Sold on Allis: Indiana Man Builds His Life Around Allis-Chalmers Line
Harry Dubach lives, eats and breathes Allis-Chalmers tractors.
He was raised around the Allis line, built a career around it, and now in retirement, finds no shortage of Allis projects to take on, ranging from hand-built scale models to restorations.
“I grew up around Allis-Chalmers, my dad had Allis-Chalmers and my two brothers had Allis-Chalmers,” he says. “It was just kind of a natural thing.” After graduating from high school in 1962, he began work as a mechanic at the local Allis dealership, Affolder Implement Sales. As the years passed, Harry’s role in the business grew; by the time he retired in 1999, he was co-owner.
Maintenance is a major focus these days. “I’m doing more repairs now,” he says, “and not so much collecting.” But Harry doesn’t think of it as work. “It’s a joy to work on these tractors,” he says. He tackles paint jobs in the summer (he has a white barn, and wants it to stay white) and does mechanical work as needed. Diesel tractors are a particular favorite. “I was a diesel mechanic,” he explains. “I grew up with diesels and love them to death. I’ve overhauled those engines and know them inside and out.”
Gearing up for the Gathering
The 25th anniversary of the Gathering of the Orange (an annual all-Allis event) in 2008 caused a flurry of activity in Harry’s shop. Harry gave new paint jobs to three tractors before taking them to the show, which was held at nearby Portland, Ind., during the Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Show.
He also organized a 20-mile tractor drive from his home to the Gathering at Portland. Early on the show’s opening day, more than 60 Allis-Chalmers tractors from Michigan and Indiana assembled at his home in Berne, Ind. The group then paraded to Portland, earning Harry the title “Pied Piper of Tractors” in an article published in the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette.
It was not Harry’s first Gathering of the Orange parade. In 2005, he and his brother Jim hauled Harry’s 1937 Allis-Chalmers Model WF 300 miles to the Gathering of the Orange Homecoming in Milwaukee, Wis. On their arrival at the show grounds, they joined in a parade of more than 200 tractors to an original Allis factory located nearby. As the tractors passed through the building, a professional photographer took individual photos of each tractor and driver. “That was very special,” Harry says. “When I had the dealership, I went there to pick up tractors.”
The WF was a good match for the event. The first tractor Harry restored in retirement, it was also his oldest tractor and a model that was never sold in Indiana. “It was built in Indiana, but it was considered a western tractor back in the 1930s,” he says. When Harry found a pair of WFs in California, he bought one for himself and one for a friend. Harry’s tractor – a basket case – had been abandoned for 17 years and the engine was stuck. “It took a lot of work but now it runs great,” he says.
Subsequent restoration projects included a 1938 Allis Model B and a trio of WD-45s: an LP/gasoline, one gasoline and one diesel. “A lot of people have the gas tractor and some have diesels,” Harry says. “Rarer yet is the dual-fuel WD-45. I just feel lucky to have the three of them.”
Big projects, small scale
In 2005, Harry branched out, building his first scale model. He hand-crafted a 1/4-scale version of the biggest tractor Allis-Chalmers built, the 4W-305. “I took a couple of International Cadet rear ends and a 12 hp Kohler engine and made the rest of it from scratch,” Harry recalls. “It pivots and oscillates, and I think it is pretty cute.”
He worked from simple plans: Three lines sketched on a piece of paper show a distance of 44 to 45 inches on two axles. Harry put the hydrostat rear ends on the floor with chalk marks showing the axle separation, and started building from there. A shaft from the front hydrostat to a valve enables both power steering and a place to connect the rear drive. Harry made a small universal shaft to connect to the back hydrostat, giving the unit 4-wheel drive. A bracket under the back fenders allows the back end to be disengaged. To get 4-wheel drive, he flips the bracket and all four wheels are connected, just like the full-size tractor. “It’s an attention getter at shows,” Harry admits.
During the winter of 2006, he built a 1/2-scale Allis-Chalmers Model G. Using components familiar to scale-model builders (a Cub Cadet rear end and a 7-1/2 hp Briggs electric start engine) he assembled the pint-size wonder in his shop. The scale model was patterned on a friend’s tractor. Its tires came from a corn planter; Harry made adapters to widen the spacing and fit the bolt pattern holes.
Even a Model 9815 pedal tractor got the Dubach treatment. Harry originally planned to install a gas motor in the pedal tractor, but then hit on the idea of using the engine, charger and 24-volt battery pack out of an electric scooter. At a local bicycle shop he purchased a jack shaft, sprockets and chain. Back at his shop, he stood the pedal tractor on its back end and made a reduction jack shaft and a double reduction up in the rear end under the seat. It has a forward and reverse control made by a friend. A battery pack is housed in the pedal tractor’s trailer. Harry covered the pack with corn and tells onlookers, “That’s my ethanol power plant.”
Governor made difference
No matter what size, Allis-Chalmers equipment spells quality to Harry. “Allis-Chalmers engine governors were noted far and wide,” he says. “They had an excellent system that worked well when the tractor was belted to a threshing machine. They were always way ahead of the competition because of that snappy governor. Anybody could have horsepower but that governor allowed Allis-Chalmers to outperform any other brand of tractor.”
Once a salesman, always a salesman. “A guy could buy a WC and an Allis pull-type combine and go out and harvest all summer long for half the crop and he could pay for his own 80-acre farm on custom work and clover seed,” Harry muses. “The WC was a $700 tractor and it pulled a $500 combine. In its day, Allis-Chalmers had more than half of the harvesting market with that old pull-type combine.” FCFor more information: Harry Dubach, 5800 S. 200 W., Berne, IN 46711; (260) 589-8222. Don Voelker is a freelance photographer and writer in Fort Wayne, Ind., specializing in tractors, farm equipment, historic sites, museums, barns and covered bridges. View his work at www.voelkerphotography.com.
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