The First Graham Tractor

Despite popular belief, the Graham-Bradley wasn’t the first attempt at a tractor for the Graham brothers.

| December 2018

  • Graham-Bradley tractor
    A 1938-39 Graham-Bradley tractor.
    Photo by Sam Moore
  • Graham Brothers truck ad
    A 1928 Graham Brothers truck ad in which 1- to 3-ton models are listed at prices ranging from $665 to $1,845.
    Farm Collector archives
  • Graham motor cultivator
    The Graham motor cultivator at work in check-row planted corn.
    Farm Collector archives
  • Graham Bros. tractors
    Three photographs showing three views of the Graham Bros. 15-30 tractor pulling a 3-bottom plow in sod. The rear starting crank can be seen in the 3/4 rear view.  
    Farm Collector archives
  • Graham tractor engine
    This 1923 patent (No. 1,455,394) shows a rear-mounted crank for starting the Graham tractor’s engine. 
    Farm Collector archives

  • Graham-Bradley tractor
  • Graham Brothers truck ad
  • Graham motor cultivator
  • Graham Bros. tractors
  • Graham tractor engine

Almost everyone in the antique tractor hobby is familiar with the sleek, streamlined farm tractors built by Graham-Paige Motors in 1938-39, and sold through Sears Farm Stores as Graham-Bradleys. The Graham-Bradley wasn't the first tractor venture for either Sears or Graham, however. This story is about the Graham brothers' first fling at building a tractor.

The three Graham brothers — Joseph (1882-1970), Robert (1885-1967) and Ray (1887-1932) — were born to a prosperous farmer and businessman in Washington, the county seat of Daviess County in the far southwestern part of Indiana.

As a young man fresh out of college, Joseph, with his father's help, bought a glass bottle and jar factory. He was later joined by his brothers, and the three turned Graham Glass Co. into a profitable concern. Ray Graham was also heavily involved in the Grahams' nearly 1,500-acre farm and felt a better way than wagons and teams was needed to transport farm goods. He began to experiment with ways to transform the ubiquitous Model T Ford flivver into a serviceable truck.

The resulting Graham Bros. truck attachment was an immediate success and demand was heavy, so options were expanded to include kits for most makes of cars then on the market. World War I increased the demand and Graham became the largest truck attachment builder in the country.



Debut of the Graham tractor leads nowhere

Before the war, Ray Graham had been involved with Evansville's Hercules Buggy Co., which supplied Sears, Roebuck and Co. with buggies, gas engines and bodies for the Sears Motor Buggy, and which developed a 3-wheeled farm tractor in 1915. The tractor, which may have been tested on the Graham farm, had a single rear-drive wheel steered by two small wheels at the front. The Hercules tractor never materialized, but Ray began to push developmental work on a Graham farm tractor, and the engineering department, under George Dunham, worked on it for several years.

While there is no evidence that the Graham tractor ever went into production, several must have been built, as records show that the 3-plow machine was extensively tested on the Graham farm, as well as on that of "Senator Bourne at Mobile, Alabama, and at farms where various soil conditions were present." In addition, a photo exists of a Graham tractor on exhibit at the Centennial Exposition and Central States Tractor Show in 1919 at Evansville, Indiana.



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