Big Four Tractor Restorations: A Global Endeavor

Minnesota machinist plays role in restoration of 11 Big Four tractors.


| March 2014



1910-Big-Four-differential

The differential assembly from the 1910 Big Four tractor.

Photo courtesy Harriet Severson

Ever wondered how to define the phrase “mind boggling”? Just ask Al Severson. The Blooming Prairie, Minn., machinist is juggling the restoration of not one but 11 Big Four tractors.

Fortunately for Al’s mental health, only two Big Four tractors (both of which are his) are physically present in his shop. The rest are scattered across the globe, but the Internet has brought them close together. When Al documented the experience of restoring a Big Four and posted it online at Smokstak, owners of the rare prairie tractors started coming out of the woodwork … and they all needed parts and information.

In addition to his own pair, Al is involved with restoration of four Big Four tractors in the U.S., three in Australia and one each in South Africa and the Netherlands. “All I send to owners overseas is information,” he says, “typically sketches or prints of different parts of the tractor, because I don’t want to deal with customs and all that. It works both ways. I help them out; they help me out with information, too.”

The group of 11 enthusiasts on four continents is tight-knit; members freely share information and parts. “It has truly become a worldwide group,” Al says. “If one person has a part you need and we have a part they need, we work together and everybody is satisfied. We end up being the central point for most of the parts being made for the Big Fours in the U.S.” Some need only minor parts; others require complete engine and transmission rebuilds — but he is up to speed on all of them.

The Big Four, a member of the class known as prairie tractors, is a rare tractor; just 25 are known to exist. The Big Four was built by Gas Traction Co., Minneapolis, until 1912, when Emerson-Brantingham Co., Rockford, Ill., bought out Gas Traction. Emerson-Brantingham continued to build the Big Four for several years.