The Thieman Tractor

One of several homemade tractor kits sold to farmers looking to replace their horses, the Thieman tractor was an unbeatable deal.

| January 2007

Bill Thelemann and his father, LeRoy, were dismayed when a truck pulled up at their Le Sueur, Minn., farm in the early 1980s and dropped off a Thieman tractor. At least it was supposed to be a Thieman tractor.

"That was kind of a funny deal," Bill says. "Dad answered an ad for the Thieman, and the tractor was supposedly ready to go. But when we got it, we found that it was a basket case. It was a disaster. You should have seen the look on my dad's face. It was not quite what he figured on. It was just a bunch of parts. The engine was out of it, and everything else was all in pieces."

In the end, the tale was more than a little ironic. The Thieman tractor, manufactured by the Thieman Harvester Co. in Albert City, Iowa, from 1936-1942 or so, originally came in pieces as a kit, to be assembled by the buyer, who had to provide an engine, driveshaft and rear axle. Bingo! New tractor!

Thieman Harvester Co.

The Albert City company was organized in 1921 by brothers Henry D., William B., Herman, Charles and Warren Thieman, to make ensilage harvesters. Eventually they produced livestock feeders and waterers, end gates, plow guides, saw frames and power units, as well as steel burial vaults.

Beginning in 1936, Thieman tractors were offered in varied types: $185 kits, like the Thelemann tractor; or a complete tractor with a Ford Model A engine for about $500. With the kit, the farmer had to procure his own engine, driveshaft and rear end from a Ford Model A, 1928 Chevrolet or Dodge Four, and then build a tractor. The object was to cobble together pieces of used equipment to make an inexpensive tractor.

Those low prices were a welcome relief during the Great Depression. Thieman offered several options, including a governor ($15), combination drawbar ($9), air cleaner ($7) and rubber wheels ($122.75 for all three). Any 2-row horse-drawn cultivator could be adapted to the tractor with a cultivator attachment ($15).