Huber Name Should be Bigger

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Above: This advertisement proclaims the 1921 Huber Super Four as “The Supreme Tractor Value.” This view shows clearly the large, distinctive front wheels of the Super Four.
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Left: By the time the 40-62 came along (originally rated at 25-50 in 1926), Huber tractors had adopted a standard appearance.
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Top left: A close-up of the logo on a Huber 20-36 tractor.Center left: The serial number for this particular Huber 20-36 is found on the inside of one of the back fenders, No. 9614.
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Bottom left: A Huber 20-36 tractor
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Bottom right: The Supreme thresher by Huber was one of the company’s big products for many years.
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Top: This Huber steam roller, or road roller, was used in about 1917. This 20 hp steam engine made road building (a sometimes unpleasant and time consuming but necessary part of a farmer’s life) a bit easier.
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Above: The cover for the 1888 Huber Manufacturing Co. catalog shows a pensive young woman.
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Above: A price list for Huber traction engines.
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Below: This restored Huber road grader takes part in festivities at the 2004 Albany (Minnesota) Pioneer Days parade.

Not much is heard about the Huber Manufacturing
Co. of Marion, Ohio, considering the company is “generally credited
with being first to put gas tractor production on a commercial
basis,” says The Huber Story, a 1948 company
retrospective. The company’s owner, Edward Huber, earned more than
100 patents on farm machinery, including inventing the return flue
boiler-type steam engine.

Early days

In about 1850, Edward Huber was apprenticed as a mechanic to a
blacksmith shop in Kelso, Ind. During this time, he learned wagon
making and invented a revolving hay rake. To better his prospects,
at age 27 he moved to Marion, Ohio, to sell the rake while he
continued to work on other projects. Neighbors remember having to
lend the young man tools because he was so poor.

In 1865 he married Elizabeth Hammerle of Kelso, and her brothers
followed her to Marion, where they started the Kowalke &
Hammerle Planing Mill, with Huber as superintendent, selling the
Huber revolving hay rake. During this time, Huber invented a steam
traction engine, and in 1870 formed Huber, Gunn & Co. to sell
it. “The venture proved so successful,” writes Jack Norbeck in
Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines, “that in
four years the Huber Manufacturing Co. was organized.”

For 20 years, beginning in 1874, steam traction engines,
portable engines and grain threshers were the principal products of
the new corporation. Production and reputation increased as the
company grew.

The covers of the World’s Fair edition of Huber’s 1893 catalog
had beautiful multi-colored drawings of World’s Fair buildings,
while advertising “Threshers and Engines.” The rear cover showed
the “Agriculture Building,” an ornate columned building flying a
variety of flags, with Venice-type gondolas plying the water in
front.

In this catalog, the Huber company advertised its steam traction
engine as “The New Huber,” and this snappy little number promptly
carried off “all awards offered” at the World’s Fair, the catalog
says. The accomplishment was not unusual, as Huber machinery was
known for its quality.

Another Huber catalog of the time says, “Our prices are as low
as consistent with good work and for a strictly first-class
machine. Our terms are as liberal as is consistent with good
business management.” The catalog announced that the company
manufactured 8-, 12- and 16-hp coal burners, and 14- and 16-hp
straw burners.

Five years later, the company added 6-, 10- and 20-hp coal
burners. Prices in 1898 ranged from $600 for the 6-hp unit, to
$1,300 for the 20-hp unit. The straw burners were priced at $1,200
and $1,250. Individual boilers could be purchased for about half
the price of the entire setup.

Huber’s terms of sale for engines and threshers in 1898 were:
“Cash, Medium and Long.” Specifically, for cash, that meant “All
cash on delivery or if cashed by Oct. 1, 1898.” For medium, the
terms were “One-third cash on delivery, one-third by Oct. or Nov.
1, 1898, and balance by Oct. or Nov. 1, 1899.” Long terms stated
that a third of the total must be paid by Oct. or Nov. 1, 1898,
1899 and 1900. It’s unclear why both months were part of the offer
each year, but it probably had something to do with crops.

Prices for Huber threshers in 1898 ranged from $400 for a “steam
only,” 24-inch cylinder, 36-inch separator, to $525 for a 40-inch
cylinder, 36-inch separator. Seven sizes were made in all.

The 1898 catalog had a heading titled “Free Articles: Main belt
not to exceed 150 feet in length, either Rubber or Cotton furnished
with each full rig bought at one time and by same customer. (Never
free or any part of it under any other circumstances.) Each
Separator is furnished with a wheat riddle, an oats riddle, and a
screen. We furnish one extra riddle free of cost if mentioned on
order, either a flax, timothy, or barley; but never more than one
of them free of charge.”

During the years leading up to Huber’s first successful
tractors, Edward Huber was far from idle. In addition to the
first-ever return flue boiler-type steam traction engine, he
invented Huber skid steam engines, Huber bean, pea and rice
threshers, and much more. “From the late 1800s to early 1900s,”
Norbeck writes, “the Huber (Manufacturing) Co. was known to be one
of the largest manufacturers of threshing machines and steam
traction engines in the USA.” The company manufactured Huber steam
engines through at least 1915, ultimately producing 11,568 steam
traction engines.

Early tractor

In 1894 Huber invented a gasoline traction engine, a lumbering
giant of a tractor (though that name hadn’t been invented yet).
“Magnetos, carburetors and spark plugs were not yet developed,
streamlining was unheard of, and ease of operation had not become a
vital engineering detail,” says The Huber Story. This
timeframe coincides with the invention of other gas traction
engines: the Charter (1889), Froelich (1892), Paterson (1892),
Hockett (1893), Van Duzen (1894), Otto (1894) and Lambert (1894).
Often the Huber is placed in 1898, as that was when it first
consistently worked. It was a 1-cylinder vertical engine with huge
flywheels to carry it over the compression stroke, and a spray
nozzle to partially vaporize fuel, which was fired by a heated
platinum wire. This machine used a Van Duzen engine.

It was not Huber’s first or last “gas traction” engine. Having
bought out the Van Duzen Co. of Cincinnati, Huber had gas engines
at his disposal, so he built a couple dozen single-cylinder gas
traction machines, but was not satisfied with them. He kept working
on them until the day, 14 years later, when he finally came up with
a tractor that he felt he could sell.

Between then and 1943, when production was suspended due to war
needs, Huber Manufacturing Co. manufactured about 20 different
tractors, beginning with the Farmer’s Tractor in 1911, with a
2-cylinder opposed engine of 5-3/4-by-6-inch bore and stroke. As
this machine was the linchpin between the company’s steam traction
engines and tractors, the wheel design on both was identical.

A year later, the company released a more powerful Farmer’s
Tractor, a 13-22 machine with a 7-by-7-inch bore and stroke. Where
vulnerable parts were exposed to the elements in the first machine,
everything was enclosed on the second machine, except the roller
chain final drive. The 13-22 had a cross-mounted engine.

Their next machine, also released in 1912, was a huge 30-60,
with drive wheels 8 feet high and front wheels 5 feet high. The
fuel tank held 65 gallons, the tubular radiator, 95 gallons.

Next came the Huber 20-40, similar to the 30-60 but made for
smaller farm jobs. In 1916 the company really began to make its
mark with the introduction of the Huber Light Four. This 12-25
machine with a 4-cylinder Waukesha engine of 4-1/2-by-5-3/4 -inch
bore and stroke weighed 5,200 pounds (though it was advertised as
“about 5,000”) and could pull three 14-inch plows set 8 inches
deep. This machine had distinctive huge front wheels, easily 80
percent the size of the 5-foot rear ones. This design carried into
the Super Four (introduced in 1921), a higher-horse-power version
of the Light Four. One advertisement said the Huber Light Four
“makes furrows straight as a surveyor’s line and steers itself
while plowing.” It cost $1,085. This machine was touted as the
“Year ‘Round Tractor.”

The next few Huber models were probably confusing for the
average farmer: the Super Four 18-36, 20-40, 25-50. Each had a big,
4-cylinder Stearns engine, which became the 21-39, 32-45 and 40-62,
respectively, after the Nebraska tests. The engine in those
beefed-up models didn’t change, just the power rating. Next came
the Light Four 20-36 in 1929 with a Waukesha engine. Later there
were variations of modern farm tractors, and Model HK, HS, L, LC
and B tractors. Huber even made a few OB orchard tractors in the
late 1930s.

Roll ’em!

In 1908, Huber Manufacturing Co. entered the road roller
business. “Fundamentally,” The Huber Story says, “these
machines were Huber steam traction engines with a heavy roller
taking the place of the front wheels, and the rear wheels made
extra wide.” Huber invented the first power-operated scarifier
(soil loosener) on a road roller in the U.S. “It was the forerunner
of many kinds of power-operated devices for the construction
industry.”

These were followed up by the invention of gas tractor road
rollers, with heavy 1- and 2-cylinder engines. These slow-speed
engines with hit-or-miss governors were hard to start and hard to
keep going.

In 1923, the company introduced its automotive-type motor
roller, which revolutionized the road construction industry. As
The Huber Story says, “Every road roller in the world
became obsolete the instant Huber announced its new model.” The
newer machines had a 4-cylinder, high-speed truck engine that ran
smoothly. The transmission was fully enclosed in an oil bath, had
two forward speeds and two reverse, and used roller and ball
bearing journals throughout.

In 1948, according to The Huber Story, the very first
of these machines was still in use, “sold to a contractor in Cuba,
who was confident that the Huber design and construction assured
him of many more years’ work from the quarter-century-old
roller.”

In the midst of World War II, Huber Manufacturing Co.
discontinued manufacture of heavy road graders and the Huber
maintainer to concentrate on production of Huber’s 6-, 8-, 10- and
12-ton three-wheel road rollers.

In discussing World War II, The Huber Story says, “It
will be impossible ever to know where all the Huber rollers were in
operation, but from letters written us by Marion boys in service we
know our rollers were on the Alcan highway, in Africa, Egypt,
India, the far reaches of the Pacific, and throughout Allied Europe
– wherever roads and airfields were constructed.

“To those of us who had to stay at home and produce war
material, it was an incentive to receive these letters from
hometown boys who wrote of the thrill they felt when they saw the
name ‘Huber’ on a roller thousands of miles from Marion.”

Cranes

In 1883, Huber and Henry M. Barnhart applied together for patent
no. 285,100, improvements for a traveling crane. By this time
Huber, in his mid-40s, had been involved in different businesses –
The Marion Steam Shovel Co., for example – and had become an
important man in Marion. Somehow he found time to become a
community leader. The Marion County Historical Society writes, “His
influence on the Marion area was great as his companies provided
major employment. His legacy lives on as his business savvy left
the companies in good financial health, making it possible for them
to remain in business.”

Though it got out of producing farm tractors earlier, the
company continued to manufacture road building and maintenance
equipment until the 1980s.

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several
books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at: Box 372,
400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; (320) 253-5414; e-mail:
bvossler@juno.com

For more information:

Visit the Huber Museum at Marion, Ohio. Open Saturday afternoons
March through December, or by appointment. To contact the museum:
(740) 389-1098; e-mail: hubermuseum@aol.com
www.mariononline.com/hubermuseum

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