysler dealership, Hansen Motors of Lisbon, had that Model B with the narrow-front on the lot and Dad brought it out to the farm," Charles recalls. "We used it for a while, until Dad told them he would rather have a wide-front than the narrow-front, which came on the Model C. So they ordered it for him, and when it came, Dad returned the B."



The 1950 Custom Model C was the largest tractor on the Haecherl farm, ahead of a 1946 Minneapolis-Moline R, so the C was used for most of the small-grain work. "We field cultivated in the spring, plowed in the fall, seeded, planted corn, harrowed, pulled loads of grain, did everything with it," Charles says.
As a 15-year-old in 1950, one of Charles' jobs on the family's 320 acres was plowing. "I was really happy to be driving a new tractor out in the field," he says. "But in August, when it got really hot, I had to take a 2-bottom Minneapolis-Moline plow and plow 60 acres. Dad always insisted on plowing around the field, instead of up and down, and that 60 acres seemed like it took forever."

The tractor's boxcar hitch slowed progress. Strike a rock, the hitch trips and the plow comes loose. "You'd go 20 to 30 feet before you got stopped," Charles says, "and then you had to back up, get lined up, hook up and then you'd go on your way again."

Gary Smith
3/11/2012 1:21:49 PM

I just purchased what I was told is a 1950-51?, Montgomery Ward, singlewheel front,4 cyl, BLUE tractor. Its all there except part of the exhaust manifold. Any one that can identify the engine (Chrysler) and can help me find parts?




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