Rare Shelbys

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Shelby tractor
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Father with three young daughters
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Cantons' Shelby, still in pieces
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Shelby tractor

Fred McCance of Lyons, Ohio, wanted an old tractor to restore, so a neighbor took him to meet a retired farmer named Stanley Whitman.

Living at Ogden Center, Mich., near Blissfield, about 16 miles from Fred’s home, Whitman owned several old tractors that fit the bill. One was a rare Shelby model D 12-25, made in 1920.

Fred had never heard of a Shelby at the time, but he really liked the tractor. Eventually, he was able to convince Whitman to part with it – but that was a few years down the road.

Little is known of the Shelby Tractor and Truck Co., makers of the Shelby tractor, but today, the one Fred finally bought from Whitman is apparently the lone restored Shelby in existence. Only one other has been located to date, a model C 9-18 owned by Robert, Helen and Matt Caton of Meyersdale, Pa., which Matt is in the process of restoring.

The Shelby company was organized in 1918 in Shelby, Ohio, according to the Shelby Museum of History, and shut down in 1921; its building was also sold that year. No information has been turned up to date by the local historians on how many tractors, or trucks, were manufactured by the firm, but Fred notes the company bought parts elsewhere and simply assembled them into tractors at the Shelby plant, a common practice of the day.

C.H. Wendel’s Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors reports on three Shelby models. The first produced was the 9-18 (9 drawbar and 18 brake horsepower), beginning in 1919. It came with a Waukesha 3-3/4 by 5-1/4 inch four-cylinder engine. In 1920, the bigger 15-30 tractor appeared, with an Erd 4-3/4 by 6 inch four-cylinder engine. In the last year of operation, 1921, the company offered the same 15-30 as well as a re-rated 9-18, listed then as a ’10-20.’ The Waukesha engines were made by the Waukesha Motor Co., Waukesha, Wis., and the Erd engines were made by Erd Motor Co., Saginaw, Mich.

Fred says his Shelby was one of two that made their way early on into the Blissfield area; in time, Whitman bought them both. The intact one, that now is Fred’s, was once owned by a farmer south of Blissfield. He bought it out of Toledo but traded it in rather quickly for an Oliver Cletrac after neighbors made fun of him for using such a heavy machine on his crop ground. ‘In 1920,’ Fred says, ‘it’s important to remember, they were just coming from horses.’

Whitman apparently learned of the upcoming tractor trade and sealed a deal with the dealer to bring the Shelby on to his place after he delivered the Cletrac to the other man’s farm.

The second Blissville Shelby was owned by a farmer who lived north of town. According to that man’s grandson, whom Fred met at a local tractor show, the man was pulling tree stumps, using the drawbar, and he gunned the tractor too hard and pulled the whole back end out of it. Whitman bought the remains for parts.

When Fred first approached Whitman about selling his intact Shelby, Whitman said, ‘I’ll think about it,’ and sold him a Wallis instead. The next time Fred asked, Whitman said, ‘I’ll think about it,’ and sold him a Fordson. Fred restored both the Wallis and the Fordson, and each time, he invited Whitman over to take a look, hoping to influence him on the Shelby.

The third time Fred asked to buy the Shelby, Whitman said, ‘It’s already sold.’ Lucky for Fred, though, the buyer was his wife, Mildred, who purchased the tractor as a surprise for him. It came with a 28-48 Red River Special grain separator (the only way Whitman would sell the tractor to Mildred was with the separator). She paid $500 for both; the year was 1972.

‘It was $250 for the tractor and $250 for the grain separator,’ Fred says, ‘but I always thought of the tractor as costing $500. The separator is still in the barn (as are the Wallis and the Fordson), and it takes up a lot of room.’

The tractor has a Beaver engine in it, not an Erd, with a 4-1/2 bore and a 6-inch stroke, and Fred says he thinks the Beaver is original, although Wendel doesn’t mention this combination. When Fred got the tractor, though, it came from Whitman with a 1920 Dykes repair manual and two Beaver Engine Co. publications – a parts list and an informational brochure.

The Dykes manual lists two Beaver engines specifically for Shelby tractors: the 4-1/2 by 6, like the one in Fred’s 12-25, and a 4-3/4 by 6, the same size as the Erd engine listed in Wendel’s Encyclopedia for the Shelby 15-30. Fred says he thinks that’s the difference between these two tractor models.

His Beaver parts list shows the 4-1/2 by 6 as a four-cylinder, 381.69-cubicinch model JA industrial engine, and the 4-3/4 by 6 as the 425.3-cubic-inch model JB industrial engine. Both developed maximum torque at 900 rpm.

The brass tag on the dash of Fred’s Shelby identifies it as ‘a 12-25 Model D, serial number 158, made in 1920.’ The only other markings on the tractor are the date ‘4-2-1920,’ cast on both axles.

Originally, Fred’s tractor burned kerosene but now it is converted to gasoline. He says Whitman kept the tractor in a shed for 20 years before selling it but never started the engine in all that time. The first time Fred tried it, he checked the fluids, added fuel, choked it twice – and it started right up. No overhaul or cleaning was required.

The side hoods had been cut off by Whitman to keep the engine cooler during threshing work, so Fred made new ones, which he soldered in place. He also made new back fenders.

Specially made decals came from the John Hunter Decal Co. in Indiana. Jack Maple of Rushville, Ind., was the first owner of the decal firm, which now is operated by his daughter, Donna Hunter, of Riley, Ind.

Fred learned from Whitman that the tractor’s original color was dark green, so he took a sampling of paint chips over and Whitman picked out the closest shade. Later, Fred found a little spot of original color on a covered area between the engine and gas tank, and it matched perfectly with Whitman’s selection.

Fred calls the Shelby a ‘stand-up’ tractor where driving is concerned. ‘If you sit down, you can’t see the front wheels.’ It’s loud and noisy too, he adds, but its weight makes it very safe: ‘That huge engine makes it heavy on the front end; you’d never roll this one.’

Two years ago, he paraded his restored Shelby at the annual Shelby, Ohio, Bicycle Festival. In connection with his appearance there, he offered a donation to the Shelby Museum for any information on other Shelbys still in existence. The Shelby Daily Globe published his appeal, and according to a July 13, 2000, article in that newspaper, three reports were received. One was confirmed by a photograph; it came from the Catons.

Matt and Fred both say Shelby tractors look a lot like several other vintage brands, including Huber, Lawson, Illinois, Russell and Heider, but they also say that on close examination, major differences exist between them all. Matt notes, ‘We have a Huber 20-36 and the only thing that is the same on it is the Waukesha engine, although the Shelby’s engine is much smaller in size.’

-For more information about Fred’s Shelby, contact him at 13223 County Rd. 10-3, Lyons, OH 43533; (419) 923-5334; e-mail: fmccance@fulton-net.com.

– Jan Shellhouse is a freelance writer and antique farm toy collector who lives in Shelby, Ohio.

Catons’ Shelby a work in progress

The Shelby tractor owned by Robert, Helen and Matt Caton of Meyersdale, Pa., is identified by its brass tractor tag as a ‘9-18 model C, serial no. 137, made in 1919.’ Its original Waukesha motor and two transmissions remain intact, according to Matt, who is working on a restoration of the tractor. With only one transmission, he explains, the tractor couldn’t pull a 2-bottom plow, so two transmissions were provided.

According to Ohio State University tests done in the early 1920s that Matt has researched, the 9-18 weighed 3,600 pounds and had a plowing speed of 1-3/4 miles per hour, using two 14-inch plows on former wheat ground. (The 15-30s weighed in at 5,000 pounds.)

The Catons’ Shelby previously belonged to a distant relative and was used mostly in a custom baling operation from the mid-1920s to the mid-1950s in the Berlin, Pa., area. Robert Caton bought it for $65 in the early 1970s, used it for a couple of years for general chores and then parked it.

In the summer of 1996, Matt took parts off the tractor, including the gas tank and the radiator, to sell at the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Show in Portland, Ind. The parts were too thin to use in a restoration but useful for pattern making.

He met Fred McCance at the Portland show that year, and Fred knew right off those parts were from a Shelby. Matt learned what he had was too valuable to sell piecemeal, so he just packed everything up and took it all back home.

By November of that year, Matt, who is now 21 and a full-time milling machine operator and part-time garage operator, had begun to systematically tear the tractor down. He says he tried to photograph the placement of parts as he proceeded, with the aim of restoring the machine over time. ‘Everything remains intact except the rear end housing,’ he says, ‘and all the sheet metal is in restorable shape.’ The previous owner put rubber tires on the tractor but the original hubs remain on the front; Matt wants to restore all four wheels to original condition, which will involve, he says, learning how to personally make iron wheels.

‘The manifold is in mint condition for its age,’ he notes, and an original oil can holder, a Mason jar air cleaner and an aluminum crank case -unusual for the 1918-1919 period – all remain intact. The ‘pre-heater’ also is still on the tractor; it was used to help start the machine in cold weather.

The engine has babbitt inserts, which Matt says are unique in such an early machine, and babbitt screws hold the inserts in place. The pistons are scarred, though, thanks to an earlier ill-fated attempt at engine repair. Also, the original honeycomb-type radiator remains with the tractor but is very brittle and probably will have to be replaced.

‘It was $250 for the tractor and $250 for the grain separator, but I always thought of the tractor as costing $500.’

– Fred McCance

– For more information on the Catons’ Shelby, contact Matt at 1281 Maple Valley Rd., Meyersdale, PA 15552; (814) 634-1867; e-mail: fbiguy@wpia.net

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