1918 Wisconsin Tractor Gets Second Wind

A rare and unique Wisconsin tractor is brought back to life after sitting for more than 40 years

| April 2000

  • Frank Wurth and his 1918 Wisconsin, rated 22-40, with a Beaver engine
    Frank Wurth and his 1918 Wisconsin, rated 22-40, with a Beaver engine. The Wisconsin was one of the first tractors tested in the Nebraska Tractor Tests. Unlike many other tractors, the Wisconsin sailed through the test with flying colors.
    Photo reprinted with permission from Ralph W. Sanders
  • Another of Frank Wurth's favorites: A 20-40 Rumely OilPull
    Another of Frank Wurth's favorites: A 20-40 Rumely OilPull. "It's such a big, clumsy thing," he says, "and it's so primitive. But it's absolutely reliable." Frank and his son, Frank (shown here), have an increasing interest in steam engines as well: they have added two to the family collection.
  • Art Ritzenthaler, original owner of the 1918 Wisconsin shown here; Frank Wurth's wife, Rita, and the couple's then 20-month-old son, Frank
    Loaded for the trip home: Art Ritzenthaler, original owner of the 1918 Wisconsin shown here; Frank Wurth's wife, Rita, and the couple's then 20-month-old son, Frank. Ritzenthaler and the Wurths remained in close contact until he died nine years later.
  • Frank's second Wisconsin, purchased from Art Ritzenthaler's estate
    Frank's second Wisconsin, purchased from Art Ritzenthaler's estate. It had been kept as a parts tractor, abandoned at this site since one cold night in 1936 when the radiator wasn't drained, and the block cracked. Frank is restoring the tractor, "as time permits." Note the different style of engine in this model. Climax engines were used in some early models, and Beaver engines were used on a limited basis; most Wisconsins had Waukesha engines.

  • Frank Wurth and his 1918 Wisconsin, rated 22-40, with a Beaver engine
  • Another of Frank Wurth's favorites: A 20-40 Rumely OilPull
  • Art Ritzenthaler, original owner of the 1918 Wisconsin shown here; Frank Wurth's wife, Rita, and the couple's then 20-month-old son, Frank
  • Frank's second Wisconsin, purchased from Art Ritzenthaler's estate

The word "rare" gets plenty of use when vintage tractors are discussed. But Frank Wurth's fully restored 1918 Wisconsin lives up to that billing. 

The Wisconsin Tractor Company started out in 1917 in Sauk City, Wis., as the McFarland and Westmont Tractor Company. When production ended six years later, the result of stiff competition and a challenging economy, about 600 tractors had been produced. Survivors are few and far between.

"I talked to some guys at the Badger, Wis., show, and they estimated that there were 22 Wisconsins they knew of. There could possibly be 25," Frank says. "And of those 25, there's probably just three or four restored."

"It's a unique tractor, very well made," Frank says. "But Henry Ford put 'em all out of business. Wisconsin couldn't compete at $2,000-$2,200 per tractor. But in '53, this Wisconsin was still used on a daily basis, while those Fordsons were long gone. It's really a very well made machine.



"It was so far ahead of its time for 1918: It had a full pressure motor; it used gas; it was lightweight but it could pull four or five plows," Frank says. "John Deere was not even out of the gate yet. And Henry Ford built a cheap tractor. If he'd gone $500 better, there'd be no other tractor today."

The Wisconsin's biggest downfall? "There was no parking brake," Frank says, "just a pulley brake on the clutch. The theory was that, with the iron wheels and lugs, it wouldn't roll. But that seems kind of short-sighted, for a tractor designed for use in the hill country in Wisconsin."