Little-Known Tractors

10 little-known tractors that might have been contenders for success.

| October 2005

More than 900 American companies have manufactured tractors since the early 1900s. So it's no surprise that some of those manufacturers and their tractors fly under the radar of even the most ardent tractor aficionado. Any of these 10 tractors and their companies, little-known to most people in the tractor-collecting world, might have been contenders for success.

The Klumb

The Klumb tractor (also known as Klum) burned kerosene perfectly, says a 1920 advertisement for the machine.

The Klumb began life in Sheboygan, Wis., in the Klumb Engine & Machine Co. in 1913, and by 1918 the concern was manufacturing a 4,000-pound Model C 10-20 tractor. It carried a 2-cylinder engine of 6-inch-by-6-1/2-inch bore and stroke, and weighed 4,000 pounds. (Presumably Models A and B were also made, but that information is lost.)    

For reasons known only to history, the company moved to Dubuque, Iowa, and took on the name of Liberty Tractor Co., identical but unrelated to two other companies producing tractors at the same time. Perhaps the discovery of these similarly named companies impelled Klumb/Liberty to change its name, within a few months, to Dubuque Tractor & Truck Co., which manufactured Klumb Model F 16-32 tractors. The Climax 4-cylinder engine used in the Model F boasted a bore and stroke of 5 inches-by-6-1/2 inches, smaller than the Model C. The F weighed 5,200 pounds. 'As a selling tool,' a 1920 advertisement notes, 'the Klumb tractor is unsurpassed.' Perhaps. But by the end of that year, tractor manufacturing had passed the company by, and it disappeared. Despite the fact that it was not successful, the Klumb, along with many other tractors, took on a consistent, classic look that would help define the appearance of tractors in the future.

Tom Thumb

This odd-looking little tractor, first produced in 1915 by Tom Thumb Tractor Co. of Minneapolis, was a 12-20 4-cylinder crawler tractor that ran on kerosene and gasoline with its Waukesha motor of 4-1/4-inch-by-5-3/4-inch bore and stroke. The crawler-type drive wheel, centered under the rear of the tractor, was just 16 inches wide, and only 2 feet in diameter. Speeds for the Tom Thumb varied from 1-1/2 to 3-1/2 mph.  

In 1917, the company became the Federal Tractor Co., but continued to sell Tom Thumbs until about 1919. Pictures make the machine look smaller than it actually was (128 inches long by 88 inches wide by 66 inches high). It weighed 4,500 pounds.

The Whitney

One little fact says more about what happened to the Whitney Tractor Co. of Cleveland, and its Whitney tractor, than anything else: the $1,175 price tag when it came out in 1918, compared to its price for the same 3,000-pound 9-18 tractor 700 days later ($595). It wasn't that the Whitney tractor suddenly became cheaper to make; rather, it was the era. Three big tractor companies began the great tractor war, reducing prices of their machines to cost (or even below) to rid themselves of competition from smaller companies, just about the time a great agricultural depression set in. Thus the Whitney, the successor to a series of smaller test tractors made by WTC, as well as its earlier Ohio Manufacturing Co. of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, began life at a huge disadvantage.


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