The Short, Odd Story of the Abenaque Tractor


| June 2001



FC_V3_I11_Jun_2001_10-2.jpg

Tank-cooled engine

The founder of the Abenaque Machine Works, Frederick M. Gilbert, was traveling in a party of six in the late 1880s headed to Portland, Maine, when one of the horses developed pink eye. 'They stopped in Westminster, Vt., to seek aid,' write Patricia A. Haas and Alice C. Caggiano in Abenaque Machine Works. 'A good man across the Connecticut River in Walpole (N. H.) was recommended. The horse was left in his care and a replacement purchased.'

On the way back, the party stopped and discovered the horse had died. But the time spent in the area had been fruitful. Frederick Gilbert had been so impressed by the Westminster-Walpole area that he chose to build his home there.

So in 1893, Frederick Gilbert and his family 'packed their belongings,' say Haas and Caggiano, 'including all their money, gold and jewelry, in barrels.' The barrels were then transported by a team of horses and a wagon to a bank in Keene, N.H., where, Haas and Caggiano write, 'Mr. Gilbert simply backed the horse and wagon to the door (of the bank) and unloaded the containers.' A curious method of making a deposit, and the curious beginning to the interesting history of the Abenaque tractor.

By the middle of 1893, Frederick was constructing the buildings that would house the Abenaque Machine Works. Rumor had it he was building a corn-starch factory, as he had previously been in the starch business, and his new buildings were near the corn canning factory.

Instead, he signed up an inventor for his new machine business. He convinced John Ostenberg, who was working in the Des Moines, Iowa, business of Frederick's father, to move to Westminster Station, and sign a five-year contract at $1,000 a year to create inventions for the new business.

However, Gilbert and Ostenberg must not have gotten along, because before the five years were up, John Ostenberg moved to San Jose, California, where he opened the Ostenberg Manufacturing Company.