| December 2004

Nebraska tractor tests held manufacturers to their claims

Wilmot Crozier, who farmed near Osceola in Polk County, Neb., 80 or so miles west of Omaha, was an educator-turned-progressive-farmer ready to embrace new technology and methods of farming. In 1916, he bought a shiny red and green Ford Model B tractor. The Ford was a strange-looking machine with a Giles engine and a spur gear transmission mounted between two large drive wheels up front. The driver sat above and behind a single, small wheel sticking out in the rear, which provided steering for the tractor. Crozier's new tractor had nothing to do with Henry Ford, but was built by the Ford Tractor Company of Minneapolis, whose owner, W. Baer Ewing, seemed more interested in promoting the company's stock than in selling tractors.

At the time, there was only one tractor in use for every 100 farms, and most farmers had 'a good deal of doubt and misapprehension' about the machines. These doubts were borne out by Crozier's experience with the Ford Model B. Although the 8-16 hp Ford was rated to pull two 14-inch plows, and sold for only $350, when most contemporary machines cost more than $1,000, it was no bargain. Crozier found that the thing would barely run, was difficult to handle and couldn't pull two plows. Thoroughly disgusted, Crozier made enough noise that the manufacturer took back his machine and replaced it with a new 1917 Ford. The new Ford was no better than its predecessor, so Crozier looked around for another tractor.

Introduced in 1913, the Little Bull tractor, also built in Minneapolis, was an overnight sensation. Rated at 5-12 hp and selling for just $335, 3,800 Little Bulls were sold during 1914. The Little Bull was badly underpowered and not very reliable, and the farmers who had snapped them up felt they had been cheated. Soon, many used Little Bull tractors were on the market, and Wilmot Crozier bought one!

After having nearly the same experience with the Little Bull as he'd had with the Fords, one would have thought Crozier would have given up and gone back to using horses. But he persevered and bought a used Rumely OilPull tractor that the manufacturer rated to pull three plows. Crozier '... pulled five bottoms satisfactorily with this tractor which gave him absolutely no trouble.' Of course, the OilPull probably cost Crozier close to 10 times as much as the Ford or Little Bull, but it worked better than it was supposed to.

Farmers and dealers had agitated for years for the federal government to establish a tractor testing program. However, politics and turf battles in Washington prevented progress. The American Society of Agricultural Engineers adopted a set of uniform tractor tests in 1917, and a few states, including Minnesota, North Dakota and Ohio, went ahead on their own, staging field tests and demonstrations.

Nebraska got into the act as well. Tractor trials began at Fremont, Neb., in 1913, and were held for several years. The Hyatt Roller Bearing Company introduced a hydrostatic dynamometer at the Fremont trails in 1917. This gadget, when coupled between the drawbar and the load, recorded the maximum drawbar pull of the various tractors and was a first attempt at making fair and objective comparisons of the competing tractors.