Alan King: King of Farm Equipment Books

Tractor manuals, advertising resources, the Gasoline Engines series and more books by Alan King helped shape the early days of the old iron hobby.

| August 2006

  • OliverHartParr.jpg
    Alan King’s Oliver-Hart-Parr booklet: one of a series of tractor data books he produced. He also published a wide variety of short monographs (booklets) on single items such as farm tractors, gasoline engines, plows, corn huskers and shellers, and some booklets covered a single tractor company, like this one for the Rock Island Plow Co. The Year of the Tractor 1919 shows more than 100 models made by at least as many companies that year.
  • ProducedMillionCopiesBook.jpg
    Before retiring, Alan King produced nearly a half million copies of books for antique farm equipment collectors, covering gas engines, tractors, garden tractors and related equipment.
  • AboutRockIslandPlow.jpg
    The ad for Rock Island Plow Co. shows the Illinois company made more than just tractors. Next to it, the little-known Wheat tractor shown in this 1919 ad from Alan King’s Year of the Tractor booklet was manufactured in Buffalo, N.Y. Some of the tractors shown in that booklet are little-known, like the Four-Drive, above, and the Indiana All-Round tractor, below. The booklet also contained ads like the one for Heider tractors. Alan liked to combine ads from different periods in some of his booklets, like this one for the Utilitor general purpose farm tractor.

  • OliverHartParr.jpg
  • ProducedMillionCopiesBook.jpg
  • AboutRockIslandPlow.jpg

Alan King of Delaware, Ohio, could easily be called the "King of Farm Equipment Books." During a 27-year career in the publishing business, he's authored 49 volumes and reprinted 175 farm-related manuals and catalogs totaling nearly a half million copies.

Alan didn't grow up on a farm, but he was well-versed in agricultural equipment from a young age, as both his grandfather and uncle were farmers. "I helped on the farm during the summer, and I remember my grandfather had an old John Deere plow in back of my grandmother's rock garden for years," Alan recalls. "I used to play with that plow when I was a youngster."

If that wasn't enough ag background, Alan's father worked for three major farm equipment manufacturers. He worked for Nichols & Shepard Co., from 1922 until 1929, when Oliver Farm Equipment Co. bought the company. In 1936, he went to work at Deere & Co., where he stayed until he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1940. "He was advertising manager, so he did the introductory ads for the Oliver 70 tractor, all the introductory ads for styled John Deere tractors when they came out, and for the John Deere H when it was introduced in 1939. So you might say I had a background," Alan says with a laugh. His father was also editor of the Oliver Shield magazine for Oliver dealers.

Plowing deep

Alan's favorite piece of agricultural machinery, the walking plow, was the motivation for his publishing career. "I went to an auction one day, and an International Harvester plow was going for little or nothing, so I bought it," he says. "Plows were dirt cheap in the 1960s, so I bought a lot of them for a dollar or two." Today he has more than 30 fully restored plows. "My method is to completely dismantle, clean, paint and reassemble them, doing a really good job," he says. One of the plows in his collection is the John Deere plow that belonged to his grandfather. He also has his grandfather's five-shovel International cultivator, a burr mill and corn sheller.

As he started collecting plows, followed by gasoline engines, Alan realized little or no information was available on them. "You had to find the original manual or original catalog, and I soon found out it was that way with everything. That was when I started on my gas engine books."

One of his finds was a breadbox full of old Gas Power magazines, giving Alan access to numerous ads for gas engines. Those ads were the foundation of Gasoline Engines, Vol. 1, which he published in 1976. "I started all this almost from the beginning of the real explosion of the hobby," he says.


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