The Depression-Era Marsh Tractor

| December 2004

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    The original Model T seat cushion
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    Marsh tractor

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In the 1930s and 1940s in central Wisconsin where I was born and raised, every small farm contained marshland. Farmers there cut wild marsh hay to feed their animals. The hay didn't have much protein, but it kept the animals' bellies full in the winter.

In years with heavy rainfall, the marshes were too wet for horses to walk in. In the 1920s, farmers put clogs on horses' feet to support them. Then some ingenious farmer came up with an idea for a tractor that worked on ground too soft for a horse.

He started by stripping the body off a Model T Ford down to the running gear. The rear drive wheels were the bull wheels from a grain binder. The axle was a 2-inch, thick-wall pipe from the rear frame of the grain binder. Extensions, made from the front steel wheels of a wooden lumber wagon, were built onto each wheel to make the tread wider. The same diameter as the bull wheels, the extensions were bolted on with 1-inch angle iron. The same 17-inch sprockets were left on the bull wheel to drive the tractor with the original binder drive chain.

The rear springs were removed from the rear axle. The axle was held to the bottom of the frame by U-bolts. On some tractors, the axles were narrowed to 34 inches by cutting the housing off each side. A keyway was cut into the axle for a 5-inch, foundry-made drive sprocket. On tractors with narrow rear axles, the drive chain was next to the frame. (On others, the rear axle remained full-width and the drive chain ran on the outside.

The 2-inch pipe used as the axle for the bull wheel was U-bolted to the bottom of the Model T frame about 4 feet ahead of the rear drive axle. A threaded rod with a 2-inch loop on one end was slipped over the 2-inch pipe, and ran forward to keep the drive chain tight. The 3 1/2x30-inch tires were taken off the front wheels, and wider tires, which gave better flotation, were cut to fit. These were dropped over the front wheels and wired together.

A frame made of rough oak boards around and over the gas tank held the original Model T seat cushion. A white oak 2x6 positioned ahead of the seat and bolted to the frame made a foot rest for the driver. The threaded rod was fastened to it to hold the 2-inch pipe axle and drive chain tight.


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