| March 2004

Did a 1946 GM prototype tractor slip through the automaker's fingers?

Faithful 'Rusty Iron' readers may recall that General Motors Co. took a brief and disastrous fling at building farm tractors during the late teens and early 1920s. The initiative began in 1918 when William Durant, then GM chairman and chief stockholder, challenged Henry Ford and his popular Fordson's eminent position in the tractor world by purchasing the Samson Tractor Works of Stockton, Calif. Samson built the Sieve-Grip tractor, which derived its name from an open-faced wheel design, and was popular on the West Coast because of its light weight and low center of gravity.

General Motors then bought the Janesville Machine Co. of Janesville, Wis., and manufactured its Samson tractor line there. GM's first order of business was to replace the expensive Sieve-Grip tractor with the newly designed Samson Model M, a virtual Fordson knock-off. GM also bought rights to a motor cultivator, which became the Samson Model D Iron Horse (Farm Collector, October 2003). The M was a pretty good tractor, but the Iron Horse wasn't. The Iron Horse's failure - combined with the agricultural depression of 1921 -forced GM to reluctantly exit the farm equipment business in 1922 and to convert the Janesville facility to a Chevrolet assembly plant.

The four-year foray seemed to mark the end of GM's venture into the farm tractor business - or did it?

Look what I found

In 1991, Dale Hall of Mt. Washington, Ky., a collector of International Harvester-made machines as well as other unusual farm items, answered an advertisement in a local rag about an old truck for sale. When Dale went to inspect the truck, the seller also mentioned he was selling an old tractor parked in the barn. Dale had never seen another tractor like it, so he bought it and left the truck behind figuring old trucks come a dime a dozen. A tractor like this ... well, you never know.

The seller of this unusual tractor - a man in his mid-30s -explained to Dale how the tractor sat unused on his neighbor's farm ever since he was a kid. The young man finally asked his neighbor about the machine and was told he could take it. The unusual tractor was towed home and stored in the barn until Dale found it.

Another anecdote accompanied the tractor as well, a tale passed on from the original owner through the young seller and - finally - to Dale.