Benjamin Franklin Avery: Branches Aplenty in this Family Tree

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A rear view of the B.F. Avery Model A.
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Ron Carver’s 1948 B.F. Avery Model V tractor is a wide-front machine on rubber.

The history of B.F. Avery tractors involves several different companies, including Cleveland Tractor Co., Massey-Harris Co., Cooperative Mfg. Co., Minneapolis-Moline Co., B.F. Avery Power Machinery Co. and Ford Motor Co., as well as distributors like Montgomery Ward & Co.

In the beginning

Benjamin Franklin Avery, born in 1801, started a blacksmith shop at Clarksville, Va., in 1825. The early corporation was called B.F. Avery & Sons Pioneer Plow Maker and moved to Louisville, Ky., in 1845. The company’s specialty was the manufacture of plows, and by the late 1800s the company was the largest manufacturer of plows in the world. During those years, the company also ventured into manufacture of horse-drawn fertilizer spreaders and planters.

B.F. Avery & Sons Co. jumped into the tractor manufacturing business in 1915 with their 5,000-pound Louisville Motor Plow, one of a number of motor plows to come on to the market from 1915-1920. Selling points for the 20-hp machine included removable plows, which allowed the machine to perform other farm duties, and a removable engine, which could be taken out by removing only eight bolts. It was advertised as “The Perfect Deep Plowing Machine,” with “Perfect Cooling” and “One Man Does It All.” It is unclear why the Louisville Motor Plow, which was 7 feet wide, 13 feet long and 5-1/2 feet high, disappeared a year later, but clearly the company returned to a focus on farm implements.

A vision for the future

According to Luther D. Thomas in B.F. Avery, in about 1935 the designer of the Twin City tractor, Jack Junkin, was hired to design a B.F. Avery tractor. However, when Junkin died in 1936, other engineers finished his work.

In the late 1930s the company commissioned Cleveland Tractor Co. of Cleveland to build and market a wheeled tractor to operate with B.F. Avery’s implements. In 1939, the Cleveland General Model GG appeared, the only rubber-tired tractor out of CTC’s 40-some crawler models.

The Model GG was Cleveland Tractor Co.’s Model HG crawler with rubber tires. When the tracked Model HG, which was made from 1939-1944, became the rubber-tired General GG, it carried a single front wheel and was of row-crop configuration suitable to pull one 14-inch plow. The GG and the HG both used a 4-cylinder Hercules IXA3 flathead engine of 113 cubic inches and 3-inch-by-4-inch bore and stroke. Some sources say the GG was made from 1939-1941; others suggest that production continued into 1942.

By the Numbers:

Starting serial numbers for each year, B.F. Avery tractor models.

The Tru-Draft System

“Tru-Draft (B.F. Avery) implements comprise the only implements that always and automatically maintain a true line of draft without power-wasting gadgets to force them in or out of the ground, or to hold them in position. Because they always operate in a true line of draft, they are called Tru-Draft.”

– B.F. Avery promotional material

Massey-Harris General GG tractors

Massey-Harris Co. also got into the act with the General GG tractors, distributing them in Canada. Mike Ballash says in The Cletrac General GG and the B.F. Avery A: A Bit of History, “I saw a restored one in the Milton, Ontario, Agricultural Museum in 1999. The only link to Massey-Harris was a plate on the right frame rail that indicated it had been built for Massey by Cletrac. That tractor was Cletrac orange and was in the Massey-Harris display shed at the museum.”

The Wards Twin-Row and Co-op tractors

Another version of the Cleveland General Model GG was made especially for, and marketed by, Montgomery Ward & Co., and was called the Ward’s Twin-Row tractor, according to Thomas. Ballash adds that the Model GG was also sold as a Co-op tractor, but only in Indiana.

“Both of those versions were painted red and their serial numbers were intermingled with the General Model GG as they came off the production line,” Ballash says. The General Model GG was orange.

Finally … a B.F. Avery tractor

After the outbreak of World War II, Cleveland Tractor Co. turned its machinery towards the war effort, Thomas says, and reduced manufacture of General GG tractors. “Cletrac received a large government contract to manufacture crawlers for military use and made significant reductions in its production of the General. With its tractor manufacturer shifting its manufacturing priorities because of the war effort, B.F. Avery announced on Feb. 14, 1942, that it had purchased the equipment, inventory, dies, jigs, fittings, patent rights and other property from Cleveland Tractor Co. in order to manufacture the General as B.F. Avery’s own tractor in its Seventh Street plant in Louisville.”

The first B.F. Avery & Sons tractor was the Model A. It was no surprise that it was an exact duplicate of the Cleveland General GG tractor. Meanwhile, according to Ballash, “Cletrac supplied almost 850 B.F. Avery tractors from (their) Cleveland plant for B.F. Avery even when B.F. Avery was first producing the same tractor in Louisville.” Cleveland Tractor Co. made the B.F. Averys until the B.F. Avery plant was retooled and ready. Curiously, some of the Model A tractors made by B.F. Avery still carried the “GG” designation, so the swap appeared to go both ways.

The Model A was red with yellow hood decals and silver rear wheel rims. Its engine was a Hercules 4-cylinder flathead at first, but through the years it grew to a Model IXK3 (123 cubic inches) and later the IXB3 of 133 cubic inches.

The “General Model A” was a transitional model, made from 1942 to late 1943, when B.F. Avery introduced its new, redesigned Model A. The B.F. Avery tractors were given a fresh look. The Model A was given a new grille, hood and electric starter. Eventually it could be purchased with either one or two front wheels.

Other B.F. Avery tractors included the Model V, first manufactured in 1946, and the Model R. The Model V weighed 1,600 pounds, and sold for $1,053, while the Model R, of which only 4,000 were made, weighed 2,840 pounds, and cost $1,450.

B.F. Avery & Sons also made the Model BF and BG. The BF was made from 1951-1957 with Hercules 1XB-3SL 4-cylinder engines that produced 27-belt hp, while the Model BG was made during the same time, and produced the same horsepower with a 1X3SL 4-cylinder engine. Other B.F. Avery tractors include Models BFD, BFW, BFS, BFH; little or nothing is known of those models.

B.F. Avery tractors were perfect as second tractors on large farms, or for cultivating vegetable or specialty crops. About 34,000 B.F. Avery tractors of all kinds were made until the company closed its doors for good in 1951.

Minneapolis-Moline B.F. Avery tractors

In 1951, the Minneapolis-Moline Co. bought out B.F. Avery & Sons and continued to market the B.F. Avery Model BF tractor for the next four years. This machine was a 26-hp tractor, and had a 4-cylinder Hercules engine with 3-1/4-inch-by-4-inch bore and stroke. Its displacement was 133 cubic inches.

The B.F. Avery Model V was also produced by MM, with a Hercules ZXB-3 4-cylinder engine of 2-5/8-by-3-inch bore and stroke and 65 cubic inches.

The B.F. Avery tractors then became the small models in the Minneapolis-Moline line, were painted Prairie Gold like other Molines, and sported some cosmetic changes. They continued in the MM line until 1957, when the line was discontinued.

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