This account of using a tractor in the early days of the 20th century was submitted by Emil Peterson (about whom nothing else is known, not even his location, although it was probably in one of the northwestern states) in the July, 1917 issue of Gas Review magazine.
“In June 1912 we bought the first real kerosene tractor in this vicinity. The reason we bought this machine, which is a (Hart-Parr) 25-45, was that horse plowing is slow, tiresome and expensive on account of the high price of labor. Our tractor is a one man machine.
“During threshing and plowing we use from forty-five to sixty gallons of kerosene per day.
“I want to say a few words about drive wheel extensions. Our tractor now has sixteen inch front wheels and thirty-seven inch drive wheels. We put on extension rims the first fall, after spending a beautiful day in mud to the axles with a fourteen man threshing crew waiting for us. Since then I recommend extension rims. Speaking of getting stuck, in the spring of 1916, after moving three and a half miles to a quarter section of land we farm, I got really stuck in real soft, white clay. Under about five inches of top soil the ground was soft as pudding. One front wheel was out of sight, the top of the wheel being even with the top of the ground. The other front wheel was in about two feet, one driver about half way in and the other about two feet down.
“There may be some who would not believe that an engine could get out with its own power but that is what that engine did. We have a one-hundred twenty-five foot cable and about sixty feet of chain. We tied an end of each on each driver and anchored them straight back of the tractor, using what we call a dead man; namely two big timbers buried lengthwise to which the cable and chain were tied. We shoveled a slant and used a few posts. After pulling the anchors out a couple of times, we finally buried them deep enough and with plenty of power, out I came with thirteen tons of iron and oil.
“I have kept a record of the days the tractor has been used and the work accomplished. We do custom threshing and have plowed a little for others. We have a 36”X60” separator and our tractor makes it hum along all day. No tractor could be successfully worked to the limit day after day and be ready for work every day if it were not made strong.
“Our tractor has run two hundred four days and the crank shaft bearings are not worn enough to allow them to be tightened. Of this two hundred four days, one hundred forty-eight days were spent threshing, fifty-one in plowing and five days in grinding feed, house moving, etc. The machine has never been laid up for repairs and the stops for field repairs have amounted to less than eight hours.
“The following figures give the expenses for the two hundred four days:
10,940 gallons of kerosene……………..$1,106.20 (10 cents per gallon)
804 gallons of engine oil……………….361.40 (45 cents per gallon)
180 gallons of black oil………………….21.60 (12 cents per gallon)
80 pounds of grease…………………….12.00 (15 cents per pound)
“I figured the life of the tractor at one thousand days and figured the depreciation from that. The first one hundred thirty days of threshing paid for the complete outfit, which cost $4,150.
“We have plowed about a thousand acres with the tractor at a cost of about seventy cents per acre. I have run the tractor one hundred ten days out of the two hundred four. It pays to run your own machine if you are an expert, otherwise hire one, is my advice. We have learned from experience that it does not pay to let inexperienced men run high priced machines.”
At the time when many threshermen were clinging stubbornly to their steam engines, another correspondent, F.C.A. Meyer from Washington State, wrote in that same issue:
“I have run a Case rig consisting of a 40-horse power gas tractor and a 28-inch Case steel separator. In this country we start to thresh at five in the morning and stop at seven-thirty, with one hour for dinner. We used 35 gallons of engine distillate per day including moves, two gallons of engine oil at 33 cents a gallon; the distillate costs 18 cents a gallon laid down at our railroad station.
“I have run rigs with steam power but I like the gas tractor much better. It is cheaper to operate and the Case has plenty of surplus power. We use the Spokane long feeder and windstacker and I have always had plenty of power for steady running and ease of handling. The new Case gas tractor can not be beaten. I would rather have it than the 20-horse power Case steam engine.
“I took a new 40-horse power Case gas tractor out of the cars in Coulee City last fall; left Coulee City at 10:30 in the night and was at the Cook Carr at seven the next morning, a distance of 35 miles on high speed all the time and on 25 gallons of fuel.”
“High speed” on the Case was just over 4MPH, and those guys worked long days—thirteen and a half hours. Another example of “the good old days.”