The early farm tractors on display at Pioneer Village in Minden, Neb., highlight American ingenuity
If you’ve ever used plastic wrap or trash bags, you can thank a man named Harold Warp. The same could also be said if you’re a fan of rare, vintage tractors.
Born near Minden, Neb., in 1903, Warp moved to Chicago at age 21 to start a plastic film business with two of his brothers. Known as Warp Bros. Flex-O-Glass, the company began marketing the industry’s first plastic window covering.
In the years that followed, the company also introduced the first plastic food wrap, marketed as “Jiffy Wrap,” and the first plastic garbage bags. Harold Warp held more than 30 patents in plastics, as well as one for an aircraft stall speed indicator.
Using his newfound wealth, Warp began acquiring and preserving historic buildings around his hometown. These became the basis of the Harold Warp Pioneer Village in Minden, Neb., which opened in June 1953. Over the next several years, Warp and his Pioneer Village staff developed the largest collection of Americana in the U.S.
Today, the Pioneer Village complex comprises 26 buildings on 20 acres and more than 50,000 irreplaceable items of history, including 100 early farm tractors, more than 350 antique cars and farm trucks, and hundreds of early farm implements. To Warp’s credit, some of the rarest tractors were collected when they were less than 50 years old. Today those vintage jewels are approaching the century mark. Here are nine Pioneer Village tractor treasures – plus one tractor conversion kit for good measure.
1916 Bull 12-24
Bull Tractor Co., Minneapolis, introduced its first tractor in 1913 with the lightweight three-wheeled Little Bull rated at 5-12 hp. It was one of the first tractors built to replace four horses on a gang plow. Its revolutionary design – compared to the heavyweight tractors of the time – featured one large and one small rear wheel to ride level when plowing. However, the larger of the rear wheels was the only one that was powered.
The Little Bull was followed in 1915 by a more powerful Big Bull with a 24 hp twin-cylinder, opposed engine developing 12 hp at the drawbar. Both tractors proved so popular that Bull Tractor Co. quickly became one of the largest producers of tractors in the U.S. Bull even signed to supply Massey-Harris, but supply problems prevented the company from delivering on the contract and the deal fell through. At the same time, farmers were finding that the tractor’s 3-wheel design could be unstable on hills and its open gears malfunctioned when dirt got into them. Bull Tractor Co. declared bankruptcy in 1920, shortly after Ford entered the market with a 4-wheel, mass-produced tractor at an economical price.
1916 Sandusky 15-35
In 1911, Dauch Mfg. Co., Sandusky, Ohio, introduced its first tractor – the 15-35 hp Sandusky Model C. Five years later, in 1916, Dauch introduced the 10-20 hp Model J.
While the 10-20 was rated as a 2-plow tractor, the 15-35 (shown above left) was rated as a 4-plow tractor with 3,000 pounds of pull at plowing speed. It also featured three forward speeds of 2, 3 1/2 and 5 mph. At 8,500 pounds, it certainly wasn’t a light tractor, nor was it inexpensive ($2,500 f.o.b., which is $50,163 in today’s terms). Standard features included a 4-cylinder, L-head engine of the company’s own manufacture; a centrifugal pump, fan and radiator for cooling; pressure feed and splash lubrication; and a Kingston gasoline/kerosene carburetor.
Little is known about the Sandusky tractor otherwise, and it is not known how long the company was in business or what happened to Dauch Mfg.
1916 Parrett 12-25
Parrett Tractor Co. was founded by Dent and Henry Parrett in Chicago in 1913. Distinguished by its large front wheels and sideways-mounted radiator, the Parrett featured a cross-mounted, 4-cylinder Buda engine. The first successful production model, the 10-20, appeared in 1915. It later evolved into the 12-25 Model E and Model H tractors. A more powerful model, the 15-30 Model K, also followed.
Along with Bull Tractor Co., Parrett Tractor Co. soon became a supplier of tractors to Massey-Harris. In fact, Parrett tractors were the first to carry the Massey-Harris name. In 1918 Massey-Harris transferred the Parrett plant to Weston, Ontario, Canada, where the Parrett 12-25 became the Massey-Harris No. 1 and No. 2. The Model K likewise became the Massey-Harris No. 3.
1917 Gray 18-36
The Gray tractor got its start as an orchard tractor developed by New York fruit grower W. Chandler Knapp in 1908. Noted for its 2-cycle engine and two rear drive wheels joined for improved traction, it was first marketed as the Knapp Farm Locomotive. Later, it was modified with a 4-cylinder Waukesha engine and the two rear drive wheels were replaced by a single fully enclosed drum (without spokes) driven by a chain.
In 1914, Gray Tractor Mfg. Co., Minneapolis, bought Knapp’s company and the “drum-drive” tractor was renamed the Gray. Promotional materials noted the lack of a differential and its related gears, and the fact that all vegetation ahead of the plow was flattened by the drum wheel, resulting in cleaner furrows.
The first tractor marketed as a Gray was the Model A 20-35 tractor. However, a smaller Model B 15-25 was later added to the lineup. In 1917, the company was renamed Gray Tractor Co., and the 18-36 model was introduced. This model alone was built until 1922 and was probably the company’s most popular tractor. By the late 1920s, the Gray was becoming obsolete; the company ceased tractor production in the early 1930s.
1918 Bates Steel Mule D 12-20
Although it was first built by Joliet Oil Tractor Co. in 1913, the Bates Steel Mule was actually designed by a man named Albert Bates, who got his start building machinery for wire fencing. His first tractor weighed approximately 5,600 pounds, cost $985 ($21,760 in today’s terms) and was designed to pull three 14-inch plows.
Unlike other tractors of the time, though, the Steel Mule was a semi-crawler with a 15-inch rear crawler track and steel wheels on the front for steering. A few years later, Bates Tractor Co. merged with Joliet Oil Tractor Co. to form Bates Machine & Tractor Co. Over the next few years, the company built several half-track models, including the Model D 12-20 (shown bottom right on pg. 32). Rated at 12 hp on the drawbar and 20 at the belt pulley, it featured a 4-cylinder Erd engine with a 4- by-6-inch bore and stroke. Competition eventually forced the company to concentrate on fully tracked models, which Bates produced well into the 1930s.
1918 Allwork 14-28
Manufactured from 1918 to 1923 by Electric Wheel Co., Quincy, Ill., the Allwork kerosene tractor lived up to its name by providing the versatility to handle all kinds of work, including plowing, seeding, haying, threshing, stone crushing, road grading and manure spreading. Equipped with a 4-cylinder, L-type-head vertical engine, it was rated for 3-plow work and was guaranteed to successfully burn both gasoline and kerosene. In fact, thanks to a 5- by 6-inch bore and stroke, the engine was said to be the largest of its kind in a 3-plow tractor. Not only was the engine mounted crosswise but each cylinder was part of a separate unit bolted to the main crankcase.
According to a 1920 Nebraska Tractor Test, the Allwork 14-28 generated 19.69 hp on the drawbar and 28.86 PTO/belt hp. At the same time, it generated 3,950 pounds of pull on the drawbar.
Like many tractors of its time, the Allwork had two forward gears and one reverse. The top speed in both low gear and reverse was 1-3/4 mph, while second gear provided a speed of 2-1/2 mph. The clutch was of the friction disc type and was claimed to “take hold gradually, without shock to the engine.”
Interestingly enough, the Allwork tractor seemed to be well built with a number of components made from cold-rolled steel or high-grade iron. The tractor also featured extensive use of dust seals, brass bushings, lubricated bearings and enclosed housings, including the worm and gear steering, which provided a surprisingly tight 12-foot turning radius.
Electric Wheel Co. was eventually acquired by Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. and the Allwork tractor disappeared into history.
1919 Frick 12-25
Located in Waynesboro, Pa., Frick Co. was founded in 1853 by George Frick. Noted for its threshing machines, the company also built steam engines into the 1940s. The company later became known for building sawmills and refrigeration units. Its first venture into farm tractors came in 1913 when Frick began selling tractors manufactured by Ohio Tractor Co., Columbus, Ohio. By 1918, however, Frick had developed its own tractor with the introduction of the 12-25 (shown on opposite page).
That model was followed in 1921 by the Frick 15-28. Both models used a 4-cylinder crosswise vertical engine. However, the 12-25 used an Erd power plant while the 15-28 used a Beaver engine. The 12-25 was rated as a 3-plow tractor with a drawbar pull of 2,500 pounds at 2-1/2 miles per hour. A second gear of 3.8 mph was also provided.
An early Frick tractor ad states that “the Nuttall transmission, with roller bearings, auto-truck steering mechanism, operator having full view ahead, safety brake and that other very essential point, a light-weight tractor, the cost of which is within reach of every farmer.”
Frick ended tractor production in the late 1920s, but continued to sell tractors built by the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. for a few more years.
1920s-vintage Nichols & Shepard 16-32
Nichols & Shepard Co., Battle Creek, Mich., was well known in the late 1800s for its Red River Special line of threshers and steam traction engines. In 1911, the company announced production of its first gasoline tractors, a 25-50 and a 35-70 — both heavyweight models that had a lot in common with the company’s steam tractors.
The tractor line was eventually expanded to include a smaller 20-42 model in 1923. However, the trend toward lighter tractors convinced management to turn to John Lauson Mfg. Co. in the late 1920s for three more models, including the 16-32 (shown on opposite page). Like the Lauson 16-32, it initially used a Beaver engine with the cylinders in a single block. That was soon replaced by a LeRoi JA 4-1/2-by-6-inch unit with cylinders cast in pairs and an operating speed of 1,100 rpm. A similar Lauson 16-32 tested at Nebraska in the spring of 1927 produced almost 29 hp on the drawbar and nearly 37 hp on the belt.
In 1929, Nichols & Shepard merged with several other companies to form Oliver Farm Equipment Co.
1929 Rock Island — Heider G2 15-25
Rock Island (Ill.) Plow Co. was established in the late 1800s with a product line that included farm machinery and stationary engines. In 1914 the company began to sell tractors built by Heider Mfg. Co., Carroll, Iowa, eventually purchasing the company in 1916. However, Rock Island continued to use the Heider name on its tractors until the late 1920s.
Over the next few years, Rock Island-Heider tractors were marketed in several sizes, including the Model C 12-20 hp (later advertised as a 15-27), the Model D 9-16 hp and the Model M 5-10 hp motor cultivator. In the late 1920s a new series was launched, including the Model F 18-35 and the Model G2 15-25 (shown on opposite page). Among the tractors’ common features was a 4-cylinder Waukesha engine that ran at about 750 rpm and friction drive. One early Heider model was advertised as having seven different speeds up to 4 miles per hour – something completely unheard of at a time when most tractors had only two gears.
In 1937, Rock Island Plow Co. was purchased by J.I. Case Co. and tractor production ceased.
Not every farmer could afford a tractor during the early part of the 20th century. However, automobiles were becoming quite common for family transportation. The obvious answer for a number of companies, including Pullford and KnickerBocker Form-a-Tractor, was to build a kit that transformed a Model T into a tractor.
One of those companies was E.G. Staude Mfg., St. Paul, Minn., which introduced the Staude Mak-a-Tractor, priced at $178 ($2,175 in today’s terms). Designed to fit Fords, Chevrolets and Overlands, the kit included a new cooling system with a special radiator and water pump, a heavy frame that clamped to the Ford chassis, a new axle and differential, and a pair of 8-inch-wide drive wheels with removable mud lugs.
Form-a-Tractor promotional materials claimed that once the kit was installed, conversion from car to tractor and vice versa could be done in as little as 15 minutes. Staude also claimed that a car equipped with its system could do the work of four horses and provide the belt power of an 8 hp gas engine. FC
For more information: Pioneer Village, 138 E. US Hwy. 6, Minden, NE 68959; (308) 832-2750 or (800) 445-4447; online at www.pioneervillage.com.
Tharran Gaines is the author of five books on antique tractor restoration and writes a variety of materials for AGCO Corp. He is also a contributing editor to AGCO Advantage and Massey Ferguson Farm Life magazines for AGCO. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org; online at www.gainescommunications.com.