| May 2003

Only records remain of the Rogers four-wheel drive tractor

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.