Farm Collector

1920 Shelby Model D Tractor: Rare Antique Tractor One of Very Few Known to Exist

Fred McCance, Lyons, Ohio, describes his 1920 Shelby Model D 12-25 tractor when it’s on display at an antique tractor show as a “lonely little petunia in an onion patch.”

It’s not so much that the other tractors are onions, he explains, but his Shelby is almost always the only one of its kind on display.

According to Fred, Shelby Truck & Tractor Co. produced three different tractor models: the Model C 9-18, Model D 12-25 and Model D 15-30. Fred owns two, a 1920 Model D 12-25 (serial no. 158) and a 1920 Model D 15-30 (serial no. 162). Completely restored, the 12-25 is the show tractor. The 15-30 is beyond restoration and is used as a donor tractor. Fred knows of only one more Shelby. Located in Pennsylvania, the tractor has been disassembled and many parts are missing. He doubts it will ever be restored.

Dawn of a new era

Early in the 20th century, a major transition swept through American agriculture as farmers began to make the move from farming with horses to mechanized farming. Early steam engines, expensive and enormous, were used primarily to provide power to threshing machines and other large pieces of equipment. By 1915, however, many companies began to manufacture smaller, more efficient, less expensive tractors: The horse’s days were numbered.

The Shelby tractor is a remnant of that early era of farm tractor history. Launched with high hopes in Shelby, Ohio, Shelby Truck & Tractor Co. was organized in 1918. The company operated out of a factory large enough to house simultaneous manufacturing operations for trucks and tractors. During the company’s first year, Shelby won a government contract to produce 150,000 shrapnel shells for the U.S. Army. That order helped Shelby get off the ground, but it delayed planned production of trucks and farm tractors.

Three models launched

The company’s first tractor was a 1919 Model C 9-18. One of the most streamlined tractors then available, the Shelby sported a full hood and sleek lines. It was powered by a 4-cylinder Waukesha engine with a 3-3/4- by 5-1/4-inch bore and stroke. The fledgling company did not set up a large distribution and service network. Instead, Shelby looked to Banting Co., Toledo, which sold the Shelby Model C as a power source for Banting threshing machines.

The second Shelby was the Model D 12-25. It featured a 4-cylinder Beaver engine coupled to a Foote Bros. (Chicago) transmission and differential. The driver’s platform was spacious and comfortable with all controls in easy reach, and there was good visibility for both fieldwork and belt power.

One of the two long levers on the left operated the twin-disc hand clutch; the other operated the left rear wheel brake. Another long lever on the right operated the right rear wheel brake. The tractor had two forward speeds and one reverse. High speed forward was about 4-1/2 mph. Both rear wheel brakes were enclosed to keep dirt and mud from accumulating inside the drum.

The Model D 15-30 was the company’s third effort. Weighing in at about 5,000 pounds, the Model D had a 4-cylinder Erd engine with a 4-3/4- by 6-inch bore and stroke.

Mixed reviews in testing

In 1919, just before the Nebraska Tractor Tests were launched in March 1920, tractor testing was underway at Ohio State University. OSU tested 62 tractors at four Ohio sites: 17 each at Middletown, Fostoria and Akron, and 11 at Columbus. The Shelby Model C 9-18 was tested at Fostoria and Middletown. The Middletown test was conducted in wheat stubble in sandy loam soil with a wet surface and hard, dry subsoil. In Fostoria, the test was conducted in wheat stubble in heavy, dry loam with hidden rocks.

In comparison to other tractors of similar size (the field included Avery, Case, Cletrac, Fordson, Frick, Hart-Parr, Heider, Huber, International Harvester, Parrett, Wallis and Waterloo Boy), the Shelby made a decent showing.

For the Shelby Model C 9-18, tests conducted at different
sites with different conditions yielded different results:
Middletown Fostoria
Plow/Speed 2-14 plow
1-3/4 mph
2-14 plow
1-3/4 mph
Footing poor fair
Pounds of Pull 1,090 1,500
Rate of Travel 194.3 feet/minute 125.2 feet/minute
hp 6.42 7.97
Depth 7.5 inches 7.95 inches
The Model C had 4 cylinders with a 3-3/4- by 5-1/4-inch bore and stroke,
ran at 1,100 rpm and weighed 3,600 pounds.

Competitive pressures in the marketplace, however, proved overwhelming. In early June 1921, company officials filed for bankruptcy, listing debt of about $13,000 (nearly $160,000 in today’s terms).

Fred believes his tractor is the only restored and operational Shelby in existence. Want a closer look? Contact Fred to see where he plans to show it this summer. FC

For more information: Fred McCance, Lyons, Ohio 43533; (419) 923-5334.

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

  • Published on Apr 22, 2010
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