A History of Avery Tractor Development

Let's Talk Rusty Iron: Continuing the Avery Co. story with the development of the Avery tractor line.

| June 2007

Avery Co. had a successful line of steam traction engines, including the famous Avery locomotive-style under-mounted model, and promoted its threshers, plows and engines aggressively. The American Thresherman reported on the Avery demonstration at the 1906 Iowa State Fair. "These exhibition engines cut up all kinds of didos (in the slang of the era, dido was defined as behaving in a mischievous or silly way) and climbed blocks of wood 29 inches high. A little boy of 12 or 13 … operated the engine with perfect ease and made it fairly dance a jig … a plowing exhibition (was) given (by a 22 hp engine and a 10-bottom plow) in an open field where the ground was as hard as some men's conscience … 10,000 people would swarm around to see the engine tear up a strip of land several feet wide without a hitch or a bobble … "

Despite this success, Avery President J.B. Bartholomew recognized the potential of the newfangled tractors with internal combustion engines then coming on the market.

At the 1910 Winnipeg tractor trials, Avery introduced a huge, 1-cylinder model weighing more than 6 tons. The Avery tractor had a 12-by-18-inch bore and stroke, and performed so dismally it was withdrawn partway through the tests.

After the failure at Winnipeg, Bartholomew turned to Albert O. Espe, a prolific tractor inventor from Crookston, Minn., whose patents were used by the C.O.D. Tractor Co., Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. and Advance-Rumely. Espe came up with a machine that had a horizontally opposed engine and a unique power transmission system. The new Avery was introduced in September 1911 as a 20-35 hp model that sported a huge square radiator, unlike all its successors, which had round, vertical tube radiators.

Getting a tractor engine's power to the drive wheels was a problem in the early days of gas tractors. Designers tried friction drive, gear drive forward and friction reverse, and planetary gear drives before the selective, sliding gear transmission became the norm.

Hard as it was to get the thing to go forward, backing up was something else again. A steam engine could be made to run in the opposite direction by manipulating the valve gear, causing the tractor's engine and drive gear to move in reverse. A 2-cycle gas engine, such as that on the ill-fated Hart-Parr Little Devil tractor, could be slowed enough to cause it to run in the opposite direction. (This created problems for Hart-Parr, as the Little Devil sometimes lugged down enough when pulling a heavy load to suddenly begin running in reverse, causing the tractor to back over the load.) A 4-cycle gas engine, however, turned in only one direction, making necessary some sort of reversing gear mechanism.

Espe solved the problem by mounting the engine in a cradle that slid forward and backward in the tractor's frame by means of a lever at the operator's position. The horizontally opposed engine was mounted with the cylinders to the front and rear of the crankcase, meaning the crankshaft was crosswise to the tractor's frame.


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