Rare Tractors: 1913 Averys

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Marv Stochl’s 1913 Avery 40-80 at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. Marv says as far as he knows, it’s the biggest tractor at the Mt. Pleasant show. The oval radiator was a distinctive component of the Avery.
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The engine, radiator and gas tank all slide forward or backward on Avery tractors, as on this 1913 Avery 40-80, to engage the gears.
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Lowell and Mavis Gustafson’s extended family turns out in force for the annual Hanley Falls, Minn., Pioneer Power Threshing Show.
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Treads on all the wheels make sure this 1913 Avery 40-80 doesn’t damage macadam roads.
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Lowell Gustafson’s 1913 Avery 25-50.
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A 25-50 Avery at work, probably in a North Dakota field in about 1914.
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The Avery Co. also manufactured other products, like this Avery thresher.
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This 1918 ad shows Avery’s unchanging design.

The year 1913 was not a memorable one for new tractor models or for total U.S. tractor production. The preceding year of 1912 saw 22 new models and 11,400 of the newfangled beasts manufactured, while in 1914, 27 new models were unveiled and production totalled 10,400.

In 1913, on the other hand, just 19 new models were offered and only 7,400 tractors were produced. Fewer tractors manufactured means fewer of each tractor to survive, which is probably why a pair of 1913 Avery tractors have become rare, and are coveted by collectors today.

The 1913 Avery 40-80

It took Marv Stochl 20 years to get the 1913 Avery 40-80 he wanted. He first saw the Avery, complete with a T-head engine, in 1970 at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. “Every year after that,” says the 69-year-old Tama, Iowa, man, “about two weeks before the Mt. Pleasant show, I’d call to see if the owner wanted to sell it.”

In 1990 he heard the magic words. “Don Rueben said I should come to Pontiac, Ill., for it. He was getting up in age and had a bad arm so he couldn’t crank it anymore.” The next morning, within half an hour of Marv’s arrival in Pontiac, a deal was struck. “Afterward, I told him any time he wanted to see his old machine, all he had to do was come down to Mt. Pleasant.” Marv hauled the 40-80 to the Mt. Pleasant show grounds and put it on display. “That’s where it’s been ever since,” he says.

The 1913 Avery 40-80 with the Avery T-head engine might be the only one of its kind running. “I’m not saying it is for sure,” Marv says, “but I haven’t heard of any others.” The placement of the engine valves makes this one special. “That’s why I really wanted this tractor,” Marv says, “because of the unusual engine. It has two valves in front and two valves behind the block, while other Avery engines have valves up front. When people first see the tractor with ‘only’ two valves, they wonder how it can run at all.” The other valves are visible on close examination of the side of the block.

Marv enjoys another unusual aspect of the Avery: the sliding engine. To shift into forward or reverse, Avery engines slide a few inches forward or backward on a well-oiled or -greased rail to engage the gears. The radiator and gas tank also slide. With a full gas tank and heavy engine, that slide appears to be a monumental task. “You’d think it would be hard,” Marv says, “but the long lever you move isn’t that hard to pull back to slide into reverse, or forward into forward.” The tractor cannot be moving, however, or a gear tooth could be knocked out, or the gear itself.

Marv has used his Avery for tractor pulls, and usually pulled the skid all the way through, even with a Caterpillar on it. “There is a lot of pull in those big wheels,” he says. His Avery also routinely wins the slow race, because the engine has been fine-tuned to run very slow. “You can hear the click in the mag,” he says. “That’s awful slow for an engine that old.”

Over the years rubber rear treads were added, allowing the 40-80 to be run on regular roads. “Don liked to take it in parades,” Marv says. “The pads don’t affect the value of the tractor, because I still have the lugs. I could put them on, but that would mean heating up the nuts to undo the lugs, and that would be a lot of work.” Especially considering the rest of his collection: 100 fully restored tractors, and 275 others he still hopes to restore. His collection includes a couple of Twin City tractors, Rumely OilPulls, a 1916 Aultman & Taylor 30-60 and a 1916 50 hp Case steam traction engine.

The 1913 Avery 25-50

Lowell Gustafson started a little threshing show on his farm near Hanley Falls, Minn., in 1975, with a threshing machine and binder he’d restored, as well as a few of his farm tractors. The next year, he wanted an old tractor, so he turned his sights on a 1913 Avery 25-50 tractor. “I knew about that tractor for 30 years by then,” the 69-year-old says. “It was in a farmer’s yard not too far from here, and I kept trying to buy it for a year, and then finally I got it.”

The 1913 Avery 25-50 was still being used on the farm for threshing during the World War II era, Lowell says. “You were (considered) unpatriotic if you didn’t turn things in to the scrap drive, but that one was still being used, which is why it never went.”

The tractor was in poor shape when Lowell got it. “No paint, cab was bad and it hadn’t been run for years,” he recalls. But the engine was loose, so he set to work, fixing the manifold exhaust pipes, the magneto, grinding valves and building a new cab. “Just about every little thing,” he says. “I knew it would be a big job, but I knew if you kept on long enough, there’s nothing that can’t be fixed.”

For three months, Lowell spent every spare minute in his shop, fixing the relic. “It was a pretty exciting day the first time I got it started,” he recalls. “It was pretty funny. I didn’t know how to drive it, so that was kind of risky, but there was a lot of room. I was pretty happy to get it running.”

After having the tractor painted, he applied lettering and trim. “I like to do that,” he says. “That’s the fun part, when you get it done and put that little stuff on. Nowadays you can buy decals for everything, but when I did this, they didn’t have them.”

The restoration was a success, and he ended up with a smooth-running machine. “With that horizontal opposed engine, two cylinders going each way, it’s a well-balanced engine,” Lowell notes. He’s had some problems with the tractor over the years, but not many. “You just don’t do anything with that tractor that you know it can’t do,” he says. “You never pull things that are too heavy, because the gears are worn out, and I don’t want to run the engine that hard because I don’t want to hurt it. I would never use it in a tractor pull or anything. It’s hard to get parts for it and fix it. If you get the tractor ready before you want to start it, it will run. But you could have gas problems or carburetor or magneto problems. These machines aren’t dependable without working on them. But for their age, they’re pretty dependable.”

The tractor has removable cylinder sleeves, and the engine has never been worked on since Lowell’s had it. “It has really good power,” he says. He used it on a threshing machine a few years ago, and usually drives it in the annual Hanley Falls Pioneer Power Threshing Show parade, although he didn’t last year. “It’s just getting to be too much starting those things up,” he says. “It’s a lot of work to keep those old things running. You’ve got to play with them.”

Evolution of the radiator

One major change on the 1913 Avery 25-50 occurred long before Lowell got hold of the tractor: The distinctive Avery circular radiator was replaced with a square one.

In the old days, big Averys like the 25-50 were started on gasoline, and then switched over to cheaper kerosene, as they had separate carburetor bowls for the two types of fuel. Since kerosene runs hotter, it had to be mixed with water in the carburetor to lower the temperature, which was why so many of the old tractors had large radiators. That also might be the reason the radiator was changed, because the machine was using mostly kerosene, and regularly ran hot. “That radiator was replaced in the 1920s, I think,” Lowell says, “I suppose because they had problems with those first exhaust-draft ones. This one is the new-style model, and it worked so much better for cooling, because it has a water pump and a fan with it. Those first ones didn’t have water pumps or fans.” All the bolts from the first radiator still show, sticking up where they were cut off.

Avery is a crowd-pleaser

People like to see the machine started, Lowell says, and his wife, Mavis, concurs. “It draws quite a crowd when it’s started,” she says. “A lot of people sit and watch the parade when the tractors go by, but a whole lot of them go down to the tractors to see them get started.”

That’s because the Avery is so different, Lowell says. “They’ll fire once, and then you don’t hear anything for a bit, and people think it isn’t going to start, and then another pop comes. They run at such a low rpm: That’s the fun part, to hear them start.” People really smile when he moves the engine back and forward, he says, switching gears.

The “potato” lugs that came with the machine are rarely used because they protrude so far that all the weight ends up on the outside wheel extensions. The tractor is stored on a cement floor at the Minnesota Machinery Museum in Hanley Falls. The museum is open to the public May to September. “We get people from all over the U.S., as well as foreign countries.”

The 25-50 has four operating levers. “It drives nice and steers easy,” Lowell says, “though it wasn’t built for comfort. The seat is a wooden toolbox, but you stand up when you drive it most of the time anyway.”

An enduring tradition

Lowell says he’s learned a lot from old-timers who gave him information about the old tractors, and lent a hand when he needed help. “Now I enjoy telling the young people about these tractors, and how I learned about them. I didn’t grow up with them, because they were before my time, but it’s something that has to be passed on, so that they realize that everything didn’t used to come with a starter, lights, road gear and air conditioning.

“That Avery 25-50 is a pretty rare tractor,” Lowell muses. “It’s one of the oldest tractors, and there aren’t many of them left. I’ve known about this tractor since I was a little kid, 9 or 10 years old. You could see it on the farm from the road, but I’d never seen it work. It just sat there, and nobody was interested in it. So when I got interested in it and acquired it, it was special, because it was my first old big tractor.” How special? One of the couple’s grandsons is named Avery.

Mavis says her fun comes from seeing her husband get so much enjoyment out of a hobby, and seeing the satisfaction he gets when the tractors run well. “Our whole family has enjoyed having the oldest equipment at the Hanley Falls show,” she says. “To our family, the threshing show is just as important as Christmas. They don’t miss, and we have a lot of fun doing it.”

For more information:
Marvin Stochl, 1983 365th St., Tama, IA 52339-9646; (641) 484-3328.
Lowell Gustafson, 5262 220th Ave., Hanley Falls, MN 56245; (507) 768-3580.

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; e-mail: bvossler@juno.com

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