The Little Tractor That Could, Did And Still  Does

| April 2001

  • Benjamin Franklin Gravely
  • Snow clearing power of the Gravely 450
  • Gravely Tractor Club of America founder, Craig Seabrook
  • 1953 Model L tractor
  • Greg Mips' 1966 Model L with a rotary cultivator attached

Even Craig Seabrook, founder of the Gravely Tractor Club of America, admits that the club members' devotion to the garden tractors is, well, a little weird. 'They're neat things,' he says, 'but they're just garden tractors. People don't like to hear this, but you really can't have a lot of fun with them. When you do get to have fun, you find out you're working.'

If that is your idea of fun, though, there's a lot to be had.

Early in the second decade of the 20th century, Benjamin Franklin Gravely, a photographer by training and trade, decided that there had to be a better way to prepare his garden than with a simple push cultivator. Being something of a tinkerer - his name graced 65 patents at the time of his death - Gravely cobbled together a one-wheeled, motorized plow from an Indian motorcycle and a push plow in his Charleston, W.V., shop. It proved to be the prototype of what would become known as the Gravely Model D garden tractor, which he would patent in 1916.

Weird or not, the GTCA boasts a membership of more than 500 quite zealous members nationwide. One name on the roll is Rev. Phil Smith. Pastor of the Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Stouchsburg, Penn., Reverend Smith says that, after that first Model D, Gravely went to work on a model from scratch and hit the jackpot in design. 'Gravely's big achievement was an engine and a transmission in a very small space and in perfect balance. Making his tractor very compact made it, therefore, very maneuverable,' he says. 'But Eustis Rose, who also designed automotive transmissions for Chrysler, helped with designing the transmission for the Model D, too.'

What was unique about the transmission designed for the Gravely was that it was what was known as a 'planetary' transmission, having high and low settings, but requiring no clutching.

In 1922, with backing from local businessmen, Gravely opened a factory in nearby Dunbar, W.V., and began producing the Model D in earnest. The two-and-a-half horsepower tractor, Rev. Smith explains (with a passion that makes you believe that, if he were given half a chance, not only will we all someday own a Gravely, but we might all be Lutherans, as well), was a wonder, due as much to its versatility as its maneuverability. Soon after the company's inception, Gravely began producing attachments for the tractor, multiplying its uses tremendously. There was a lawn roller, a sickle mower, a reel mower, a sulky, a cultivator and more, all attached by only four bolts. Rev. Smith says this made the D a formidable piece of equipment. 'What the Model T was to automobiles,' he says, 'the Gravely was to homeowners.'

Darrel Bickel
9/17/2013 4:12:22 AM

I'm hoping if they are writing a history of the Gravely they will include data on some of the post market hardware available for gravely tractors. Some of this was in catalogs the Gravely dealers had some of it was not so widely known and made by local shops. Some machine shop in Clarksburg W.V. made a modified rotary plow that did not require one plow down one side and then back on the other side, as when you finished the row you reversed the plows angle and came back the other way. The only problem I found in this was they used a metal sleeve to hold the two plow blades in place, and a spring loaded system would have been better. I say this as I had one kick back on top of me when it hit something hard in the soil being plowed, but in softer soil this was not an issue and plowing was easier.

6/24/2009 4:33:15 PM

i just bought a 1962 gravely tractor and just wanted to know more about it if i could it has been rebuilt and repainted and im now starting to really love this machine could anybody tell me more about it?


Farm Collector April 16Farm Collector is a monthly magazine focusing on antique tractors and all kinds of antique farm equipment. If it's old and from the farm, we're interested in it!

Save Even More Money with our SQUARE-DEAL Plan!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our SQUARE-DEAL automatic renewal savings plan. You'll get 12 issues of Farm Collector for only $24.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of Farm Collector for just $29.95.

Facebook Pinterest YouTube


click me