Let's Talk Rusty Iron

Small but Mighty

| February 2006

Centaur tractors as adaptable as their mythical namesake

From Greek mythology comes the story of a King of Thessaly, named Ixion, who fell in love with (and tried to win) Hera, the goddess of women and marriage, who just happened to be the wife (and sister) of Zeus, chief of the gods. For his effrontery, Ixion was tied to an endlessly revolving wheel in the infernal regions of Tartarus, but not before he had sired a race of creatures called Centaurs, who had the head, arms and torso of a man, joined to the body of a horse. Centaurs were said to be very fleet of foot and great hunters, and usually were pictured with curly hair and beards, and armed with a bow and arrows.

Many centuries later, in 1921, the Central Tractor Co. introduced a small farm tractor named after that mythical half-man, half-beast because, as copywriters pointed out, the new tractor "Does the Work of Man and Horse."

Located in Greenwich, a small, neat town in north central Ohio, the firm's first offering was the Centaur Model F, which was intended more as a truck garden machine than a farm tractor. Powered by a 1-cylinder, 5 hp New Way engine, the Model F was built like a walk-behind garden tractor, with conventional plow-type handles for steering. Also available: a 2-wheeled riding sulky to which a plow or cultivator could be attached. Promotional materials noted it was intended to "take the farmer off his feet and put him on the seat."

In about 1926, a larger and more powerful Centaur was introduced. Intended to replace a team of horses on the average small farm, the Model G had a 2-cylinder LeRoi engine rated at 6 hp on the drawbar and 10 hp on the belt. The engine was water-cooled and the radiator was behind the engine, facing the driver. The tractor had one forward and one reverse gear, was chain-driven and could pull a single 12-inch plow. Although the Model G still had the drive wheels up front under the engine, a proper steering wheel reached back to the trailing sulky and steered the rig through a rack-and-pinion arrangement between the sulky and the power unit.

A pulley could be attached to the front of the tractor for driving small, belt-powered machines. Implements for the Centaur, probably built by the Oliver Corporation, included a plow, cultivator, harrows, seeders and potato digger, all attached to the riding sulky. Most any horse-drawn implement, such as a corn planter, mowing machine or a hay rake, could be substituted for the sulky by shortening the tongue and having the operator drive the tractor from the implement seat.

In 1929, the Central Tractor Co. became the Centaur Tractor Corporation and began selling an improved tractor, the Model 2G, which was virtually identical to its predecessor except for a slightly more powerful engine. The 2G's LeRoi Model T engine had a 1/4-inch larger bore and produced an additional 2 hp, although the tractor was still rated to pull one 12-inch plow. Indications are that the Model 2G Centaur was built until at least 1937.