If you’ve been in the old iron hobby for a bit, you may have heard of the Stoltzfuses of Pennsylvania. Seen as members of threshing crews at reunions and frequent contributors to Iron-Men Album, the family has had old iron flowing through their blood for generations, and Paul Stoltzfus is continuing that tradition.
Paul started collecting in 1969 with a John Deere 1-1/2 hp engine. Over the years, he has collected everything: “I like old tractors. I like old engines. I like it on wheels so I can mosey around,” he says. “I love to hear steam engines run, but when it is 95 to 100 degrees, you step on the back of a steam engine and get sweat on in a hurry.” At the height of his involvement, Paul’s collection topped 120 pieces at his home in Leola, Pennsylvania.
But Paul’s kit isn’t made up of stuff you see every day. “I sold and swapped to better my collection,” he says. “I had a neighbor who bought and kept everything. But I bought common engines and peddled those to get better engines. I have … five, six, seven, eight right now.”
I met Paul at the Rough & Tumble Engineers Historical Assn. Annual Thresherman’s Reunion. During the Parade of Power, an old Hart-Parr passed by me. I’d never seen anything like it, what with its vertical single-cylinder engine and massive cast steel wheels. I decided I needed to track down the owner.
It didn’t take long for people to point me in Paul’s direction. I’d seen things throughout the show I’d been interested in, and the name “Stoltzfus” kept coming up. When I finally met Paul and his family, I was welcomed into the group with a mandatory giant slice of juicy watermelon and reluctance on Paul’s part to take claim of his collection. “The tractor belongs to the family,” Paul clarified.
The tractor in question is a rare 1914 Hart-Parr 12-27 model. According to C.H. Wendel in Oliver Hart-Parr, the company built only 200 12-27 tractors. The Stoltzfus’ 12-27 spent its working life in Nebraska before being sold to Earl McHankle in Michigan in the early ‘60s. After Earl’s death in 1996, his 12-27 was purchased at auction by Jerry Swedberg of Rollag, Minnesota. Jerry allowed the 12-27 to be shown at the Hart-Parr display at the Floyd County Museum in Charles City, Iowa, on a three-year lease. After that lease ended, Jerry extended the display for two years.
Then, in 2009, Peter Knight, who lives about 30 miles north of Paul, purchased the tractor. That summer, the Stoltzfuses acquired the Hart-Parr.
The 12-27 is rare: Of those 200 originally built, it is believed the Stoltzfus’ is the only survivor. The Hart-Parr 18-35 is very similar; just three are known to survive: one in North Dakota, one in Montana and one in Texas. “This is the only one on the East Coast,” Paul says. “There are none in Canada. None in Europe.”
The differences between the 12-27 and 18-35 are few. “The 12-27 has porter valves, two exhaust pipes, an open governor and the fuel tanks are on the outside,” Paul says. “The 18-35 has an 8.5-inch bore and a 10-inch stroke and the 12-27 has a 10-inch bore and stroke.”
Designed for road work, both models included as standard features a canopy, large cast steel rear wheels, a huge flywheel used for starting and high-strength steel components throughout. A compact platform was achieved by hanging the gas tanks from the canopy, and the operator panel features two wheels: one for steering, and the second acting as a gear shift lever, which operates a rack-and-pinion to shift among high, low and reverse gears.
You can’t talk about the 12-27 without talking about those enormous rear wheels. “The rear wheel is one casting,” Paul explains. “Not like rim and spokes bolted together.” Wendel describes the wheels as “indestructible” in Oliver Hart-Parr. “In some tests,” he notes, “one of these wheels withstood a blow of 216,000 pounds without cracking or breaking.”
Such heavy-duty components were standard for Hart-Parr, which thoroughly tested each tractor before it left the factory. Wendel says that the tests “included a visual inspection, followed by a field run. If these tests were satisfactory, each tractor was belted to a dynamo for 20 to 40 hours of service. Self-recording meters were used to follow the performance of each tractor under test. Then, during the last hour of the test, each tractor was required to carry far more than its rated load, a test that each one was required to pass before leaving the factory.”
The 12-27 is a natural in the Stoltzfus’ collection, as Paul has a soft-spot for the style. “I like — this is my opinion — I like 1-cylinder tractors,” he says. “I’ve had a 1-cylinder Fairbanks, 1-cylinder Mogul, 1-cylinder Rumely. I have three of the OilPulls.”
Patina adds to the 12-27’s already striking appearance. Paul says it’s pretty much all original; it’s never been painted and the floor boards are all intact.
Hart-Parr built its products to last, so it’s no wonder the Stoltzfus’ 12-27 Hart-Parr still spins like a top more than 100 years later without too much work. “It’s just a tractor of its own, nothing like it,” Paul says. “Starting is a piece of cake. Turn the flywheel and it just runs. All my tractors just start by hand. People ask how to get it going … just turn the wheel.” FC