The Oldest Tractor? Hart-Parr 22-45

Hart-Parr 22-45 owner marks the centennial of what may be the oldest purpose-built tractor in the U.S.


| December 2006



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Jerry Swedberg with one of his rare engines, a 1909 15 hp Fairbanks-Morse. The engine (no. 90009) has an 8-1/2-inch bore and 18-inch stroke.

When Jerry Swedberg bought a 1906 Hart-Parr 22-45 tractor, it was completely dismantled. Pieces were spread across the seller's shop floor and scattered across the property. It took a year to track down all the parts. In the end, one piece - a turnbuckle on the clutch - was missing. But all's well that ends well. Fellow collector Danny Roen (since deceased) took a turnbuckle off his own tractor and gave it to Jerry, saying "I think you need this." With that, Jerry had the final piece he needed to complete the project, which he describes as the oldest true tractor manufactured at a U.S. tractor factory. This year, the machine celebrates its 100th birthday.

"To the best of our knowledge, it's the earliest," Jerry says. "We do know Hart-Parr was the first company to build a factory to manufacture tractors." It's also possible the word "tractor" (probably an abbreviation of the phrase "traction motor") was coined for this very machine, as W.H. Williams, sales manager for Hart-Parr Co., referred to the company's machines as "tractors" in a 1907 advertisement.

It all started with Mom

Jerry, who lives in Hawley, Minn., says he got into the old iron hobby because of his mother. "I can remember her pulling a 1-1/2 hp John Deere stationary engine to wash clothes every Monday, and then pulling it back so it could pump water for the cows the rest of the week," he says. "I always wanted one, and when I finally got it, I also got the disease. When you get one engine, you want more," says the owner of some 40 gasoline engines.

Jerry had never heard of Hart-Parr while growing up on a farm near Worthington, Minn. His first contact with the company came 35 years ago when he bought a 4 hp stationary Hart-Parr gas engine from a man who'd found it in pieces in a field. "He sold it to me, and then I had in my possession the rarest engine around," Jerry says. "With a running Hart-Parr stationary engine, I needed a Hart-Parr tractor."

Ironically, a Hart-Parr tractor was available - in pieces. Elmer Larson, Fargo, N.D., owned a Hart-Parr 22-45, and had run it at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion (WMSTR) at Rollag, Minn., for years. When he decided to make an exact 4/10-scale model of the Hart-Parr, he took it home to Larson Welding in Fargo and disassembled it. "To make a true model," Jerry explains, "you've got to take the tractor entirely apart and get the dimensions to scale it down." In the middle of the process, though, Elmer died, leaving the Hart-Parr in disarray.

Enter Jerry Swedberg and fellow collector Jim Briden, who bought the tractor pieces and reassembled the unusual machine. What makes the 1906 Hart-Parr 22-45 tractor special? It's a matter of careful distinctions.