The Sheppard Company's Innovative Diesel Tractors

Founded in 1937, the Sheppard Company of Hanover, Penn. made waves with diesel farm equipment.


| June 2000



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An SD4 Sheppard tractor, the largest model of the Sheppard line.

Courtesy of the R.H. Sheppard Co. archives, Hanover, Penn.

The R.H. Sheppard Company of Hanover, Penn., stopped making diesel tractors in 1956 after only six years of production. For the next 30 years, no one thought much about the Sheppards, and many languished in sheds and junkyards. But in the past decade, there has been a renewed interest in this forerunner of today's diesel farm equipment, with rare models being rescued from oblivion and lovingly restored.

"I graduated from high school in 1949," says Lynn Klingaman of Columbia City, Ind., president of the (as of June 2000) six-year-old Sheppard Diesel Club. "We were farmers. In the summer of 1950, we were at the Grasslands Reid Day at Warsaw, Ind. They had various tractors there, and there was a Sheppard demonstration. I tried to get my dad to buy one, but he wouldn't, so when I decided to collect tractors, I had to have a Sheppard. Now I have five. I'm retired, and I restore them. I also have several generators, plows, mowers, a stalk chopper, and a Sheppard two-row mounted corn planter."

The R.H. Sheppard Company was founded in 1937 by Robert Sheppard when he bought a one-story factory on East Middle Street in Hanover, Penn. Included in the purchase were the rights to produce existing product lines of the Kintzing wire cloth loom, floor polisher and gas generator. These products provided the basis of the manufacturing facility and a place where diesel engines could be developed. As various uses for the engines were found, the business prospered and the other lines were phased out. In 1940, the company bought a factory on Philadelphia Street in Hanover, adding a foundry in 1943. The company still operates at that location, where it produces power steering equipment for the transportation industry.

"My father grew up in Pennsylvania," says Peter Sheppard, who took over as company president in 1979. "He was mechanically inclined. He built his first diesel engine when he was 16 and went on to graduate from Dickinson College."

According to company records, the first diesel engines were produced experimentally as early as 1933. Altogether, 20 basic engine models were developed and marketed around the world. They were used to power generator sets, pumps, lifeboats, rescue craft, refrigerated rail-cars, and farm tractors. The engines were Robert Sheppard's first love, and he searched for 30 years for a long-term use for them.

Company records show that, in 1949, an idea was put forward to re power a Farmall M International farm tractor with a three-cylinder Sheppard diesel. While it was not very successful, it did lead to the introduction of the Sheppard farm tractor, the first diesel tractor produced in the U.S.