Farm Collector

Out of the wild

Sherwood Hume, an auctioneer from Milton, Ontario, Canada, first heard of an old tractor sitting in a field in northwestern Ontario in 1978. Fourteen years later, he finally made it to the field, and much to his surprise, the old tractor turned out to be a Hume.

Hume Manufacturing Co. was established in 1913 in Hume, Ill., by Ralph O. Airman and John H. Maughmer. Both men had worked in a warehouse owned by local banker and entrepreneur George Hughes, who funded the tractor enterprise.

Aikman, a mechanic and also the husband of Hughes’ only child, a daughter named Sarah, became general manager; Maughmer was an engineer. Stocks were sold, a factory erected and a man named Leigh St. John was named salesman and chief mechanic.

From 1913 to 1916, the firm reportedly built only 35 tractors. Two models, the Hume 20-30 hp and the Hume Jr. 12-18 hp, were on a July 1916 tractor list published in a periodical called The American Thresherman’s and Farm Power.

In 1917, Hume Manufacturing was taken over by the Lyons Atlas Co. of Indianapolis. Lyons made the Hume tractor that year, but the next year, they made the same tractor and called it the ‘Atlas.’ No published report has been found on whether Lyons Atlas made both sizes of Humes or only the larger one, but during the next two years, Lyons Atlas made only 218 tractors. After 1918, no more tractors were made.

Sherwood’s first clue about the tractor in the farm field surfaced at a 1978 auction in Keene, Ontario: ‘I was doing the sale for Dave Garhutt and Everett Mc Farlane,’ Sherwood recalls, ‘and Dave gave me a letter he had from John Lamb of Durham, Ontario.’ The letter contained the tantalizing report, and Sherwood remembers Dave saying, ‘Take this letter and run it down. I will never get way up there.’

Northern Ontario is about the size of Texas, so Sherwood first contacted John for more direction. John said he thought the tractor was on ‘his sister’s husband’s brother’s farm.’ He didn’t know the brand name.

The farm turned out to be 50 miles north of Rainy River, across the river from Baudette, Minn., which is at the corner of Minnesota, Manitoba and Ontario – and 1,250 miles from Sherwood’s home.

In 1992, though, he and his wife, Gladys, finally were able to head west. ‘We left in early July and went to Sault St. Marie, Minn.,’ he says, ‘and along the south shore of Lake Superior to Duluth, then north back into Ontario at International Falls. From there, we proceeded west to the end of the road, turned north and proceeded to almost the end of the road again, traveling through nothing but rocks and brush for days.’

When they arrived, they found a little community of homes and open farmland, including the farm owned by John’s brother-in-law, Ken McLean, and his brother. Sure enough, the old tractor still sat in the field, and it didn’t take Sherwood long to get his books out and determine that it was either a Hume or an Atlas.

The McLean brothers told Sherwood and Gladys they’d left southern Ontario in 1924 as part of a group of homesteaders and migrated literally to the edge of civilization at the time. A Canadian homesteader is a person who occupies certain land and receives a Crown deed from the government upon the promise to clear and farm it. The brothers said they found the old tractor behind the Rainy River bowling alley, got title to it and drove it north to their new farm. ‘One can only suppose,’ Sherwood says, ‘the tractor was brought across the river by the railroad to use in hauling rail cars up and down the tracks while they were loading pulpwood, which is one of the local products.’

The brothers used the tractor for threshing clover until the clover ran out. The growing season is so short – from about June to September – that the main occupation soon became commercial fishing. Next, they got permission to saw logs on an island about 10 miles across the water.

‘They didn’t have a boat big enough to take the tractor,’ Sherwood says, ‘so they just took the engine, set it up on the island and sawed with the belt running off the flywheel for years.’

In that country, he adds, sawing logs meant sawing poplar 6 to 8 inches in diameter into quarter-inch lumber for making fish boxes. At least that was so until plastic fish boxes came out in the 1960s, killing the brothers’ island business. After that, they brought the sawmill and engine back to the mainland.

During their years on the island, though, Ken told Sherwood, he also sawed all the poplar for his home, bringing back small batches each night in his little boat. He made his floors, cupboards and the trim, inside and outside, that way.

In 1992 when Sherwood and Gladys visited, the engine was sitting on a stone fence behind the driving shed, still separate from the tractor. The brothers were eager to show it and the tractor to the Humes, but reluctant to sell. Sherwood says the equipment was like an old friend to the men. ‘They hated to part with it but finally a deal was struck and a check given and accepted, so the tractor and engine were sold.

The Humes returned to Milton for a tag-a-long trailer and went back out five times to bring home the Hume and four other tractors that they’d bought on their trip. Sherwood parked the Hume behind his shop while he researched its history – and finished up a steam engine project (reported in the May/June 1994 Iron-Men Album magazine).

Many people sent books and other historic literature to help him, he says, or chatted with him at shows, and by 1996, he moved the Hume into his shop and started work. ‘A number of good friends as well as my sons Frank and Gordon helped with this project,’ he says, ‘providing everything from enthusiasm and inspiration to technical skills – all much appreciated.’

They bought a sandblasting cabinet in Ohio and, except for the wheels and frame, which they sent out to be done, put every piece through it. ‘That was one of the things we did right,’ Sherwood says. ‘One thing we did wrong, we didn’t take enough pictures while we were dismantling the tractor, so it was harder to put everything back together again.’

The front wheel was gone, and so was the yoke, but they got another wheel of the right diameter, width and heft off of a John Deere plow owned by John Tysse of North Dakota, and they made a new yoke.

The engine was rebuilt by Everett McFarland, for whom Sherwood had done that 1978 auction. Everett mostly rebuilds old boat, Ford Model T and Model A engines, Sherwood says, and he said he’d never seen an engine so worn out.

The transmission rear-end assembly was redone by Bill ‘Bim’ Watson at Carlisle, Ontario, and almost all the painting was done by Sherwood himself, using dark green for the frame and parts and red for the wheels, all in acrylic enamel.

Then came the task of putting it all back together. Sherwood says they got along fine until they discovered they didn’t have the clutch, or any pieces to make the clutch. About then though, John came by with the tractor’s original clutch shoes and exhaust pipe; he’d been visiting his sister, and Ken had sent the parts back with him.

‘Little by little, we pieced the jigsaw puzzle back together,’ Sherwood says, ‘but still the clutch baffled us; we didn’t have all the parts, or even know how they should look. But I got lucky again.’ In the summer of 2000, at a La Grange, Ind., Rumely show, Sherwood had a booth next to Jerry Erickson, from whom he’d bought his Hume tractor book years earlier. ‘I asked him if he had anything else on Hume or Atlas,’ Sherwood says, ‘and the next day, he brought an Atlas book to me that showed the clutch layout with all the mechanisms identified. I bought the book on the spot, brought it home and had the clutch page photocopied in color and blown up.’

Next, he showed the enlarged photocopy to Bim, who already had made the cross shaft, one bracket and the forks, and Bim said, ‘I know a man that can make that.’

Bim took Sherwood to a machine shop, whose operator fed the clutch picture into his computer, which made a blueprint-type drawing of the pieces (the throw-out bearing and the sleeve it runs in) and listed all the sizes ‘to the last decimal point.’ He then fed that information into the computer on his milling machine and lathe, and made the pieces to the exact specifications.

‘Each one fit perfectly the first time,’ Sherwood says, ‘and after that, the rest was comparatively straightforward.’

New fenders and a hood were hand-crafted by Robert LaFever of Pennsylvania, and painted by an Oakville, Ontario, body shop man. And Glen Helka helped Sherwood put on a ‘new’ set of hard rubber tires. ‘We got used tires off one of those high, narrow-wheeled spraying machines and cut them with a Sawzall machine, using a hacksaw blade sharpened to a cutting edge,’ Sherwood says. He advises grinding the blade sharp and then using a whet stone on it for good results.

‘We bolted the end of a tire to a wheel, held the wheel between the forks of the forklift and pulled on the other end of the tire with a big tractor, stretching the rubber so it held tight around the wheel.’ Afterward, they trimmed the edges with the Sawzall. Each of the wheels took a day to install. ‘The rubber tires look good and are much safer for loading and unloading,’ Sherwood says. ‘Not authentic, I’ll admit, but safer.’

Before they started the tractor, Sherwood and Bim decided to time the magneto to the engine – with unexpected results. ‘We turned it with the crank to determine where No. 1 top dead center (TDC) was, to make the mag fire there,’ Sherwood recalls, ‘but to do that we had to remove the flange that drives the mag from the end of the shaft. In the process, we broke the bearing that holds the shaft between the water pump and the mag. It was an aluminum casting filled with babbitt.’

With no way to weld aluminum and no time to get a new bearing cast, Bim took the broken pieces home and made a new one out of steel tubing and bits and pieces of plate. ‘We put it on, heated the babbitt pot and poured the bearing full of babbitt through the grease hole in the top,’ Sherwood says. ‘When it cooled, we took it off, cut the grease ridges in it, put it back on and painted it. Now you can’t tell it’s ever been apart.’

Roily Guertin from Erin, Ontario, painted the name on the tractor and made a sign for it, and in February, Sherwood took the finished tractor to the Toronto farm show.

‘I suppose about 100,000 people looked at it, many shaking their heads at such crude engineering by today’s standards,’ he says, ‘but that’s the way it was back in 1917.’

Special appearance in July in Hume, Ill.

Sherwood Hume and his restored Hume tractor are to attend a special Hume Tractor Days set for the weekend of July 13 in Hume, III.

Members of the Antique Farm Machinery Assn., of the Paris, III., area, also will bring tractors and implements of various brands for the July event, according to organizer Mike Grafton.

Mike is a long-time researcher on the Hume Manufacturing Co. and its tractor, and his home is near the site of the former Hume plant. He says the event will give Hume residents, including himself, their first opportunity to see an actual Hume tractor.

The tractors were manufactured in the early 1900s in Hume, before the company was sold to the Atlas Tractor Co. of Indianapolis and moved to that city. Mike has combed microfilmed issues of the Hume Record newspaper from 1913 to 1918 for news reports on the Hume Tractor Co., and its tractor, compiling a sizeable record, but he’d never been able to locate a tractor, until he learned of Sherwood’s.

‘This is the only Hume known,’ Mike says. ‘There just weren’t very many made.’

– Sherwood Hume can be contacted at Sherwood Hume Auction Farm, 9313 4th Line, R.R. #5, Milton, Ontario, L9T 2X9, Canada; (905) 878-4878; www.humeauction@wwdb. org

  • Published on Jul 1, 2002
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