Legends of the Silver King Tractors

Multifaceted company generates tractor with enduring appeal


| November 2005



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The R66 Model Silver King tractor could plow five acres in a day, pulling one 14-inch plow with its Hercules 3-inch-by-4-inch bore and stroke engine.

The Silver King tractor and Fate-Root-Heath Co. of Plymouth, Ohio, are the stuff of legends: Did Walter Chrysler forget to secure the rights to the "Plymouth" name? Was the Silver King so-named because of the silver sheen of a live plant? Did Mae West own 90 Silver Kings for use in her California vineyard? These rumors have made excellent fodder for stories about the Silver King tractor and its companies.

What is known is that John D. Fate was involved in several early companies, all manufacturers of brick and drain tile, in Plymouth: J.D. Fate Co. in 1884, Fate-Freeze in 1888 and Fate Gunsallus Co. in 1894, reverting to J.D. Fate Co. a couple of years after each merger. In 1909, Fate moved in a different direction, organizing the Plymouth Truck Co. to build gasoline trucks and buses. And in 1910, the company manufactured a lone Plymouth automobile.

Back to the drawing board

More than two decades later, this single Plymouth auto would cause problems. Like other manufacturers of the time, Plymouth Truck Co. decided to make a car to sell, the Plymouth Gasoline Pleasure Vehicle. Wisely, company directors took the car on a maiden trip to New York City. Halfway there, a cylinder casting broke, so they loaded the auto onto a railroad flatcar, themselves into a coach car, and headed home. On the way, they decided to limit car production to one unit.

In 1912, the company was asked to manufacture a commercial locomotive. Locomotives quickly became the company's most profitable product, and trucks, buses and cars were dropped from the offering.

In 1919, the Root Brothers Co. and the Heath Foundry combined with the Fate Co. to form Fate-Root-Heath Co. J.D. Fate, Percy Root and Charley Heath were the principals. The company continued to manufacture locomotives and clay extrusion machinery.

The Great Depression of the 1930s hit FRH hard. As orders for Plymouth locomotives dwindled to nothing, management decided they needed a new product. In 1933, the company began manufacturing the Plymouth tractor.