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Rare 1917 Bullock Creeping Grip Crawler

Rare Bullock Creeping Grip tractor was product of John F. Appleby’s Western Implement & Motor Co.

| November 2013

  • Front view of Robert Lefever’s 12-20 Bullock Creeping Grip showing the round radiator, side-mounted fuel tank and belt pulley.
    Photo Courtesy Sam Moore
  • Drawing of a 12-20 Bullock Creeping Grip tractor from the 1919 Cooperative Tractor Catalog.
    Photo Courtesy Sam Moore
  • Rear view of the same tractor, revealing the cooling fan, mid-mounted engine, steering levers, high seat and rear starting crank.
    Photo Courtesy Sam Moore

Many years ago, I visited the Coolspring, Pa., engine show and, while it was virtually all old engines, there were two tractors in attendance. One was a 1917 Bullock Creeping Grip crawler and the other was a 6 hp Quincy tractor from 1914, neither of which I’d seen before. I was able to find out a little about the Bullock Creeping Grip, but not much has turned up on the Quincy.

Car builder shifts gears

In the fall of 1910, William Colby, a Mason City, Iowa, man who had started several successful companies including the People’s State Bank of Mason City, decided to get into the car business. Colby hired David W. Henry, who had been fooling around with cars for 10 years, to design and oversee the manufacture of the new Colby automobile.

Three 40 hp, 4-cylinder Colby autos were quickly built in time for the Chicago Automobile Show in February 1911, and in the summer of 1911 a Colby race car driven by Indy veteran Billy Pearce placed third in the Kane County Trophy race in Elgin, Ill. Pearce won several big races in his No. 20 Colby “Red Devil” machine until dying in a crash late in the year. Colby introduced a new “underslung” car for 1912, but it was rather expensive and the Colby company finances were a shambles. In December 1911, Colby merged with National Co-operative Farm Machinery Co., Davenport, Iowa.

Iowa builder tries tracks

Meanwhile, John F. Appleby had invented a cotton picker and was looking for a company to market the machine. Appleby is famous for perfecting the knotter mechanism that made twine tie binders possible and is still in use on today’s square balers.

Early in 1912, Western Implement & Motor Co. was organized in Davenport, and took over National Co-operative Farm Machinery Co. John Appleby was named vice president of the new firm and planned to use it to sell his cotton pickers. Western Implement & Motor Co. products listed in a 1912 farm directory included tractors, trucks and automobiles, along with harvesters and cotton pickers. A Western ad shows a picture of the 45-60 hp “Creeping Grip” tractor with tracks at the rear and a pair of steel front wheels for steering. The large engine is set over the front axle, a big fuel tank and toolbox are over the tracks, and the driver sits in between.

Western made plans to move the farm implement factory to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1913 and increased its capitalization to $2 million. In October, Colby Motor Co. went under completely, Colby was ousted as president, and the assets were acquired by Standard Motor Co., which didn’t last long itself. Just 551 Colby cars were built and the only one known to survive is in a museum in Mason City.


Farm Collector April 16Farm Collector is a monthly magazine focusing on antique tractors and all kinds of antique farm equipment. If it's old and from the farm, we're interested in it!

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