Not much is heard about the Huber Manufacturing Co. of Marion, Ohio, considering the company is "generally credited with being first to put gas tractor production on a commercial basis," says The Huber Story, a 1948 company retrospective. The company's owner, Edward Huber, earned more than 100 patents on farm machinery, including inventing the return flue boiler-type steam engine.
In about 1850, Edward Huber was apprenticed as a mechanic to a blacksmith shop in Kelso, Ind. During this time, he learned wagon making and invented a revolving hay rake. To better his prospects, at age 27 he moved to Marion, Ohio, to sell the rake while he continued to work on other projects. Neighbors remember having to lend the young man tools because he was so poor.
In 1865 he married Elizabeth Hammerle of Kelso, and her brothers followed her to Marion, where they started the Kowalke & Hammerle Planing Mill, with Huber as superintendent, selling the Huber revolving hay rake. During this time, Huber invented a steam traction engine, and in 1870 formed Huber, Gunn & Co. to sell it. "The venture proved so successful," writes Jack Norbeck in Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines, "that in four years the Huber Manufacturing Co. was organized."
For 20 years, beginning in 1874, steam traction engines, portable engines and grain threshers were the principal products of the new corporation. Production and reputation increased as the company grew.
The covers of the World's Fair edition of Huber's 1893 catalog had beautiful multi-colored drawings of World's Fair buildings, while advertising "Threshers and Engines." The rear cover showed the "Agriculture Building," an ornate columned building flying a variety of flags, with Venice-type gondolas plying the water in front.
In this catalog, the Huber company advertised its steam traction engine as "The New Huber," and this snappy little number promptly carried off "all awards offered" at the World's Fair, the catalog says. The accomplishment was not unusual, as Huber machinery was known for its quality.
Another Huber catalog of the time says, "Our prices are as low as consistent with good work and for a strictly first-class machine. Our terms are as liberal as is consistent with good business management." The catalog announced that the company manufactured 8-, 12- and 16-hp coal burners, and 14- and 16-hp straw burners.
Five years later, the company added 6-, 10- and 20-hp coal burners. Prices in 1898 ranged from $600 for the 6-hp unit, to $1,300 for the 20-hp unit. The straw burners were priced at $1,200 and $1,250. Individual boilers could be purchased for about half the price of the entire setup.
Huber's terms of sale for engines and threshers in 1898 were: "Cash, Medium and Long." Specifically, for cash, that meant "All cash on delivery or if cashed by Oct. 1, 1898." For medium, the terms were "One-third cash on delivery, one-third by Oct. or Nov. 1, 1898, and balance by Oct. or Nov. 1, 1899." Long terms stated that a third of the total must be paid by Oct. or Nov. 1, 1898, 1899 and 1900. It's unclear why both months were part of the offer each year, but it probably had something to do with crops.
Prices for Huber threshers in 1898 ranged from $400 for a "steam only," 24-inch cylinder, 36-inch separator, to $525 for a 40-inch cylinder, 36-inch separator. Seven sizes were made in all.
The 1898 catalog had a heading titled "Free Articles: Main belt not to exceed 150 feet in length, either Rubber or Cotton furnished with each full rig bought at one time and by same customer. (Never free or any part of it under any other circumstances.) Each Separator is furnished with a wheat riddle, an oats riddle, and a screen. We furnish one extra riddle free of cost if mentioned on order, either a flax, timothy, or barley; but never more than one of them free of charge."
During the years leading up to Huber's first successful tractors, Edward Huber was far from idle. In addition to the first-ever return flue boiler-type steam traction engine, he invented Huber skid steam engines, Huber bean, pea and rice threshers, and much more. "From the late 1800s to early 1900s," Norbeck writes, "the Huber (Manufacturing) Co. was known to be one of the largest manufacturers of threshing machines and steam traction engines in the USA." The company manufactured Huber steam engines through at least 1915, ultimately producing 11,568 steam traction engines.
In 1894 Huber invented a gasoline traction engine, a lumbering giant of a tractor (though that name hadn't been invented yet). "Magnetos, carburetors and spark plugs were not yet developed, streamlining was unheard of, and ease of operation had not become a vital engineering detail," says The Huber Story. This timeframe coincides with the invention of other gas traction engines: the Charter (1889), Froelich (1892), Paterson (1892), Hockett (1893), Van Duzen (1894), Otto (1894) and Lambert (1894). Often the Huber is placed in 1898, as that was when it first consistently worked. It was a 1-cylinder vertical engine with huge flywheels to carry it over the compression stroke, and a spray nozzle to partially vaporize fuel, which was fired by a heated platinum wire. This machine used a Van Duzen engine.
It was not Huber's first or last "gas traction" engine. Having bought out the Van Duzen Co. of Cincinnati, Huber had gas engines at his disposal, so he built a couple dozen single-cylinder gas traction machines, but was not satisfied with them. He kept working on them until the day, 14 years later, when he finally came up with a tractor that he felt he could sell.
Between then and 1943, when production was suspended due to war needs, Huber Manufacturing Co. manufactured about 20 different tractors, beginning with the Farmer's Tractor in 1911, with a 2-cylinder opposed engine of 5-3/4-by-6-inch bore and stroke. As this machine was the linchpin between the company's steam traction engines and tractors, the wheel design on both was identical.
A year later, the company released a more powerful Farmer's Tractor, a 13-22 machine with a 7-by-7-inch bore and stroke. Where vulnerable parts were exposed to the elements in the first machine, everything was enclosed on the second machine, except the roller chain final drive. The 13-22 had a cross-mounted engine.
Their next machine, also released in 1912, was a huge 30-60, with drive wheels 8 feet high and front wheels 5 feet high. The fuel tank held 65 gallons, the tubular radiator, 95 gallons.
Next came the Huber 20-40, similar to the 30-60 but made for smaller farm jobs. In 1916 the company really began to make its mark with the introduction of the Huber Light Four. This 12-25 machine with a 4-cylinder Waukesha engine of 4-1/2-by-5-3/4 -inch bore and stroke weighed 5,200 pounds (though it was advertised as "about 5,000") and could pull three 14-inch plows set 8 inches deep. This machine had distinctive huge front wheels, easily 80 percent the size of the 5-foot rear ones. This design carried into the Super Four (introduced in 1921), a higher-horse-power version of the Light Four. One advertisement said the Huber Light Four "makes furrows straight as a surveyor's line and steers itself while plowing." It cost $1,085. This machine was touted as the "Year 'Round Tractor."
The next few Huber models were probably confusing for the average farmer: the Super Four 18-36, 20-40, 25-50. Each had a big, 4-cylinder Stearns engine, which became the 21-39, 32-45 and 40-62, respectively, after the Nebraska tests. The engine in those beefed-up models didn't change, just the power rating. Next came the Light Four 20-36 in 1929 with a Waukesha engine. Later there were variations of modern farm tractors, and Model HK, HS, L, LC and B tractors. Huber even made a few OB orchard tractors in the late 1930s.
In 1908, Huber Manufacturing Co. entered the road roller business. "Fundamentally," The Huber Story says, "these machines were Huber steam traction engines with a heavy roller taking the place of the front wheels, and the rear wheels made extra wide." Huber invented the first power-operated scarifier (soil loosener) on a road roller in the U.S. "It was the forerunner of many kinds of power-operated devices for the construction industry."
These were followed up by the invention of gas tractor road rollers, with heavy 1- and 2-cylinder engines. These slow-speed engines with hit-or-miss governors were hard to start and hard to keep going.
In 1923, the company introduced its automotive-type motor roller, which revolutionized the road construction industry. As The Huber Story says, "Every road roller in the world became obsolete the instant Huber announced its new model." The newer machines had a 4-cylinder, high-speed truck engine that ran smoothly. The transmission was fully enclosed in an oil bath, had two forward speeds and two reverse, and used roller and ball bearing journals throughout.
In 1948, according to The Huber Story, the very first of these machines was still in use, "sold to a contractor in Cuba, who was confident that the Huber design and construction assured him of many more years' work from the quarter-century-old roller."
In the midst of World War II, Huber Manufacturing Co. discontinued manufacture of heavy road graders and the Huber maintainer to concentrate on production of Huber's 6-, 8-, 10- and 12-ton three-wheel road rollers.
In discussing World War II, The Huber Story says, "It will be impossible ever to know where all the Huber rollers were in operation, but from letters written us by Marion boys in service we know our rollers were on the Alcan highway, in Africa, Egypt, India, the far reaches of the Pacific, and throughout Allied Europe - wherever roads and airfields were constructed.
"To those of us who had to stay at home and produce war material, it was an incentive to receive these letters from hometown boys who wrote of the thrill they felt when they saw the name 'Huber' on a roller thousands of miles from Marion."
In 1883, Huber and Henry M. Barnhart applied together for patent no. 285,100, improvements for a traveling crane. By this time Huber, in his mid-40s, had been involved in different businesses - The Marion Steam Shovel Co., for example - and had become an important man in Marion. Somehow he found time to become a community leader. The Marion County Historical Society writes, "His influence on the Marion area was great as his companies provided major employment. His legacy lives on as his business savvy left the companies in good financial health, making it possible for them to remain in business."
Though it got out of producing farm tractors earlier, the company continued to manufacture road building and maintenance equipment until the 1980s.
- Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at: Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; (320) 253-5414; e-mail: email@example.com
For more information:
Visit the Huber Museum at Marion, Ohio. Open Saturday afternoons March through December, or by appointment. To contact the museum: (740) 389-1098; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org www.mariononline.com/hubermuseum