Tractor Jacks: Small but Mighty Mechanical Lifting Devices

When it came to lifting tractors and equipment, early mechanical lifting devices eased heavy loads.

| April 2006

Farmers had to have 'em - tractor jacks, that is - for their early cultivating tractors. Otherwise, they could not raise the tractor's rear wheels to adjust the width for cultivating, plowing or other tasks.

In the 1930s, when tractor companies began to produce cultivating tractors, most needed the rear axle to be raised to move the wheel in or out, depending on the operation. Unfortunately, tractor manufacturers did not make mechanical lifting devices for raising the tractors. What to do?

Whoa. We're getting ahead of ourselves. Ever since man invented the wheel, he's needed a lifting device to raise the unit to which the wheel was attached. First he used manpower - his buddies - to lift the cart or wagon so he could slide the wheel off, grease the axle and put the wheel back on.

This awkward arrangement required the labor of several men. After much frustration, an improvement was devised: a level and fulcrum. This is nothing more than a long pole and a shorter pole or log (or some other object) to pry against. To lift, the long pole is positioned under the outside portion of the axle near the wheel. Then the long pole was placed over the shorter post. When the long pole was pushed downward over the post, the axle was raised high enough to remove the wheel. The lever and fulcrum served man for many years, even through the great westward migrations.

The lever and fulcrum principle is exactly the principle used to produce mechanical lifting jacks. Early wood jacks were nothing more than a frame (fulcrum) with a notched lifting arm inside the frame and a lever for raising the arm. The jack was set in the "down" position, slid under the axle to the notch that most nearly mated with the axle and then the handle was depressed until the axle was raised high enough for the wheel to be off the ground. Farmers used this simple jack to raise the axle of a wagon or cart high enough to remove the wheel for repair or lubrication.

Many carpenters and planing mills began to fabricate buggy and wagon jacks for commercial distribution. There were as many designs as there were manufacturers. For instance, Oliver Mfg. Co., Chicago, produced a widely marketed wood jack that was a two-piece frame with a lifting arm, lever handle and small wheel at the front to enhance positioning of the jack. Some wood jacks had a metal facing attached to the notched arm to provide a more durable surface, promoting longer life.