Fred Schmidt, Bluffton, Ohio, enjoys talking about his pride and joy, a 1910 Wallis Bear tractor that’s been in his family since 1962. Fred agreed to meet me at his farm and had already started the Wallis when I arrived. As I drove up the road, I knew I was at the right place: The Wallis is big enough to be a national landmark!
“Come on; I’ll give you a ride!” Fred called out as I walked up. He gave the crank (at the rear of the tractor) one pull, and the engine jumped to life. He climbed up to the driver’s seat while I stood on the platform just behind him, and away we went. What an experience, taking a ride on the only Wallis Bear known to exist. The engine ran smoothly, and there was little noise from the transmission or gears.
As we drove along, Fred pointed out the tractor’s unusual features. Although hardly a commercial success, the Wallis Bear featured technology advanced for its era. “The steering wheel is about one foot in diameter and turns fairly easily,” Fred says. “And this tractor has power steering! Notice how easily the tractor can be turned ... remember, the Wallis weighs around 20,000 pounds.” An arrow on a rod at the front of the tractor turns with the front wheels, allowing the driver to see which way the wheels (which cannot be seen from the driver’s seat) are pointed.
The Wallis has a spring-loaded clutch and independent rear wheel brakes, enhancing the tractor’s maneuverability. The enclosed transmission has three speeds forward and one reverse. “Another unusual thing on this tractor is the coil-spring suspension for the front wheels,” Fred notes. The mechanical power steering unit is driven off the engine and provides an assist in turning the front wheels by a system of clutches, pulleys and a belt. A lever near the steering wheel is used to engage or disengage the power steering.
The tractor’s inline, upright 4-cylinder engine has a 7-1/2-by-9-inch bore and stroke. The camshaft is located below the crankshaft. The pushrods came up to the valves on each side of the piston, the exhaust valve on one side and the intake valve on the other. And while it’s a willing runner, the Wallis Bear’s Kingston magneto tends to be fussy in damp weather. “The engine will not run if it’s raining or even just a very humid day,” Fred says.
The tractor’s exhaust pipe was originally routed through the rear fender, blowing directly onto the drive gears. That provided carbon lubrication and also, in theory, blew dirt off the gears, protecting them from wear. Later, however, the system was re-routed.
Fred’s Wallis tractor, no. 203, is thought to be one of just nine Bears built between 1902 and 1910 by the Wallis Tractor Co., Cleveland. The company was in operation as early as 1902. H.M. Wallis was the company’s president; he was also a son-in-law of J.I. Case and later became president of the J.I. Case Plow Works, Racine, Wis. The Bear was followed by the Wallis Cub, introduced in 1913; the Cub Junior in 1915 and the Model K in 1919. All were produced at the J.I. Case Plow Works in Racine, where the Wallis company moved in 1913.
A cover on the engine is stamped with “Wallis Tractor Company, Racine, Wisconsin” and “H.L.F. Trebert Patent.” There is some possibility that the engine was manufactured by the H.L.F. Trebert Engine Works, Rochester, N.Y., but no records exist to verify that. FC
Don Voelker, a freelance photographer and writer in Fort Wayne, Ind., specializes in tractors, farm equipment, historic sites, museums, barns and covered bridges. View his work at www.voelkerphotography.com