It wasn't the first time Robert had worked on that particular tractor, but this time had more meaning. The restoration of the 1948 Leader tractor was not just a matter of necessity, the way the first repairs so long ago had been. This was an act of love. It all started four or five years ago when Robert Weitzel, Cincinnati, Ohio, received the tractor as a gift from his father, who had used it on the family acreage since the early 1960s. The unrestored tractor was still pretty much in its original condition. Robert took the Leader, stored it in the garage, and didn't think much more about it until his wife became the co-chairperson of the antique tractor parade for the Harrison, Ohio, Sesquicentennial Celebration.
'One thing led to another,' he says with a grin, 'and I got the idea to restore it.' Finding the time wasn't easy. Robert is a fire chief in Green Township, on the west side of Cincinnati, Ohio. He had to take a couple of weeks off to get the project finished in time for the parade.
The Leader came into the family shortly after Robert returned from a stint in the Army in 1963. The tractor had been sitting in a widow's field nearby when Robert's dad decided to buy it. Robert distinctly remembers bringing it home.
'The clutch was frozen to the flywheel,' he said, 'and I had to sit on the tractor all the way home and hold in the clutch.' When they got the tractor home, they had to break it apart to get at the frozen clutch. That repair made, the father/son team poured in some gas, and the engine sprang to life. It was as simple as that, the first time.
Used around the small farm for tasks like pulling bush hogs, the Leader was in active use until about four years ago. That was when Robert inherited the Leader.
When he decided to restore the Leader, Robert wanted to get it into tiptop shape. He took the hood and the front end down to the frame, sandblasted the parts and had them repainted. By the hood, in front close to the gauges, he found the serial number and the words 'model D' cast into the metal. Although the tractor was in good shape, one of the wheels had to be replaced. Calcium chloride inside had leaked, corroding the metal and weakening the wheel. Gempler Supply provided a new wheel, and Robert drilled out the rivets, re-attaching the wheel to the iron casting before putting on new tires all the way around. Then came the engine.
'You know, I think it still had the original spark plugs,' he says with pride. 'I soaked them, and they came out fine.' He went to an auto shop for replacements, and was surprised when they were able to provide him with some.
'Oh, they're not exactly the same,' he admits. 'But they are close, and they work. I kept the originals, of course, in a box.' When he found out the new plugs were $7 a piece, he was happy to only have to buy four.
Amazingly enough, other than the spark plugs, nothing needed to be done to the engine. Cleaned up, it ran fine.
'I don't think it's ever been apart,' Robert was happy to report. 'At least since my dad and I've had it.'
He has another Leader, covered and stored outside, as a parts tractor. His dad purchased it years ago in rough condition with repairs in mind, and passed it on to Robert with the other tractor.
'I think my brother actually broke the axle and dad had to replace that,' Robert says, but he has no plans to restore the second Leader.
'It's in pretty bad shape - strictly a parts tractor,' he says firmly. When the first Leader was finally ready, he drove it out and parked it in the line-up display for the parade. The best thing about all of this? His dad had no idea.
'My mom and sister brought him out to see the parade display,' Robert says, remembering the moment. 'He got four or five tractors down, and there was his tractor. Words couldn't express, but I did see a tear in his eye.' His father drove the tractor in the parade that same day.
'I think it did him a world of good,' Robert recalls fondly. 'It made me proud.'
Robert Weitzel can be contacted at: 10002 Baughman Rd., Harrison, OH 45030; 513-367-9958.
The Leader tractor had a short, but varied and interesting history. The company founders were a father-and-son team: Lewis and Walter Brockway. The Brockways, with a little time on their hands, decided to go into the tractor production business, beginning with some early garden-type tractors. The first tractors were powered by a Chevrolet four-cylinder engine, although the Brockways built the rough frames themselves. Later, the Brockways refined their product. They removed the single reduction gearbox of earlier models, and added chain-type final drives, effectively reducing the ground speed of the tractors. By 1940, they had formed the Leader Company, producing a more serious tractor.
The company was not manufacturing in huge volumes, but had a steady volume of orders - all it needed to keep going; In 1944, the Leader Company flirted with a three-wheeled tractor, spotting a six-cylinder, 201ci Chrysler engine, but only produced 12 before production was halted. Colors changed, too; the original tractors had been red; the first Leaders were painted green with black wheels; and the three-wheel tractor was painted bright yellow with red wheels.
By, 1945, production had evolved enough to produce the Model B. The Model B's were distinctively different in both engine type and appearance. The Chrysler engine used in the early tractors was replaced by a four-cylinder Hercules IXB5, and the transmission featured gears by Warner, housed in a case of the Brockways' own design. On the outside, the front; end was formed with rounded sheet metal, forming a rectangular steel grille
The Brockways continued to make small improvements each year, but there were no more substantial changes until 1947, when the Model D replaced the Model B. This model was essentially the same, inside and out, with one small exception: the front grille now read 'Made in Auburn, Ohio.'
The 'Auburn' grille caused problems for the company and the post office alike. The tiny town of Auburn, Ohio, did not yet boast a post office, and so, letters mailed to 'Leader Tractor Company, Auburn, Ohio' were promptly returned to puzzled farmers. By 1948, the grille had been reworked to read 'Made in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.' Chagrin Falls was the closest town with a post office, and the mail was hand delivered to Auburn from there.
The Leader company foundered suddenly in 1949. A marketing company that had been hired to handle the Leader account, and subsequently loaned the money for facility expansion, called in the laon unexpectedly. The Brockways were forced to sell their shares in the Leader company to pay off the Leader tractor company, scrapped the entire inventory, and destroyed all the production records, effectively cutting off the Leader Tractor Company from the public forever.