Ultimate American Farm Tractor Data Book

Author Photo
By Chester Peterson Jr.

First, a few precautions concerning what the book, Ultimate American Farm Tractor Data Book: Nebraska Test Tractors 1920-1960 most certainly is not: It’s probably not the book you want if your desire is to rack up a few hours of easy “escapist” reading. Neither is it the only book you’d pack if there was any chance at all you’d become stranded on a desert island.

But if you like nothing better than to completely immerse yourself in all the available facts and figures concerning the older American tractors, consider this a good investment for a $20 bill. It’s a soft-cover book that crams a lot of facts and figures into its full 7/8-inch thickness.

The book itemizes the important specifications for 782 tractors (including some imports) tested by the University of Nebraska during the four-decade span from 1920 to 1960.

The book covers 88 different makes of tractors ranging from Allis-Chalmers to Zetor. With 115, International – including McCormick-Deering tractors – has the highest total number of models tested. However, some makes that rapidly faded are represented by just a sole tested model.

“What I tried to do with this book was to answer most of the questions that tractor restorers and collectors are always asking,” explains author Lorry Dunning. “As you might guess, the serial number information was the most difficult to obtain.”

He utilized the most important of the available Nebraska test data as his book’s foundation, then fleshed out that information with specs from tractor data books. When those two sources disagreed on a tractor, Dunning then actually located a restored model and made his own assessment.

Although proud of his effort, Dunning is less than enthralled that one of the two tractors on his book’s cover was inadvertently switched by the publisher.

As he notes, “The cover caption inside gives the details about an extremely rare International diesel tractor. However, after you read that and then look at the cover again, you ask ‘If it’s a diesel, why does it have sparkplugs?'”

A sort of dividend section is near the book’s front. Titled “Power test timeline,” this is almost eight pages of field equipment and tractor usage information from Egyptian times through 1920. Scattered throughout are interesting tidbits. Some examples:

  • As a source of power, a 1,200-pound horse was the equivalent to approximately eight 150-pound farmers.
  • Even as early as 1910, an estimated 50 firms or individuals were making, or attempting to make, tractors in this country.
  • By 1920, there were 191 tractor-producing companies, and 245,000 gas tractors in use on U.S. farms. However, they were outnumbered by 17,221,000 horses and 4,652,000 mules.

Included in this section is a lengthy, interesting timeline that lists various important events. These range from Scottish engineer James Watt’s introduction of horsepower as a unit of measurement, to the exhibition on Feb. 16-21, 1920, of 102 tractors by 66 manufacturers at the Fifth Annual Tractor Show.

Immediately following is another timeline of important events in the Nebraska Test Lab. The first official tractor test was of a Waterloo Boy, Model N, Serial No. 19851, using kerosene fuel, March 31-April 9, 1920.

The first row-crop tractor was tested in 1925, first to use distillate fuel in 1926, first with battery and electric starter in 1928, first with hydraulic lift system for implements in 1938, first with independent PTO in 1947, first torque amplifier in 1955, and first with hydrostatic power steering in 1960.

Every one of the tractor testing “milestones” listed briefly describes date tested, test number, what was unique about the tractor, make, model and serial number.

This is the type of information provided for each tested tractor in the main section of the book: manufacturer, Nebraska test number, test date, test tractor serial number, years produced, serial number range and location, number produced, engine description, test engine serial number, cylinders, bore and stroke (in inches), rated RPM, compression ratio, displacement (in cubic inches), fuel used, fuel tank capacity (in gallons), carburetor, air cleaner, ignition, cooling capacity (in gallons), PTO/belt horsepower, crankshaft RPM, fuel use (gallons per hour), maximum drawbar horsepower tests of gear, drawbar horsepower, pull weight (in pounds), speed (in miles per hour), and percent slippage. Also: SAE drawbar horsepower, SAE belt/PTO horsepower, type, front and rear wheel (size in inches for steel and rubber); length, height, rear width and tread width (all in inches), weight (in pounds), and gear/speed (in miles per hour).

“Bottom line” time: If you’ve been searching for a definitive source of tractor specifications for various makes, that is as accurate as possible, then this is your book.

And, regardless how rapidly you flip through the pages, you’ll appreciate how author Dunning spent more than a year and a half gathering such voluminous information, and putting it together in a usable format. FC

Chester Peterson Jr. is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in agriculture, aviation, business and computers. He is the author of five books, including John Deere New Generation Tractors.

Published on Sep 1, 1999

Farm Collector Magazine

Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment