Engineer’s Genius Launched Diverse Frick Line

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American Thresherman ran an ad for this Frick steam traction engine in 1906. Frick sold steam traction engines into the 1920s, when it was obvious to many that tractors were the wave of the future.
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This early advertisement touts the Frick sawmill as well as the Frick tractor, selling the pieces as a pair.
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A “farmerette” driving a Frick tractor pulling a 3-gang Oliver plow during a plowing contest in about 1918.
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The Frick 12-25 tractor could run on kerosene or gasoline.
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An ad showing the Frick 15-28 tractor and Frick separator.

George Frick thought big.

In Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines, author Jack Norbeck writes, “An engineering genius, George Frick undertook to ease the labor of men and animals with power machinery. He became a pioneer builder of four essential kinds of equipment: steam engines, grain threshers, sawmills and refrigerating systems.” Tractors, too.

George Frick built his first grain thresher in 1843, and began manufacturing units for sale to the public in 1848, forming Frick Co., Waynesboro, Pa., five years later. In 1850 he built his first steam engine; sales remained strong into the 1870s. Frick started making sawmills in 1875 and refrigeration units in 1882.

In 1896, he built a refrigerating machine (said to be the largest in the world) for Armour & Co. The 59-foot-long steam engine’s cylinder had a 48-by-59-inch bore and stroke. For 35 years, running night and day, the machine remained in operation, creating 350 tons of ice every 24 hours.

Frick also built threshers, portable engines, boilers, circular sawmills, edgers, hay presses and air conditioning equipment. The first mention of Frick and tractors appeared in the May 1913 Thresherman’s Review, where Frick announced the company would sell Ohio Tractor Co. tractors, while continuing to perfect its own line of tractors.

Though most references say Frick & Co. began manufacturing tractors in 1919, it was actually 1917, according to P.S. Rose’s Tractors Manufactured & Estimated 1918, in which he surveyed the entire tractor industry to determine precise production figures for recent years. Frick & Co. reported manufacture of one tractor in 1917 and 77 in the first half of 1918, estimating production of 225 in the second half, and 800 in 1919. At the time of the survey, the company had sold 58 of the 77 tractors it built in the first half of 1918.

The company’s first tractor was probably the Frick 12-25, with an Erd 4-cylinder valve-in-head engine of 4-by-6-inch bore and stroke. It weighed just less than 6,000 pounds. In a curious development, it was re-rated twice, perhaps the only tractor ever to have done so without a change in engine or parts: In 1920 it was a 12-24, and after that, a 12-20, but it was the same tractor.

Perhaps the rating was changed in anticipation of the 1920 Nebraska Tractor Tests, where the company wanted to make sure its tractor performed well. The 12-20 was registered as Test No. 47, Aug. 2-10, 1920, and was dubbed Model A. It tested without any problems.

That test immediately followed Test No. 46 on Aug. 2-6: a Frick Model C 15-28 tractor. The 15-28 had a Beaver 4-cylinder engine with 4-3/4-by-6-inch bore and stroke and weighed 6,100 pounds. A few minor repairs and adjustments were required on that machine. (Another reference shows the Frick 15-28 with a Beaver 4-cylinder of 4-1/4-by-6 inch bore and stroke.)

Most references list the two Frick tractors: the 12-20 (variously rated 12-25 and 12-24) and the 15-28. I&T Collector’s Series Farm Tractors 1916-1925 lists a third, a Frick 15-30, first manufactured in 1925, with the same Beaver 4-3/4-by-6-inch engine, but weighing 7,100 pounds. With the exception of gear speeds, other specifications are identical to the 15-28, so it’s unclear if this was a re-rated 15-28 or a new model.

Production of Frick gas tractors was discontinued in 1927 and the company concentrated on its distributorship of tractors and power units for Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. to power the Frick line of equipment. Frick offered Minneapolis 17-30 Type A and B, 30-50 and 27-42 tractors, and power units. Today the Frick Co. still operates in Waynesboro as part of York International, but makes nary a tractor. FC

Read about a rare tractor swap involving a Frick 15-28: “Allis-Chalmers for a Frick.”

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; e-mail: bvossler@juno.com.
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