Big Lemon Early Tractors

Mechanical problems and lack of testing made lemons out of some early tractors

| December 1999

Before 1920, many tractors wouldn't work right, if they worked at all. According to the book 50 Years on Tracks: 

"By 1917, under the impetus of war and a burgeoning market, tractors bore the names of more than 200 firms. Builders vied with each other in a frantic race for sales. In many areas, unlimited credit was the rule. Generally, quality was poor.

"For most makes of tractors before 1920, service didn't exist. Internal engine wear from dirt became so acute that many farmers turned back to steam. Certain areas were gutted with rusting tractors – some simply no good in the first place, and others not usable for want of a part."

In short, many early tractors were lemons.

Tractors were lemons – i.e., they didn't perform, last, or work at all – for many reasons: design flaws; overstatement of their abilities by tractor companies; lack of farmer mechanical know-how; improper use by farmers; lack of testing under actual farming conditions before marketing; purchase of tractors by price instead of quality; and because of fly-by-night outfits.

Little Bull is Lots of Bull

The first truly big lemon was the Little Bull tractor, manufactured in Minneapolis by Bull Tractor Company.