Anyone with even a modicum of interest in tractors that wear the Persian orange paint will delight in a new book by Lynn K. Grooms: Vintage Allis-Chalmers Tractors. Fact is, even if you know nothing about this breed of tractors, you can learn a lot about A-C by simply admiring the many photos (by Chester Peterson) and captions in this informative, well-structured, and handsomely illustrated book.
Interspersed with more than 100 photographs are illustrations and ads from the early days when Allis-Chalmers was a major player in the tractor business.
Growing up in Missouri during the 1950s, I was a member of an FFA chapter composed mostly of green supporters and red enthusiasts. Those John Deere guys and Farmall advocates were always arguing about - or bragging on - their color of tractors. But other voices almost always joined the verbal battles, those whose families owned and operated Allis-Chalmers tractors.
Roger Welsch, whose name immediately brings a smile if you've seen him on TV or read some of his humor, was the perfect selection to write the foreword and introduce the uneducated to the many virtues of Sweet Allis. He loves his orange tractors with a passion, and after many years is still trying to convince his wife, Linda, that the incurable disease that causes him to buy one Allis-Chalmers after another isn't fatal, so long as the habit itself doesn't die.
The book traces the roots of the company to the early days of the last century. A fetching postcard picture of the Allis-Chalmers works in Milwaukee suggests a going, growing company.
In the 1920s, the Allis-Chalmers tractor was dark green with red wheels, but that was about to change. The story goes that Tractor Division Manager Harry Merritt visited California and was taken by the vibrant orange color of acres of wild poppy. He brought some poppies back to Milwaukee, investigated to see if the color was possible for tractors, and wound up adopting the Persian orange color in 1928. Why? It could always be distinguished from the landscape, even though the tractor might be covered with dirt or dust. The 1929 Allis-Chalmers Model U was the first in a long line of tractors and implements boasting Persian orange paint.
Turns out Harry Merritt was also a family friend of Harvey Firestone of the Firestone Rubber Company, and worked with Merritt in figuring out how to make 'air tires' a replacement for steel-cleated wheels. Famed race car driver Barney Oldfield helped promote the idea with tractor races at county and state fairs, driving a rubber-tired Model U.
The company's innovations in design, sales and distribution pushed it to become the third largest tractor producer in sales in 1936.
The book explains why A-C bought the Monarch Tractor Corporation and acquired Advance-Rumely's tractor and harvesting line.
The postwar farm tractor boom included the famous Allis-Chalmers Model G, basically a 'hoe on wheels.' These are popular today with collectors, and still attract show-goers who want a dose look at this unusual, unique tractor.
One chapter is devoted to Allis-Chalmers in Europe. Model Bs were common in Great Britain and France. The 1960s brought about the stylish D series. A 1964 Model D12 Series II Hi-Crop graces the book's cover: It makes you want to jump on and take it for a whirl down that gravel road surrounded by cornfields.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. Allis-Chalmers came a long way in offering heavy-duty tractors, from its Duplex of the 1920s to the 4W series that made its auspicious debut in 1982. The 6000 and 8000 Series were the last true Allis-Chalmers tractors produced before the company was sold in 1985. The final A-C ever built, a 6070, is captured in a poignant photograph.
Allis-Chalmers lives on in countless machine sheds and collector's museums, and interest has never been stronger in Gathering of the Orange events. Books such as Vintage Allis-Chalmers Tractors will help keep that memory - and color- forever bright.
Vintage Allis-Chalmers Tractors: The Ultimate Tribute to Allis-Chalmers Tractors, text by Lynn K. Grooms, photography by Chester Peterson Jr. and foreword by Roger Welsch; Voyageur Press, ISBN 0-89658-460-7; hardcover, 160 pages, 120 color and black/white photographs, $29.95; available direct from Voyageur Press, PO Box 338, Stillwater, Minn., 55082; (800/888-9653). Include $3.95 for shipping and handling.
John Harvey is the creator of the Classic Farm Tractors Calendar, Classic Tractor Fever club and newsletter.