Graham-Paige, Joseph Frazer and the Forgotton Frazer Tractor

Let's Talk Rusty Iron: Sam Moore explores the history of the Graham-Paige Motor Car Corporation, the Rototiller and the lost Frazer two-plow tractor.


| March 2001



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Frazer tractor

How many of you have seen a Frazer two-plow tractor? No one? Well, that's not surprising, as it seems only one working prototype was ever built, and only one photo of it has survived, as far as I know.

The Frazer tractor was one of the postwar dreams of Joseph Washington Frazer, former president of Willys Overland and a long-time Chrysler sales manager.

In 1926 the Paige-Detroit Motor Car Co. and Graham Brothers' truck-building firm merged to form the Graham-Paige Motor Car Corporation. Graham-Paige built automobiles until the war started, and produced the neat Graham-Bradley tractors that were sold by Sears and Roebuck in the late 1930s. During World War II, the company built torpedoes, engines for PT boats and airplanes, and the amphibious landing tractors the Marines called "alligators." In September 1944, Joseph Frazer gained control of Graham-Paige Motors and became company president, and Joe was bursting with ideas for the glorious day when peace would break out.

The Tractor Field Book for 1940-41 describes several models of the Rototiller, built by Rototiller, Inc. of Troy, N.Y. Based on a Swiss invention, Rototillers were available in cutting widths of 14 to 36 inches. The ads claimed: "Not just another 'walking tractor,' Rototiller plows, discs and harrows to provide an incomparably better seedbed in a single trip over the ground. In a class by itself."

Early in 1945, Graham-Paige secured the rights to build the medium- and large-sized Rototillers, as well as exclusive use of the Rototiller name. G-P established a Farm Equipment Division in August 1945, and announced that Rototillers and a new tractor, as well as other agricultural machinery, would be built at a subsidiary: Warren City Manufacturing Company in Warren, Ohio. Vern R. Drum, vice president and general manager of the plant, said the company planned to operate an experimental farm in the Warren area for the testing and development of new machines. Drum also said that the details of the new Frazer tractor, which was to have many exclusive features, would be announced at a later date. Apparently, Rototillers were built for a time at the Warren facility, but no evidence exists that the proposed experimental farm was ever established.

Frazer's main ambition was to revive Graham-Paige's car business, and the G-P ads of 1945 trumpeted: 'There's a new kind of car a-coming! And Joseph W. Frazer is getting set to build it — at Graham-Paige.' But Graham-Paige didn't have the money to develop the new Frazer, as the car was to be called, so Joe approached Henry J. Kaiser, who had become famous (and rich) by building almost one-third of the thousands of U.S. merchant ships used during World War II. Kaiser had been keen to enter the car business for several years, although in 1944 Motor Magazine commented snidely that "Fear of Kaiser competition has driven none of (the prewar auto makers) into a nervous breakdown."