Homemade Tractor Craze

Farmers economized by building homemade tractors, resulting in the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

| April 2013

  • WA Muellin Tractor
    Farmers have always been ingenious in inventing what they needed. This homemade manure spreader was made by W.A. Muellin of Maryland.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • HW Leavit Tractor
    H.W. Leavit, Paris, Mo., an early proponent of the home-built tractor, built this machine in 1908. Note the under-slung plows and discs.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Billy Tractor
    Named “Billy” by the young builder, this homemade tractor was used on a farm for at least four years.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Standing On Tractor
    Sensing limitless possibility, more than a few farmers tried their hand at tractor construction. Expanded application of mechanization offered a break from the relentless, back-breaking work of farming.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • William Pullman Tractor
    This homemade, four-wheel drive tractor was built by William Pullman in 1918.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • N Frye Tractor
    N. Frye, Lincoln, Kan., built this sleek-looking homemade tractor in 1908.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Staude Mak A Tractor
    Another view of the Staude Mak-a-Tractor.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Fuller And Johnson
    A  machinery dealer made this homemade automobile out of a 5 hp Fuller & Johnson engine in 1914.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Ben Karrels Tractor
    Although some homemade tractors had a primitive look, others — like this one that used the trucks of a steam tractor as a foundation — look very professional. Ben Karrels, Knellsville, Wis., was the builder.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Pullford Tractor
    Two views of the Pullford tractor attachment at work on a truck and an automobile.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Car Converted
    Commercially produced kits helped farmers convert cars into tractors. Staude Mak-a-Tractor, Pullford and Forma-Tractor were among the early entrants into that market.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Convertible Tractor Co
    A Convertible Tractor Co. ad for the company’s version of a tractor add-on, the Me-Go.
    Illustration Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Unknown Tractor
    Little is known about this early homemade tractor.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • HF Grallop Tractor
    This homemade “auto-truck” was built by H.F. Grallop, Wittenberg, Wis., in 1910. The load of passengers is intended as a display of the vehicle’s strength.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • TGER Ad
    "Tractor and Gas Engine Review" ran this ad showing how “a practical tractor could be made out of a Ford or most any other car. Easily attached to or removed from the car in thirty minutes,” making a machine that could work in the fields pulling plows, drills, harrows and binders.
    Illustration Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Ole Hove Tractor
    Ole Hove, Atascadero, Calif., submitted this picture of his homemade tractor and saw rig to Gas Review in about 1916.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • George McVicker Tractor
    George McVicker, North Bend, Neb., used a pair of timbers to make the frame for this tractor.
    Photo Courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Knickerbocker Forma Tractor
    The Knickerbocker Forma-Tractor, offered in the years leading up to 1920, was a kit designed to help farmers convert Ford autos into tractors.
    Illustration Courtesy Bill Vossler

  • WA Muellin Tractor
  • HW Leavit Tractor
  • Billy Tractor
  • Standing On Tractor
  • William Pullman Tractor
  • N Frye Tractor
  • Staude Mak A Tractor
  • Fuller And Johnson
  • Ben Karrels Tractor
  • Pullford Tractor
  • Car Converted
  • Convertible Tractor Co
  • Unknown Tractor
  • HF Grallop Tractor
  • TGER Ad
  • Ole Hove Tractor
  • George McVicker Tractor
  • Knickerbocker Forma Tractor

Farmers have always been inventive. So when commercially manufactured tractors became available in the early 1900s, it was only natural that the handy farmer would try to make his own. Such labors were spurred by high prices, tales of defective products and overhyped machines, the desire for equipment customized to meet unique needs, frustration with horse farming, or simply the challenge of creating a useful tool to ease the back-breaking labor of farming.

“May solve the problem”

Farm magazines of the era enthusiastically promoted the idea of home-built tractors by publishing readers’ letters and photos. “As most farmers are handy with tools and machinery,” noted a writer in a 1914 issue of Farm Implements, “homemade tractors for general farming can easily be rigged up. The time is coming when the same engine that pumps water, saws wood, grinds feed, etc., will also be used for plowing and hauling. The new field for the homemade tractor may solve the problem for the man who runs a farm too small in size to justify a regular farm tractor but who appreciates its advantages. When not in use for plowing and hauling the engine can perform its usual tasks.”

The writer went on to point out how enterprising machinery dealers in Larimore, N.D., “evolved an efficient and satisfactory farm tractor from a Fuller & Johnson 5 hp engine (see photo 7 in the Image Gallery). The outfit not only proved a great (exhibition) attraction, but in actual field tests successfully pulled a gang plow and loads that would stall a 4-horse team.”

Benjamin Pittsley, Berg, N.D., was among those who were successful in building their own tractors. From a letter he wrote to Gas Review in 1917: “I am enclosing a picture of my homemade tractor taken in the fields pulling a gang plow 5 inches deep. I made the radiator myself. The tractor works nicely when the ground is dry, but if it is wet the wheel slips. The tractor only weighs 1,800 pounds. This is the third tractor I’ve made. I am using the engine to grind feed for the neighbors. I can clear $6 (about $108 today) outside of expenses when I work all day.”



John E. Wagner, Ensign, Kan., was equally proud of his homemade tractor, which he described in a 1922 letter to Tractor and Gas Engine Review. “This outfit has given me a good service since it was built and, with a few repairs on the motor, it should give service for several more years,” he wrote. “I bought the motor, gearing and other parts from different companies I saw advertised in the Gas Review.”

In addition to regular two-wheel drive tractors, some farmers tackled more ambitious machines, like William Pullman, Rochester, N.Y., who created a four-wheel drive tractor (see photo 4 in the Image Gallery). In a 1918 issue of Tractor and Gas Engine Review, Pullman lauded his tractor’s success at plowing, cultivating, harrowing, “and heavy hauling of all kinds for the past four years and more.



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