In the first two decades of the 20th century, when gasoline tractors were still upstarts, it seems that every manufacturer had its own idea of what form the new machines should take. Many different kinds and arrangements of engines, transmissions and other components were tried in those experimental years, as well as literally dozens of different wheel arrangements. Among that mass of early tractor models, very few four-wheel drive tractors existed, and even fewer which used articulated, hydraulic steering, or that operated equally well forward and backward. This is the story of a machine built with all those traits: the Rogers four-wheel drive tractor.
Pageville was a thriving little village in Erie County, Pa., just 20 miles south of Lake Erie in 1870. It's namesake, a man named Page, established the town after he'd invented a machine that manufactured oars and their handles simultaneously, and built an oar mill at the site. By 1873, two local farmers, Alfred and Norman Rogers, along with engineer N.W. Stafford, operated a steam-powered sawmill and shingle mill in Pageville. Ten years after that, Page's oar mill was closed down and Pageville was in decline. The Rogers sawmill was still operating, however, although it relocated to the old Page oar-production site.
Alfred Rogers had three sons, Charles, Louis and Hugh, who all helped with both the family farm and the sawmill. Somehow, the young Rogers brothers became associated with the Kellog Bros. Iron Works of Buffalo, N.Y., which specialized in bridge production and other iron and steel structures. About 1904, the Rogers boys contracted with Kellogg to build several bridges in Crawford County, Pa. For some reason, Kellogg couldn't furnish the bridges, so the Rogers brothers built a factory in Albion, Pa., and went into the bridge and structural steel business for themselves. Thus, the Rogers Bros. Co. was founded.
Eventually, the company built a 1,000-foot-long railroad bridge over the Susquehanna River in Williamsport, Pa., and a 1,085-foot, three-span, through-truss bridge over the Allegheny River at Oil City, Pa., (which carried U.S. Highway 62 until it was replaced in the mid-1990s) along with several smaller spans. By 1910, in addition to bridges, the firm built commercial buildings, barns and houses, sold real estate and even dabbled in the always lucrative undertaking and embalming ventures. In 1911, a disastrous fire consumed the factory, and the company was forced to rebuild. To help finance the project, the firm built steel gondola cars for the Erie Railroad and constructed two-wheeled, 1-ton trailers that could be pulled behind a car or light truck in 1914. During World War I, Rogers Bros. built thousands of kitchenette and troop carrier trailers for the U.S. Army and solidified the firm's reputation as a maker of quality products.
After the war, the firm resumed commercial trailer manufacture and also began to produce tractors. The Rogers four-wheel drive tractor, first introduced in 1919, was the brainchild of the youngest brother, Hugh. It was '... designed for use in logging camps, mines, oil fields, plantations and wherever transportation facilities are insufficient.' In many cases, the tractor was powered by a four-cylinder, L-head Buffalo gasoline engine of 6 3/4-inch bore and 9-inch stroke, although a different power plant appears in several photos. A Zenith carburetor and a Berling magneto were used, and most of the tractors had a large radiator mounted at the rear of the engine next to the driver, although some radiators were front-mounted.
Like many early gasoline tractors, the Rogers' construction was unique. A front frame carried the engine, fixed-front differential, transmission, steering gear, and driver's seat and controls. The rear-fixed differential was mounted under a shorter rear frame that usually carried a large fuel tank. This rear frame was attached to the front by means of a heavy cast yoke that allowed the two frames to oscillate horizontally, while also pivoting vertically in the center. The horizontal oscillation allowed the front wheels to be tipped in one direction and the rear end in the other, thus keeping all four wheels in contact with the ground in rough terrain. The central pivot, under control of the hydraulic steering mechanism, provided the articulation that turned the tractor in a 16 1/2-foot-radius circle.
Rogers Bros. was obviously proud of its drive train and claimed that power was transmitted to the drawbar '... without the use of a single universal joint.' The sliding gear transmission utilized two speeds forward and two in reverse, which permitted the tractor to operate the same forward and backward. The tractor used a Detlaff multiple disk clutch, and a bevel gear under the transmission meshed with a bevel gear to each differential. The sideways-facing seats, usually well upholstered, allowed the driver to see equally well in each direction. The wheels were 48 inches in diameter and 24 inches wide, with 15 heavy-gauge steel lugs mounted at an angle on each wheel.
The tractor was the first of only five tractors to be tested at Nebraska in 1922. Test number 84 reads in part: '(The Rogers) was the first tractor tested using a hydraulic steering gear. Using low gear, a maximum pull of 10,000 pounds was achieved at a speed of 1.31 mph for 34.85 drawbar horsepower. Total (gasoline) consumption was 9.687 gallons per hour with a 61.3 horsepower load. A total of 78 hours running time was required to complete the tests, with the engine using 9 gallons of oil to fill the crankcase initially and then requiring the addition of another 14 1/2 gallons during the tests. A number of minor adjustments were made, including frequent attention to the magneto and spark plugs. The Rogers tractor weighed 19,500 pounds.'
As far as can be determined, fewer than 100 Rogers tractors were built, and photos of them in action in Chicago, Omaha, Neb., and Tulsa, Okla., indicate they were sent to many parts of the country. The tractor was written about in several of the leading trade journals of the day, including Tractor and Implement Topics, the American Lumberman and Engineering News Record, which indicated that Rogers Bros. pitched the tractor for industrial use as well as farming. The severe agricultural depression of the early 1920s crippled the new venture, and the firm stopped making tractors by 1923.
The Rogers Bros. Co. is still a family-owned business in Albion, and manufactures heavy duty, low-bed trailers for the trucking industry. Betty Rogers Kulyk, daughter of Louis Rogers, and her husband, John Kulyk recently retired from active company management. Their sons Larry and Mark are now in charge, and Larry's sons Jay and Nick work at the firm as well.
In nearly 20 years that I've been going to shows and reading hobby magazines, I've never seen or heard of an existing Rogers-made tractor. With more than 50 built, it seems there should be one lurking on someone's back 40. If anyone knows where to find a Rogers four-wheel drive tractor, please contact me. FC
- Sam Moore became interested in agricultural machinery growing up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items.
The Rogers four-wheel drive tractor, first introduced in 1919, was the brainchild of the youngest brother, Hugh. It was '... designed for use in logging camps, mines, oil fields, plantations and wherever transportation facilities are insufficient.'