Flash in the Pan

1 / 6
First highly successful multi-use tractor
2 / 6
Kardell "Four-In-One"
3 / 6
Denning frame
4 / 6
Linn Tractor-Truck was a half-track
5 / 6
6 / 6
Chase Tractor-Roller

In the early days of farm power, tractors were designed for one main purpose: to plow, to turn the virgin sod from North Dakota to Texas. To accomplish that job, many were monstrous -the Pioneer 30-60 weighed 23,000 pounds and its sister 45-90, 31,000 pounds; the Avery 40-80 hit 22,000 pounds; and the Hart-Parr 30-60, cooled by 80 gallons of oil, tipped the scales at 20,500 pounds.

No lightweight, maneuver-able tractors existed until the ill-fated Little Bull in 1914, and the reasons were simple: tractor manufacturers did not listen to farmers, who were crying for smaller tractors. Also, nobody was sure yet just exactly what the tractor might do best on the farm. Except plow.

In time, tractor designers and manufacturers began to find out, though, and in this process, they went through a phase of testing whether ‘combination’ tractors might be the answer. As C.H. Wendel writes in his Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, ‘… countless attempts were made at combination machines – tractor-trucks, tractor-plows, automobile-plows and various other combinations.’

Auto plows

Of all the varieties of combination tractors, the auto-plow (also called a tractor-plow or a motor plow) was, to nobody’s surprise, the most common. The auto-plow differs from the automobile plow of the time, such as the Smith Form-A-Tractor or the Staude Mak-A-Tractor, which added large drive wheels to the rear axle of an automobile, usually a Ford Model T, to convert it into a plowing machine.

Some auto-plows – like the Hackney Auto-Plow and the Nevada (Nah-vay-dah) Auto-Plow – are well-known and share a common look.

Others, like the Denning 6-12 tractor, are little-known and look different. The Denning 6-12, manufactured in 1913 by the Denning Motor Implement Co. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had a frame of lightweight tubular steel and looked like a glorified go-cart with a single-bottom plow slung under it.

An optional mowing attachment also was available. A single, small land-wheel left of the driver stabilized the machine. In 1913, its only year of manufacture, the Denning 6-12 cost $800.

Another odd combination tractor was the Van Nostrand rotary plow, also manufactured in 1913. The rear drive-drum sported hundreds of curved spikes that dug up the ground over which it passed.

As Wendel writes, ‘It would appear that this machine was designed to loosen and aerate the soil, as compared to working up a seedbed,’ perhaps in orchards or truck gardens. It is difficult to figure out what other normal tractor uses this combination machine might have had.

One problem with many of the tractor-plows was the difficulty of removing the plow to convert the machine into a regular tractor.

Steel King Motor Plow Co. of Detroit made their Steel King Motor Plow so that, as Wendel writes, ‘its mounted plows were easily detachable (so it could perform) other farm uses.’

Unfortunately, this tractor used the cone clutch, which ‘was not noted for smooth operation.’ The Steel King Motor Plow was an 18-hp, 4,000-pound machine that cost $950 in its only year of manufacture, 1914.

Next, tractor-trucks

Another group of convertible tractors was the tractor-truck. The Avery Co. of Peoria, Ill., made its first foray into the farm tractor business in 1909 with the ‘farm and city’ tractor, advertised ‘for city, town, and country hauling.’ The company suggested using it to haul grain, hay, livestock and other loads, as well as pull plows, harrows, discs, binders, road graders and other farm machinery, or loaded wagons.

This one-ton model used a four-cylinder engine, had an open cab and chain drive, and looked just like a truck, though it was designed for farm field use. The wheels had wooden spokes and rims, along with steel tires, 1-1/2 inches thick and 5 inches wide. Within a year, Avery began testing true tractors; by 1911 its 20-35 was on the market and its tractor-trucks were not.

In 1914 the Triple Tractor Truck Co. of Minneapolis brought out its Triple Tractor Truck, an all-wheel-drive machine with a four-cylinder engine and a pulley for belt work. It was rated at 3,200 pounds drawbar pull and deemed capable of pulling three 14-inch plows. It also had an unusual spring-mounted chassis, and it probably was never put into full production. Two other tractor-trucks were manufactured during the next two years, the Linn Tractor-Truck and the Lombard Tractor-Truck. These were half-tracked vehicles, with a set of crawler tracks in the rear and regular wheels in the front.

Linn Manufacturing Co. of Morris, N.Y., brought out its 6-plow tractor-truck in 1916 in its attempt to crack the market, and it didn’t take the firm long to discover its four-cylinder, 8,000-pound, $4,350 machine was better used in construction work on rough terrain than in a farm field.

The Lombard Auto-Tractor-Truck Corp. of New York introduced its monster version in 1917, and as C.H. Wendel writes in the Standard Catalog of Farm Tractors, 1890 to 1960, ‘Under suitable conditions, this machine had a drawbar pull of 15,000 pounds.’ Its platform could hold 10,000 pounds.

Other Odd Combos

The problem with any kind of convertible machine is that it usually doesn’t perform the activities claimed, or perform them as well as any machine made particularly to perform a single activity.

Plus a combination machine usually requires an extra investment in time, for switching from one use to another, so the work takes longer to accomplish.

Odd combination tractors include the convertible Rumely Do-All, different from the non-convertible Do-All.

The convertible Do-All required the user to shift the machine’s rear wheels ahead, remove the front axle and hook the machine up to the back of a cultivator, with the cultivator’s large tail wheel supporting the Do-All. This combination tractor was surprising, not only because it was a late entry into the market -1928, after most companies had given up on the idea – but also because its maker, Advance-Rumely Thresher Co. of La Porte, Ind., had tried combination tractors a dozen years earlier. The Rumely Ail-Purpose 8-16 and 12-24 models, which had plows under slung beneath the carriage, weren’t successful either, probably because of the converting back and forth.

Another convertible tractor with the same type of problem was the Acme 12-25, manufactured in 1918 and 1919 by Acme Harvesting Machine Co., also of Peoria, Ill. Wendel says: ‘Acme had a unique arrangement for converting back and forth from wheels to tracks,’ and though the claim was that the conversion was ‘easily done,’ it is difficult today to see how that was possible. Like most convertible tractors, the Acme didn’t last long.

Chase Motor Truck Co. of Syracuse, N.Y., began selling a tractor-roller in 1908, and though it was intended mainly for use as a roller, perhaps for road work, it also was intended as a tractor. It lasted for a few years and disappeared too.

The Stinson tractor was a combination tractor converted in a distinct way. Made by the Stinson Tractor Co. of Minneapolis starting in 1917, this 15-30 tractor could be used to plow, grade roads or harvest merely by moving the steering wheel to one of three different positions: to the right of the machine for plowing, the center for road work or the left for harvesting, which required short turns.

Combination tractors made by the Ann Arbor Hay Press Co. and the Ohio Manufacturing Co. were hay presses (balers) as well as tractors. An Adams Sidehill Tractor combination existed too, but little is known about it. The only existing picture shows that the rear drive wheels could be moved several feet up or down to allow it purchase on the sides of hills without danger of tipping, which was inherent in regular tractors.



Kardell Four-In-One

Of all the combination machines, the Kardell Four-In-One tractor deserves the spotlight because it claimed to do the most of any of the convertibles: instead of one tractor, you got four. As the company’s advertising says, ‘The Kardell ‘Four-In-One’ Replaces 5 Horses on Every Farm of 200 Acres’ and can be used as a ‘Motor Plow – Truck – Tractor – Farm Power.

‘The duties of the Kardell ‘Four-in-One’ tractor are not ended when it has finished plowing your acres, threshing your wheat, filling your silos and doing its work on the farm.

‘After it has increased the output of your land, it hauls your products to your shipping point. There is no need to increase your machinery expense by purchasing a special truck for handling, which will only work on good roads. The Kardell is your truck when you have produce to haul, your tractor when you have work to do on the farm.’

The transformation from tractor to truck was accomplished by attaching a trailer or implement to what appeared to be the front of the machine, where the steel frame jutted out to the smaller wheel.

This actually was the rear of the tractor. The two large drive wheels (60 inches in diameter, with a face of 12 inches), which on most other three-wheel tractors are the rear drive wheels, are actually the front wheels on this machine.

Farm Implement News wrote of the Kardell: ‘Its superior efficiency is largely due to the simplicity of construction of its units, insuring lightness without sacrificing durability or strength.’

One of its strengths, the News continues, is that it grabs on both soft and hard soil, and does not pack the soil down. Rather, it makes the soil ‘even more mellow. This is due to the unique tractive design of the wheels. They have a webbed tread (which) grips like a horse’s hoof.’

The plow unit consisted of three 14-inch plows, which were hitched to the front end of the frame by a patented, adjustable spring draw-bar. Here the Kardell was far ahead of its time: Farm Implement News continues,

‘This ‘safety’ spring yields enough to release the clutch whenever a rock or stump is encountered, thus stopping the machine automatically and without damage.

‘It also makes it unnecessary to use the extra-heavy type of gangs commonly used with tractors, which cause so much excess draft.’

The Kardell Four-In-One, rated at 20-drawbar and 32-brake horsepower, was first built in 1917 by the Kardell Tractor & Truck Co. of St. Louis. It lasted until 1919.

Eventually, of course, all the ‘convertible chaff’ was thrown out, and the ‘wheat’ remained in the form of small, lightweight, maneuverable general-purpose tractors. These machines performed all the labors needed by the small- to medium-sized farmer because tractor manufacturers finally realized that the answer lay not solely in the tractor, but also in implements made for the tractor.

After the Little Bull’s debut, other general purpose tractors, including the Moline Universal and the Fordson, both released in 1917, came along. These were not only small tractors, but machines with implements manufactured to go with them – plows, cultivators, mowing machines, grain binders and other pieces. Though the Fordson, which came after the Universal, had major problems, its introduction nevertheless signaled the end of the convertible tractor era.

Combo ranks thin among collectibles

Combination tractors never were popular, and the companies that made them did not last long. Thus they are very difficult to find in any condition today, except for those few that are the well-known names from the past, like the Avery Farm and Truck Tractor or Rumely Do-All, for example. The rest never see the light of day.

– Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and the author of several books on antique farm toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56369; e-mail: bvossler@juno.com.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment