Orphan Tractors Find Homes

Little-known tractors, or "orphan tractors", stir collectors' interest

| April 1999

  • Carl Hering uses his 1947 Empire as a sort of mascot for his company
    Carl Hering uses his 1947 Empire as a sort of mascot for his company, Empire Agri-Systems. He also serves as coordinator of the Empire Tractor Owners Club.
    Gary Van Hoozer
  • Carl Hering's Empire. Just 4,000 were manufactured in a two-year production period.
    Carl Hering's Empire. Just 4,000 were manufactured in a two-year production period.
    Gary Van Hoozer
  • Kenneth Walters is shown here with his Graham Bradley, sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co. The GB has several unusual design features, and a top speed of about 30 mph.
    Collectors of low-production tractors are proud to show them off at shows or at home. Kenneth Walters is shown here with his Graham Bradley, sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co. The GB has several unusual design features, and a top speed of about 30 mph.
    Gary Van Hoozer
  • Kenneth Walters on his rare B.F. Avery tractor.
    Kenneth Walters on his rare B.F. Avery tractor.
    Gary Van Hoozer

  • Carl Hering uses his 1947 Empire as a sort of mascot for his company
  • Carl Hering's Empire. Just 4,000 were manufactured in a two-year production period.
  • Kenneth Walters is shown here with his Graham Bradley, sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co. The GB has several unusual design features, and a top speed of about 30 mph.
  • Kenneth Walters on his rare B.F. Avery tractor.

During early farm tractor history, many manufacturers disappeared due to intense competition and economic adversity, leaving smaller numbers of treasures for today's collectors. Names like General, Custom and Besser are rarely recognized today. 

Such rare tractors, or "orphans" as they're sometimes called, are enjoying a surge in collector and restorer popularity. Several related organizations and events have been established as awareness of orphan tractors increases.

Sears, Roebuck & Co., for instance, included among its many catalog offerings the Graham Bradley tractor. The GB (which carried the last names of its inventors) was made for Sears in 1937-38. Production halted when the plants were converted to military use.

"Plans were to resume tractor production after World War II, but they merged with Kaiser-Frazier to manufacture automobiles instead," explains GB collector Kenneth Walters, rural Akron, Ind.



The first tractor Sears sold – the Economy – resembled an International Harvester F-12, Kenneth says. Later, but before the introduction of the more streamlined Graham Bradley, Sears offered the David Bradley, which resembled an IH F-20. There's also a smaller garden tractor-variety DB, so it's evident that avid collectors can concentrate on "families" of orphan tractors.

"I purchased my 1938 Graham Bradley tractor in 1996 after seeing it advertised in a farm paper," Kenneth says. "It had been restored 12 years prior to that. It has a Continental six-cylinder motor, a four-speed rear end, and can easily pull a two-bottom plow.



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