The story of the Rock Island Plow Co. dates back to Buford & Tate, a company formed in 1855 to manufacture plows in Rock Island, Ill. The company was later called Buford & Co. before being renamed Rock Island Plow Co. in 1882. By then the company had expanded beyond the original offering of plows to include a couple dozen horse-drawn implements. By 1900, Rock Island was manufacturing corn planters, walking cultivators, tedder rakes, plows, side delivery rakes, windrow loaders and other products, like the Great Western cream separator, feed mills, Linstroth wagons and potato machinery.
In 1914, Rock Island began selling gasoline engines manufactured by Alamo Gasoline Engine Co., Hillsdale, Mich., under the Rock Island name. Also that year, Rock Island agreed to sell the entire output of Heider Tractor Co., Carroll, Iowa. In 1916, as sales increased, Heider opted not to expand and sold out to Rock Island.
Heider's variable-speed friction-drive tractors had 20 percent fewer parts than other tractors of the era. Advancing or retreating the lever into any of seven notches increased speeds forward or backward by 2 to 5 miles an hour (or half-speeds in between the notches). In promotional materials, a North Dakota farmer said the Heider could be slowed so far that it barely moved at all. The friction drive eliminated the need for a complicated transmission. The tractors were touted as having "no gears to strip."
A 1917 Farm Implements article described how American soldiers waiting to be shipped overseas passed the time by studying Rock Island-Heider tractors staged for transport across the Atlantic. The tractors had been purchased by the U.S. government for military use. The soldiers' curiosity would later have practical value: In the months ahead those men would be called on to operate the tractors in countries across war-torn Europe.
Rock Island-Heider tractors had 4-cylinder engines and were manufactured in eight sizes: Model C 10-20 (1916), Model C 12-20 (1916), Model C 15-27 (1924-27), Model D 9-16 (1916-29), Model 6-10 motor cultivator, Model F 18-35 and a slower-geared transmission Model FA 18-35 (1927-37), and Model G-2 15-25 (1929-37).
Rock Island tractors were built until 1937 and sold until 1939. Initially badged as Heiders, they were renamed Rock Island-Heiders from 1916-29. From 1929 until 1937, when J.I. Case Plow Works bought out Rock Island and halted production, the Heider trade name was abandoned and the line went by the Rock Island name. FC