Ohio-Built Farm Machinery: Huber, Silver King, Leader, Centaur and General

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Art Gruber with his pride and joy, a 1934 Plymouth, long used as a grounds tractor at The Ohio State University.
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1934 Plymouth owned by Art Gruber.
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1934 Plymouth owned by Art Gruber.
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An unstyled 3-wheel Silver King with cast iron frame.
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A styled 3-wheel Silver King with steel plate frame.
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Centaur’s first tractor: a G-2 garden tractor equipped with a 2-cylinder LeRoi engine.
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Centaur’s farm tractor, the KV (Klear View).
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Centaur’s TracAir was a portable high-pressure compressed-air power plant. The machine was used on construction sites and by road maintenance crews. The attached hoses were used for jackhammers.
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Art Gruber's General GG tractor.
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Mary Gruber's Leader tractor. Belt pulley and power take-off were standard equipment on the small tractor.
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Mary Gruber with her Leader tractor. Belt pulley and power take-off were standard equipment on the small tractor.
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A 1931 Huber 20-36 with overhead valve engine. The model was produced from 1929 until the end of Huber farm tractor production in 1942. The tractor is on display at the Huber Machinery Museum, Marion, Ohio.
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Part of Art Gruber’s collection of Silver King tractors, including some with mowers. Art’s tractor collection extends to Silver King memorabilia, including a bicycle, golf ball, fishing rod, wash scrub board, penny candy machine, cigarette lighter, hydraulic bottle jacks, tennis racket and chainsaw.
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Art and Mary Gruber’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren with Art’s General GG. Kneeling at front: granddaughter Angie George with Logan on her knee and Madison standing. Great-grandson Caleb George is perched on the back wheel; granddaughter Emily Grace is in the driver’s seat, holding her son, Skyler. Standing at back is granddaughter Ruthie Gruber.
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Part of Art Gruber's collection of Ohio-built equipment. At front is Centaur's first tractor, a G-2 garden tractor equipped with a 2-cylinder LeRoi engine.

Occasionally one comes across a specialized collection of antique farm tractors, and Art Gruber’s fits that description.

The Marion, Ohio, man began collecting antique tractors about 20 years ago. It didn’t take him long to realize he needed to narrow his scope. He decided to focus on Ohio-made tractors. Once he discovered the existence of more than 120 tractor manufacturers in Ohio, he further narrowed his collection, concentrating on the five most well-known: Huber, Silver King, Leader, Centaur and General.

Today, Art’s collection includes more than 80 tractors, most of them Silver Kings and most still in their work clothes. He likes Silver Kings because they are more widely recognized and easy to transport to shows. He has at least one tractor for every year Silver Kings were produced (even when the assembly operation was relocated to West Virginia). He shows the tractors often, most frequently in Ohio and Florida.

Royal heritage

Silver King was a product of the Fate-Root-Heath Co., Plymouth, Ohio. FRH named its first tractor Plymouth in honor of the town where the company was based. Alas, the company immediately ran into trouble: Carmaker Chrysler took exception to use of the Plymouth name. The lawsuit was settled in Fate-Root-Heath’s favor, but the company sold its rights to the name to Chrysler anyway. That necessitated a new name for the FRH tractor. Company officials believed their product to be the “king” of tractors, and the Plymouth had been painted silver with blue trim. The Silver King was born.

The 10-20 Plymouth tractor was introduced in 1934. Powered by a Hercules Model 1XA 4-cylinder engine, it had a 4-speed transmission with a top speed of 25 mph. The name Plymouth was prominently cast vertically on the radiator nose.

Art has two 1934 Plymouth/Silver King tractors. One was once used as a grounds tractor at The Ohio State University. The other was produced just after FRH sold the Plymouth name to Chrysler Corp. Although still a Plymouth, it also carries the Silver King nameplate on the nose of the radiator grille.

Silver King introduced an unusual 3-wheeled tractor in 1936. The new model was sold as a cultivating and general purpose farm tractor. Art says three rear-end gear ratios were offered: low ratio for general farm work, medium ratio for combination hard work and speed, and a high ratio used primarily for highway mowing tractors. These tractors reportedly traveled at highway speeds approaching 30 mph. The first 1,000 produced had cast iron frames; later models used steel plate frames along each side of the engine.

FRH was small enough to build tractors farmers wanted. Because the company could modify each tractor as needed, it claimed each was “custom made.” So many models were produced that it’s hard to keep track of them. Of the 3-wheel version, the 38 became the 380; the 44 became the 440. The 445 was another standard tread tractor. Tricycle tractors fell into the 340, 345, 600, 660 and 720 series.

From 1934 to 1954, FRH produced 8,600 tractors. The tractor line was then sold to Mountain States Fabricating Co., Clarksburg, W.Va. Production was discontinued at the Plymouth plant in 1953 and moved to Clarksburg, where tractors were produced from 1955 to 1957.

Plenty of versatility

Centaur of Greenwich, Ohio, was another good fit for Art’s collection: Tractors from that line were still available and Art liked the versatility of the line. Initially intended for use in small truck farms and gardens, Centaur equipment ultimately made the leap to portable pneumatic power plants. That resulted in quite a large group to select from.

Art’s collection of Centaurs includes farm and industrial tractors from the company’s beginning (the G-2 2-wheeled garden tractor) to the latest effort (the KV, or Klear View), and even features pieces from the company’s TracAir portable air compressor line.

The Central Tractor Co., Greenwich, started the Centaur name. The company’s first tractor was produced in 1921 as a 10 hp Centaur garden tractor. In 1928, the company name changed to Centaur Tractor Corp. Its next tractor, powered by a 4-cylinder LeRoi engine, was a standard tread machine intended primarily for use in truck gardens, family gardens and orchards.

In 1934, Centaur introduced the KV line. These tractors were powered by 4-cylinder LeRoi engines and rated at 22 belt hp. By 1939, the tractor was styled, but remained essentially the same as the unstyled version.

LeRoi bought the company in 1940 but retained the Centaur name and continued to produce the KV tractor. LeRoi then added a portable air compressor line. The TracAir unit combined a 4-cylinder engine with a 2-cylinder air compressor mounted in a single block using a single crankshaft.

Farm tractor production was suspended during World War II. After the war, TracAir production resumed. The TracAir was used as a mobile air compressor power unit for air tools, such as jackhammers and tools used in road repair and construction. LeRoi eventually was absorbed into Westinghouse Air Brake Co.

Commanding attention

General, another Ohio-made tractor, was built by the Cleveland (Ohio) Tractor Co. The company had produced crawler tractors (the Cletrac line) for some time, but the General would be the first of the company’s wheeled tractor line.

Meanwhile, manufacturer B.F. Avery developed its own Tru-Draft design for mounted implements intended to go head to head with the Ford/Ferguson package, but Avery had no tractor manufacturing facility. Avery opened talks with Cleveland Tractor Co., and the outcome was the General GG tractor, built from 1939 to 1942. The General used a Hercules IXA-3 engine with 3- by 4-inch bore and stroke (displacement of 113 cubic inches).

The tractor was sold by Avery and Cletrac. From about 1940 to 1942, Cleveland Tractor Co. also built the same tractor for Montgomery Ward & Co., which sold it as the Twin Row. The only difference between the General and the Twin Row was color: The General was orange and the Twin Row was red.

B.F. Avery purchased Cleveland Tractor Co. in 1942. In 1951, B.F. Avery merged with Minneapolis-Moline. With the merger of Minneapolis-Moline and White Motor Co., the Cleveland company ended.

Leading the troops

Leader tractors were manufactured by Leader Tractor Mfg. Co., Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Several enterprises used the Leader name over the years, including a Marion firm that built a steam traction engine; the Leader Engine Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Leader Tractor Mfg. Co., Des Moines, Iowa, builder of a Leader cross-motor tractor. However, the latter two companies had long since ceased operations when Leader Tractor Mfg. Co. (apparently unrelated to the Des Moines firm of the same name) brought out its version of a farm tractor in 1946. The Leader Model D used a 133 CID 4-cylinder 1XB-5 engine. Intended for use on truck farms and other light work, it was designed to pull a 2-bottom, 12-inch plow.

Leader Tractor Mfg. Co. was owned and operated by members of the Brockway family. Walter Brockway was the designer. Other principals included his father, Lewis; his brother, Harold; and his wife, Hazel. Leader tractors remained in production into the 1950s.

The favorite son

Huber tractors, manufactured in Art’s hometown of Marion, were a logical addition to the collection. Art’s fully restored 1931 Huber 20-36 4-wheel tractor is currently on display at the Huber Machinery Museum in Marion.

Huber produced its first tractor in 1898. The tractor featured the same Van Duzen engine used in the 1892 Froelich tractor. Huber bought the Van Duzen Co. in 1897, thus guaranteeing engine ownership rights. Using the Van Duzen engine mounted on a steam traction engine chassis with its own transmission and drive train, Huber produced 30 units, none of which survived.

Huber was one of the first manufacturers to mass produce a tractor for commercial use. However, the tractor itself was less than a full success, and production was suspended until 1911.

From 1911 to 1917, Huber built a prairie tractor, a 30-60 (later re-rated to 35-70), an opposed cylinder 15-30 and a 4-cylinder 20-40. In 1917 came the cross-motor 12-25; in 1921 the company brought out its larger 15-30 (upgraded in 1925 to an 18-36) and a 20-40. By 1926, Huber had developed a new line of tractors using a uni-frame design powered by Stearns 4-cylinder engines. That tractor also came in three sizes: 18-36 (21-39), 20-40 (32-45) and 25-50 (40-62). Design again changed in 1929 when Huber brought out the 20-36 (later to become the HS and HK tractors).

For the 1930 crop year, Huber developed the Modern Farmer, a cultivating tractor. A tricycle tractor similar to the Farmall Regular, it was later named Model SC or LC depending on which Waukesha engine was used. It was also available in standard tread, the Model S/L. In 1936, Huber produced its only styled tractor, the Model B. Built from 1936 to 1942, the unit became the platform for the Huber tractor grader (later known as the Huber Maintainer). Models HS, HK, L, LC and B remained in production until World War II, when the war effort diverted manufacturing output. Huber farm tractors never went back into production.

Art likes to share his collection. For many years, he’s taken his show on the road, displaying tractors at several shows each season. Recently he’s cut back on travel. Now he’s content to go to a few shows, exhibit when the mood strikes and show his collection to folks who just want to take a look. FC

For more information: Art Gruber, 1103 Columbus-Sandusky Rd. N., Marion, OH 43302; (740) 389-1237.
James N. Boblenz grew up on a farm near New Bloomington, Ohio. He now lives in Marion, Ohio, and is interested in antique farm equipment, particularly rare and lesser-known tractors and related items. E-mail him at jboblenz@aol.com.
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