Favorites from the Sandwich Early Day Gas Engine Club show.
Elmer Kemper at the controls of his 1948 Cletrac HG.
Now a bastion of antique gas engines and tractors, the Sandwich Early Day Gas Engine Club show, held at the Sandwich, Illinois, fairgrounds, got its start as part of an antique car show.
Formed in 1970, the fledgling club held its first show the following spring. “It was a joint show with the Sandwich Jaycees and the Silver Spring Chapter of the Antique Automobile Club on Memorial Day,” recalls Ray Forrer, who has served as vice president of the group since its founding.
The two groups held a joint show for 10 years before parting ways. “We had developed a strong following as an engine show,” Ray says. “We’d have up to 600 engines on the grounds.” At that point, the club expanded the event to a two-day show and added antique tractors to the mix.
Today, the club’s annual show is held the last weekend in June. Exhibitors arrive Friday to set up on heavily shaded grounds. Many of the displays are antique tractors. “We’ve built up our tractor display to the point that it is almost as big as the engine show,” Ray says. Among the displays at the June 2014 show were these standouts:
Dan Quantock, a long-time member of the Sandwich club, sold the last of his restored farm vehicles – a 1950 Wards tractor – in an auction at the club’s 43rd annual show.
Dan has restored many antiques over the years but the Wards was one of his favorites. Built for Montgomery Ward & Co. by Harry A. Lowther Co., Joliet, Illinois, between 1950 and ’52 (some sources say 1949-1951), the Wards tractor was produced in fairly small numbers: about 2,100 units.
The Wards’ mechanical parts were manufactured by Chrysler. The tractor had a Dodge fluid drive transmission, Dodge rear end and Chrysler flathead 6-cylinder industrial engine like those in Dodge pickup trucks and cars. It even had an emergency (parking) brake like that on a Dodge truck, Dan says.
The fluid drive still had a clutch. “You put it in gear and let out the clutch,” Dan says, “and it would just sit there until you gave it the gas.”
Most tractors from the early 1950s had mechanical brakes, but the Wards had hydraulic brakes with two master cylinders, one for each rear wheel. A brake pedal for each wheel allowed the driver to make a quick, 180-degree turn at the end of a field by holding one pedal down.
The Chrysler engine’s governor was adjustable from 2,400 to 3,200 rpms. By contrast, most tractors run fixed at 1,400 to 1,600 rpms. The Wards was nimble, traveling as fast as 35 mph on the road. “But don’t hit a pothole at that speed,” Dan says, “or it’ll throw you right off the seat. The tractor has no springs.”
The Wards’ front wheels were adjustable by removing eight bolts: two on each wheel and four in the center. The wheels could then be moved to the center post. A farmer would use the narrow setting for cultivating. With the wheels in the center, they would travel between rows and not be in the way of the cultivator.
At the wide setting, the wheels would straddle two rows, he says.
Dan says he was first attracted to the Wards because of its rarity. Its powerful engine was another big draw for him, especially compared to his Model 70 Oliver tractors. “The Wards just walked away from the Oliver,” he says. A new Wards sold for $3,200 ($31,000 today). “They were a little on the expensive side,” he says, “which I think is why they just didn’t quite make it.”
The Wards was the last remnant of a collection that once included more than 40 Oliver tractors. At 80, Dan says he’s probably out of the restoration business. But he left the door open. “Believe it or not, I’m looking at a real nice ’57 Chevrolet Bel Air,” he says. “I had a ’56 when I was growing up and really liked it.”
Elmer Kemper, Eldridge, Iowa, displayed his 1948 Oliver Cletrac HG, the only one of its type at the show. The HG was in production from 1939 to 1950. Elmer’s is a working tractor: He routinely uses it at plow days and other events.
After Oliver Corp. bought out the Cletrac line in 1944, an improved version of the HG was released. It could be ordered with track widths of 31, 42, 60 or 68 inches, allowing the tractor to be used in very limited spaces, as well as for row crop work.
In the late 1940s, Cletrac introduced an innovation: a rubber-tracked version of the HG. But it was an idea slightly ahead of its time. Problems with the rubber tracks resulted in a recall of at least 20 tractors, with the rubber replaced by steel tracks. Elmer’s HG is on rubber pads, protecting concrete and asphalt surfaces from damage.
Another design flaw: The tractor’s exhaust pipe was inserted into the manifold rather than being fitted over it. When it rained, water tended to flow into the manifold, which meant a shower of soot and moisture when the engine was started.
It’s commonplace to see a green John Deere, an orange Minneapolis-Moline, a red Farmall or even a gray Ford tractor in a field. But a stark white tractor? Who would want one? Rick Stencel, Ottawa, Illinois, did – and he spent several years looking for one.
In 1950, Farmall painted perhaps 7,000 Model C tractors white as a sales promotion; the exact number is unknown. The tractors were shipped to dealers who showed them off in demonstrations. The white tractors were detailed with gold stickers highlighting features of the new model so prospective buyers could learn about the machine as they looked at it. Rick located some and displayed them on his tractor.
The white tractors that stood out like a corn stalk in a bean field were eventually sold. International Harvester directed the dealers to paint the tractors red after they were sold. “Buy a white Farmall, we’ll paint it red and you’ll be farming in the black,” went the sales pitch.
Rick’s several-year hunt finally ended in 2005, when he purchased a tractor built in 1950. The serial number and build date checked out for the period when tractors were painted white. It had been parked in a friend’s barn for quite some time but the tractor was in rough shape. “It was so bad you couldn’t even tell what it was,” he says. “It was in need of a complete restoration.”
Now gleaming white, the tractor is a regular in tractor rides, pulls and parades.
With that kind of exposure, it generates a lot of comments. “People come up and tell me it’s the wrong color. When they tell me it’s supposed to be red, I tell them I’m color blind,” Rick says with a laugh. Others tell him the steering wheel and lights should be red but he’s done his research. “Each dealer made his own decision on those things,” he says. FC
For more information:
— Sandwich Engine Club, 105 E. North St., Box 43, Somonauk, IL 60552; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone: (815) 498-2013.
Lyle Rolfe has been a newspaper reporter and photographer for more than 40 years. As a freelance writer, he’s had work published in Classic Cars, Cars & Parts and Rural Heritage magazines. Contact him at 2580 Wyckwood Ct., Aurora, IL 60506; (630) 896-2992; email@example.com.