Alan Burden doesn’t have to look far for plain old-fashioned fun. Driving his 1945 Friday O-48 tractor down U.S. Hwy. 34 from his home in New London, Iowa, to the Midwest Old Settlers & Threshers Reunion grounds in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, about 15 minutes away is about as good as it gets.
“It’s a four-lane highway, and in my rear mirror I’ll see cars a half-mile back pull over into the other lane to pass,” he says. “They’re pretty surprised when it takes them a half-mile or mile to actually do it,” he says. That’s because top road speed for his 10-forward-speed tractor can hit 55 miles per hour, Alan says, as measured by his GPS. Some say 60 mph.
Alan’s interest in old iron surfaced when he was in high school. His dad, Ken, was in the process of selling the family farm. “My dad started farming with a 1937 John Deere B. It was just sitting out in the pasture rusting, and I asked if he would keep it off the auction,” Alan recalls. “‘For you, yeah, you can have that thing,’ he said. So I restored it as an FFA project, and that got me started in old iron.”
Alan didn’t do much with it for the next 20 years. “By then it had frozen up again, and my dad had retired and he and my uncle decided to restore it again,” Alan says. “That started them into restoring tractors. Dad is 83 and still restoring.”
After the B was restored the second time, Alan decided to try tractor-pulling with it. “At the first tractor pull I ended up taking second place,” he says, “even though the B stalled within 2 feet, because there were only two tractors in my class.”
Then he wanted to hop the tractor up but his dad wanted to keep it original. So Alan tracked down a 1938 John Deere Model B to use as a puller. In the process, he ran into the Friday tractor.
“A friend from pulling, Marvin Mallams, and another guy went up to Michigan and each one bought a Friday tractor,” Alan says. “I’d never heard of a Friday until I saw that one in his garage. He wanted to restore it someday. I said it would be nice to have something different to show, like the Friday, because there were enough John Deeres at parades and running threshers at shows.”
For five years the subject never came up again. Then one day Marvin made a surprise announcement. “You know, if you still want that tractor,” he said, “now would be the time to come and get it, because I have two other guys who want it.”
Alan didn’t have to be told twice. A year later he started tearing the Friday apart. “Eventually I had it stripped to where the frame was laying on the ground,” he says, “and I decided to rebuild it again.”
The Friday tractor is an intriguing machine, basically hand-built. Friday Tractor Co., Hartford, Mich., officially launched production in 1947. In TGAF — There Goes a Friday, Terry Lockner writes that, “David Friday built his first tractor in 1939, using parts from old vehicles. He commented that he couldn’t afford to buy a tractor, so he built one.”
Alan says his tractor was built around an 8-inch I-beam measuring 2 feet by 10 feet. “Friday laid it on its side,” he says, “cut a hole toward the front where he set the engine, and another one for the transmission, and a hole in the back for the rear end.”
In the absence of documented history, rumors take over. The most intriguing one suggests that when a bridge in Chicago was taken down, an I-beam was cut into 10-foot sections and those sections were used to make the main frame for Friday tractors. Though the legend can’t be verified, many Friday tractors — like Alan’s — are built on an I-beam measuring 8 inches by 2 feet by 10 feet.
Once the engine, transmission and rear end were positioned, Friday filled the tractor with angle iron here and channel iron there, Alan says, depending on the component. Friday relied on a unique blend of creativity and resourcefulness.
“For both the foot throttle and hand throttle he just used a flat bar to build his own linkage, with a round rod and a flat bar,” Alan says. “I think the seat is an original from Sears, Roebuck & Co., although I have no way to prove it. If you check an old Sears catalog from the mid-1940s you can see that same seat with a brass tag on the front of it with ‘All-State’ stamped on it, a leather seat with a metal frame, just like mine.”
Beginning in 1947, the company began using serial numbers. “Mine doesn’t have one,” Alan says. “But the transmission has ‘1945’ stamped on it, so I’m thinking that’s the year it was put together.”
The Friday’s engine was basically solid rust when Alan got it. “It took me all winter just to take the engine apart,” he says. He could have bought another Chrysler 6-cylinder flathead engine, but he wanted the engine that came with the tractor. “That’s why I went to all the trouble of pounding it out.”
He couldn’t get valves out, which were blocked by the camshaft, and he couldn’t get the camshaft out because it was blocked by the valves. He says he finally had to get angry to get it apart, beating all the pistons out with a block of wood. “It was just a long, drawn-out ordeal,” he says.
The hand-built tractor has a Chrysler Industrial IND-5 6-cylinder engine with a 3-1/4-by-4-3/8-inch bore and stroke, with a displacement of 217.7 cubic inches. “Friday bought most of the drivetrains from Detroit, so the transmission was a Dodge truck 5-speed New Process transmission,” Alan says. “With the 2-speed rear end, it has 10 forward gears and two reverse, with a manual high and low lever right beside the seat.”
The transmission and rear end were OK, but Alan had to find an unusual component unique to the Friday. “Instead of a driveshaft, it had a U-joint between the transmission and rear end, and it was gone,” he says. “It wasn’t a normal U-joint, but a large one like the old Dodge Power Wagons that the Army had. It took a lot of doing, but finally I found one online. I don’t think there are many of them around anymore.”
The tin on the Friday, though heavily rusted, was still good. “He made it heavy enough with thick steel,” Alan says. “The fenders were dented a little, but not the hood or grille – which were rusty, but in good shape. It looked like it had been at the bottom of a river for years.”
The radiator was connected oddly, one bracket using a piece of channel iron, the other a 2-foot angle iron. “It was the same way with the hand throttle, foot throttle and clutch lever,” Alan says, “all using flat bar and round steel rods twisted, bent into shape and welded together. Several flat pieces of steel were also welded together to make a bracket for the seat to bolt onto.”
Though the wheels on Alan’s Friday were good when he began work on the tractor, they would barely turn because the brakes had locked up. The hydraulic brake cylinders, one on each side, were shot. Alan’s father helped work on the brakes until they were fixed. “I found out that they had used Chevy truck master cylinders,” Alan says, “and through a Chevrolet truck magazine found them so we could replace them.” Each brake works individually but is hard to use on the road while trying to drive the tractor, Alan says.
Perhaps because of the customized approach to manufacture, each Friday tractor was unique. “Except for the hood, grille and fenders,” he says, “and I’ve seen fenders made of pipes.” Some frames are formed of square metal tubing, he says, and brake levers, clutch levers, foot throttle and seat brackets are all a bit unusual.
A wide variety of fruit is grown in Michigan, so the Friday was built as an orchard tractor. As Lockner writes, “Mr. Friday wanted a tractor that would deliver the fruit from the orchard to market without having to load a truck. Typically a wagon was pulled through the orchard while the workers would load the wagon with boxes of harvested fruit. When the wagon was full, the boxes were then loaded on a truck and hauled to market. By building a tractor that could reach road speeds, the process of getting the harvested fruit to town was streamlined by eliminating the need to load the truck. The Friday tractor can reach speeds greater than 60 mph.”
The process was customized at every step. “As I understand it, David Friday never built one of his tractors until someone ordered one,” Alan says. “Then he’d build it the way a guy wanted.”
Lockner agrees. “Friday Tractor Co. would build the tractor with any accessory the customer wanted,” he wrote, “such as power takeoff, hour meter, hydraulics, dozer, tachometer, retractable lights, radio or even a cigarette lighter.” Alan says he’s seen one of the machines with the PTO and belt pulley powered by the transmission. Others have a blade in front.
As is the case with many defunct tractor companies, little information is available on the Friday tractor, Alan says. “You can get in some deep discussions with guys, but nobody really interviewed Friday. They got their information from a neighbor or somebody who worked for him,” he says. “And there isn’t much information available on the Internet.”
One way Alan gets information on Fridays is by talking with the other collectors. Just 143 Friday tractors were manufactured with serial numbers until the company’s demise in 1957, so there aren’t a lot of owners. The number of tractors built before serial numbers were assigned remains unknown.
All in all, David Friday was an interesting inventor who built an interesting tractor. “David Friday was a prolific inventor who designed and built other orchard equipment such as forklifts, hydraulically operated tree shakers for harvesting fruit and straw spreaders,” Lockner writes. “Mr. Friday owned his own small plane and used it to deliver parts to his customers. If there were inadequate landing place, Mr. Friday would signal the customer to observe where his part landed by buzzing the property. He would then drop the part on his next pass.”
Alan’s collection also includes a 1954 Toro tractor originally designed to groom golf courses. Most recently used on an Iowa City, Iowa, golf course, the tractor turned up on an online auction. Alan was immediately smitten. He uses it to give his grandchildren rides. The tractor is geared very low, he says. “It could climb a tree if it could stay on the trunk,” he says with a laugh. “It’s all mechanical with a 4-speed transmission that’s geared very low. They had dual wheels in back so they wouldn’t sink in or make ruts or anything. These machines were made strictly for landscaping or mowing, using a gang-type mower of three or four in a row to mow the golf courses until the big garden tractors showed up and made them obsolete. They made a lot of them in the 1940s and 1950s.”
Popular show displays, both tractors allow Alan to give his grandchildren rides. But the Friday is his favorite. The tractor’s speed, uniqueness and rarity can’t be beat. “It would be nice to have a registry of Friday tractors or a Friday tractor club,” he says. “Right now, collectors go to auctions where there’s a Friday tractor just to talk to people who know about the machines.” FC
For more information:
— Alan Burden, 2477 285th St., New London, IA 52645.
— Friday Tractor website.
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.