Farm Collector

Tractor Jacks: Small but Mighty Mechanical Lifting Devices

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.

With the advent of heavy farm wagons, grain separators and steam
traction engines, the need for a heavier jack became evident.
Necessity being the mother of invention, the steel jack was born.
These heavy-duty lifting devices were made of cast steel. Most had
a rather large foot for balance, a steel frame to contain the
lifting arm, a lever for lifting and a locking mechanism to hold
the unit while lifting. Many of the lifting arms had a rather large
knobbed head at the top, one lifting foot at the bottom of the arm
and perhaps another lifting foot somewhere along the ventricle
portion of the lifting arm. Lifting arms on these metal jacks had
either 1/2-inch or 1-inch notches cast all along the rear side.
These notches fit the locking mechanism and provided adequate
lifting height. When in use to lift a tractor, the head of the jack
was slid under the axle for lifting. When in use for a separator,
which was much lower to the ground, the lifting foot was slid under
the axle.

Levers on those metal jacks were made of wood and metal. On
those made of metal, to get enough handle for leverage the handle
usually was curved into what was referred to as a “rat tail” shape.
This provided a longer handle for a longer lever. For heavier
jacks, a longer lever was needed. In that case, rather than a metal
lever, a socket was provided to accept a wood handle. Metal jacks
came in a wide range of sizes, from the small screw jack for
automotive use to heavy railroad jacks.

Since tractor manufacturers did not provide jacks, other
manufacturers did, such as the Avery Tractor Co., the Buda Engine
Co., the Galion Iron Works, Elward, Barrett, Huber, Malleable Iron,
Barth and more. All manufactured a satisfactory jack that farmers
could use for many purposes around the farm besides lifting the
rear wheels of their tractors (now to adjust the width rather than
to lube the axle). They were used to lift portable hog shelters,
brooder coops, small buildings and anything needing a boost.

As with the wood jack, the metal mechanical jack has become a
piece of agricultural history. It was replaced by the hydraulic
jack, which could lift more, took up less space and was safer to
use. But tractor jacks do not seem to have become a passion of
collectors. You will find one or two of them in various museums, or
kept around as single pieces of memorabilia, but serious collectors
are few and far between.

James N. Boblenz grew up on a farm near New Bloomington,
Ohio. He now lives in Marion, Ohio, and is interested in antique
farm equipment, particularly rare and lesser-known tractors and
related items. E-mail him at Jboblenz@aol.com.

  • Published on Apr 1, 2006
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