Half-track Bates Steel Mule Works Hard

The half-track Bates Steel Mule billed as efficient, inexpensive and durable

| September 2011

  • Right rear view of the Model F.
    Right rear view of the Model F.
  • The Model F has a narrow footprint. Note the tractor’s heavy-duty hitch.
    The Model F has a narrow footprint. Note the tractor’s heavy-duty hitch.
  • Left side of a Bates Steel Mule Model F, showing the tractor’s front steering wheels and half-track.
    Left side of a Bates Steel Mule Model F, showing the tractor’s front steering wheels and half-track.
  • The Steel Mule’s gear shifter is nestled in a recessed holder preventing the operator from slipping into the wrong gear.
    The Steel Mule’s gear shifter is nestled in a recessed holder preventing the operator from slipping into the wrong gear.
  • The Model F’s controls are within easy reach of the driver. The foot clutch is shown at upper left; foot brake pedals are on either side, and the gear shifter is directly in front of the seat.
    The Model F’s controls are within easy reach of the driver. The foot clutch is shown at upper left; foot brake pedals are on either side, and the gear shifter is directly in front of the seat.

  • Right rear view of the Model F.
  • The Model F has a narrow footprint. Note the tractor’s heavy-duty hitch.
  • Left side of a Bates Steel Mule Model F, showing the tractor’s front steering wheels and half-track.
  • The Steel Mule’s gear shifter is nestled in a recessed holder preventing the operator from slipping into the wrong gear.
  • The Model F’s controls are within easy reach of the driver. The foot clutch is shown at upper left; foot brake pedals are on either side, and the gear shifter is directly in front of the seat.

Think of a mule, and you may picture a stubborn beast that intends to do as it wishes, not as its owner wishes. But you may also think of a hard-working, sure-footed animal that will make a farmer proud. He has an animal that is efficient and durable with the ability to perform all day long. And that is what the Bates Co. wanted people to think of their new half-track machine – that the machine was efficient, inexpensive and durable. One of the company’s ads claimed the Bates Steel Mule to be “the most efficient tractor in America.”  

There were actually two Bates tractors. One was produced in Joliet, Ill., and one in Lansing, Mich. Both companies produced farm tractors, although the Bates tractor made in Joliet was built by the Joliet Oil Tractor Co.

If you can’t beat ’em…

According to Orphan Tractors by Bill Vossler, Marion E. Bates of Bates Tractor Co. invented and marketed the Bates All-Steel tractor in 1911. This company, which built wheeled tractors, was located in Lansing, Mich.

Meanwhile, just outside of Chicago, inventor and manufacturer Albert J. Bates was the driving force behind Joliet Oil Tractor Co. That company produced the first Bates half-track tractors, named for the inventor.



In 1919, the two companies merged to form Bates Machine & Tractor Co., based in Joliet. This company produced tractors until the late 1930s.

Following the lead of Holt Mfg. Co., Stockton, Calif., the newly formed Bates company was one of the first companies in the Midwest to build crawler-style tractors. Bates even developed a kit to convert a Fordson to a half-track tractor to increase traction and reduce soil compaction.