The Hamilton Walking Tractor

| 3/12/2020 10:02:00 AM

Sam MooreDuring the second decade of the 20th century, tractor design was still fluid, to say the least, and there were many strange contraptions masquerading as farm tractors. Some of these worked better than others, and some didn’t work at all. The Hamilton Walking Tractor is one that seems to have had little success.

Rush E. Hamilton was farmer and orchardist in Sonoma County, California, at that time and apparently was a pretty good mechanic. He thought he could use one of the new-fangled gas tractors then appearing on the scene and looked around for one to buy. Not finding anything suitable for his needs, Hamilton undertook to build his own and, after three years of experimentation, during which “he used it successfully for all work formerly done by horses,” Hamilton’s tractor “walked” onto the scene.

The two 46-inch diameter drive wheels were at the front of the tractor and each had 16 10-inch U-shaped grousers around its periphery. The Oakland Tribune described these unusual spiked wheels thusly, “Hamilton provided his machine with two front wheels which have a series of steel projections about a foot long which, as the tractor advances, dig their way into the soil, thereby getting traction for the pulling of plows or whatever other machinery being used, and by agitating the ground as it moves along loosens up the soil for the plow.” The Motor West article tells us that “ingenious bands are furnished to go over the lugs on the drive wheels so the tractor can be put in shape for road driving within a few minutes.”

Hamilton walking tractor
Photos of the Hamilton Walking Tractor that appeared in a May 1918 issue of Popular Science magazine. (Courtesy of the Internet Archive.)

Based on his early patents, which were assigned to the Hamilton Tractor Co., Rush Hamilton started out to build the tractor on his own, and may have done so briefly, but then he apparently had an offer he couldn’t refuse. The Fageol Brothers were building a new factory in Oakland, California, and announced their intention to build not only their very expensive passenger cars ($9,500 in 1917 dollars for the chassis only, with a custom body extra), but trucks of from 2- to 5-ton capacity, as well as farm tractors. To that end they bought the rights to the walking tractor by giving Hamilton some Fageol Motor Co. stock and putting him on the firm’s board of directors.

After some re-design by Hamilton and the Fageol engineers, the new tractor was announced in the Sept. 1, 1917 Motor West, as “Small, Light and Powerful, It is Well Adapted to Pacific Coast Soil Conditions — Listed at $1,085.”


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