Who Doesn’t Love an Orphan?

Large or small, orphan tractors hold enduring collector appeal.

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The B.F. Avery Model R was built from 1950 into 1951. The two-bottom plow tractor was outfitted with a 25hp, Hercules 4-cylinder gas engine.
Photo by Fred Hendricks

What makes an orphan tractor an orphan? Some say it’s the product of a company that failed; others say it’s a tractor whose parent company no longer exists. Either way, in the past century, as many as 900 tractor companies’ output today could be classified as orphans.

The annals of American farm tractor manufacture are filled with the names of companies that quickly rose to prominence but faded just as quickly. Still, American agriculture technology advanced rapidly as a result of that entrepreneurial spirit and innovative engineering.

For many, orphan tractors add a special flair to a tractor collection – and though they can be as hard to find as the real tractor, scale model replicas of the full-size orphan are like icing on the cake. This selection of orphan tractors and corresponding toys is by no means comprehensive but will give a glimpse at an interesting category.

B.F. Avery & Sons Co.

Benjamin Franklin Avery launched a plow company in Louisville, Kentucky, in the mid-1800s, but operations were suspended during the Civil War. With his three sons, Avery reorganized the company in 1865 as B.F. Avery & Sons. The company was soon recognized as the leading plow manufacturer in the U.S.

Following Avery’s death in 1885, family members assumed leadership of the company. The Avery company’s first attempt at moving away from tillage equipment was development of the Motor Plow, built from 1914 into about 1917.

Committed to mechanized farming, Avery struck a deal with Huber Mfg., Marion, Ohio, to build tractors. Huber delivered 355 tractors to Avery in 1930. In the wake of the Great Depression, Avery suspended tractor manufacture.

By 1936, the farm economy had brightened. Avery engineers developed the “True-Draft” tractor with improved implement control. Cleveland (Ohio) Tractor Co. agreed to manufacture the tractor that would become known as the General GG. The tractor was equipped with a 4-cylinder gasoline engine; it was tested at 14.26 drawbar hp and 19.29 belt hp.

With the onset of World War II, Avery acquired the equipment and dies to manufacture the General (later renamed the Model A) at its Louisville facility. In late 1943, the Model A was redesigned with a larger engine. In 1946, Avery introduced a smaller version, the Model V. In 1950, the Model R rolled off the assembly line.

Minneapolis-Moline Co. bought out Avery in 1951. The former Avery production facility was closed in 1955. Views differ on the company’s demise. Did it result from a quest for mechanized farming when implement production flourished? Was it a change in management style, including sales and marketing? Or was it a natural evolution of larger companies squeezing out the smaller firms?

B.F. Avery Toy Tractor

Photo by Fred Hendricks

Teeswater Custom Toys of Ontario, Canada, produced this 1/16-scale, cast-aluminum B.F. Avery Model R. Scale Models built a 1/16-scale, die-cast Model R during the 1990s marketed by Tractor Supply Co. The most recent Avery release was a 1/16-scale, resin Model A produced by SpecCast in 2007. 

National Farm Machinery Cooperative

CO-OP tractors have a complex history. Beginning in 1934, Huber Tractor Co. cast the CO-OP nameplate in the radiator of two models that were marketed by the Farm Bureau Cooperatives of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. After a run of 34 tractors, the cooperative group struck a deal with Duplex of Battle Creek, Michigan, to manufacture a line of CO-OP tractors starting in 1936.

Duplex introduced three CO-OP models. Rated for a two-bottom plow, the Model 2 was equipped with a Chrysler 6-cylinder gasoline engine. The Model 3, rated for a three-bottom plow, was outfitted with a Chrysler 6-cylinder gas engine. The CO-OP group terminated the Duplex agreement in May 1938.

The CO-OP Model 3 was built in 1936. The tractor was powered by a Chrysler 6-cylinder gas engine.
Photo by Fred Hendricks

The National Farm Machinery Cooperative (NFMC) consortium was formed to manufacture CO-OP tractors in Shelbyville, Indiana. At about the same time, Farmers Union Central Exchange (one of the original cooperatives making up the NFMC) of St. Paul, Minnesota, acquired enough parts to build about 150 Model No. 3 CO-OP tractors. These were marketed through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Montana and the Dakotas. Over the course of the next several years, additional models were introduced.

The Shelbyville plant was converted to military production during World War II. As the war ended in 1945, an agreement was struck with Cockshutt Farm Equipment Ltd., of Brantford, Ontario, Canada.

Through that arrangement, the Cockshutt Model 30 was painted orange and marketed as the CO-OP Model E3. The E3 was equipped with a Buda 4-cylinder gas engine. This was a popular tractor with reported sales of 37,328 units. The number marketed as CO-OP E3 tractors is unknown.

Sales for the line began to slump by 1950. NFMC entered into voluntary receivership in 1952. Cockshutt acquired the Shelbyville production facilities, ceasing production in 1957.

CO-OP Toy Tractor

Photo by Fred Hendricks

SpecCast manufactured this 1/16-scale, die-cast CO-OP Model 1 (with a single front wheel) in 1999. Scale Models produced two versions of the Model E-2 using sand-cast aluminum. An incredibly unique and highly valued 1/16-scale Model E-3 was crafted by Advance Products using a slush mold process.

Gibson Mfg. Corp.    

The Gibson tractor emerged through the formation of Gibson Mfg. Corp. of Seattle, Washington, by Wilber F. Gibson. To gain strategic distribution, the company relocated to Longmont, Colorado, in 1945. In March 1946, 52 Gibson Model A tractors rolled off the assembly line. This handy little single-bottom tractor was equipped with a 6hp, Wisconsin air-cooled engine. Subsequent Models D and SD soon followed, each with improved features. Three models (A, D, and SD) had distinctive tiller steering.

The Wisconsin air-cooled engine was utilized in several additional models, including the row-crop version Models E and EW. In order to compete with farming practices of the day, Gibson introduced full-sized Models H and I in 1948. The Model I series was rated as a 2- to 3-bottom plow and outfitted with a 40hp, 6-cylinder Hercules engine.

The Gibson Model D was produced in Longmont, Colorado, from 1947 into 1949. The tiller-steered tractor was powered by a 6hp Wisconsin air-cooled engine.
Photo by Fred Hendricks

Several additional models were introduced, including the Super D and Super D2. The last known Gibson tractor was Model Super G. The tractor was nearly identical to the Model I. In addition, letter “G” was chrome-cast in the hood and a deeper maroon color was utilized. The Model Super G reached the prototype stage, but never went into production.

Gibson production shut down in 1952. Helene Curtis, Inc. of Chicago acquired the business. The company became a division of Fox Metal products of Denver, Colorado, but no tractors were ever produced there.

When Gibson went out of business, all production records were burned in the former company’s parking lot. Wilber Gibson went on to new ventures. From a Berthoud, Colorado, facility, the Harvey tractor was first produced in 1958. While working on the assembly line in 1959, Gibson suffered a fatal heart attack.

Gibson Toy Tractor

Photo by Fred Hendricks

This one-of-a-kind, highly detailed 1/16-scale Gibson Model A was scratch-built by Terry Rouch, Royal Center, Indiana. Avid collector Harold Sherron, Boaz, Kentucky, commissioned a production run of three Gibson pedal tractors: A Model Super D Jr. and Model H Jr. in row-crop versions, and a Model H Jr. standard front.

Graham-Bradley Tractors

As Graham-Paige Motor Co. of Detroit grappled with the effects of the Great Depression, the company turned to design of a farm tractor. In 1938, the Graham-Bradley Model 103 was introduced. According to advertising of the day, it was “built by Graham, equipped by Bradley, and proved at Graham Farms.”

According to C.H. Wendel in The Standard Catalog of Farm Tractors, David Bradley Mfg. Works, Bradley, Illinois, was the manufacturer. The Bradley Works was by then owned and operated by Sears, Roebuck & Co.

The handsomely designed row-crop tractor was equipped with a Graham-Paige 6-cylinder Continental gasoline engine, and was rated at 25.2hp (drawbar) pulling a two-bottom blow.

The Graham-Bradley Model 103 was produced by Graham-Paige Motor Co., Detroit, from 1938 into 1939. The two-bottom plow tractor was powered by a Graham-Paige 6-cylinder gas engine and Nebraska tested at 25hp.
Photo by Fred Hendricks

In 1938, Graham-Paige introduced the Model 104, a standard version of the Model 103. Toward the end of Graham-Bradley production in 1939, there were reports of several prototype tractors being developed. An extensive line of field equipment was to have accompanied the introduction of more tractors. Unfortunately, no records support these accounts.

Without a dealer organization, the company contracted with Sears, Roebuck & Co. to market the Graham-Bradley tractor through their stores and catalog. The company announced aggressive plans to build 10,000 tractors annually but those plans never fully materialized. Although sales were brisk, the arrangement with Sears quickly eroded. Sears gradually reduced its catalog space for farm-related products; the Graham-Bradley tractor disappeared entirely from the catalog’s printed pages in 1940.

With the onset of World War II, Graham-Paige switched to wartime production. The production facilities became Kaiser Motors after the war and, eventually, Kaiser-Jeep. The company now operates as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Graham-Bradley Toy Tractor

Photo by Fred Hendricks

This precision-detailed, 1/16-scale, die-cast Graham-Bradley Model 103 row-crop was developed by Diecast Promotions in 2002. As with the full-size tractor, the model’s side panels can be removed for a view of the engine. Diecast also produced a standard version of the 103 in 2004. Both were produced with exquisite detail.

In 1940, Auburn Rubber Co. produced a 1/32-scale, hard-rubber model of the Graham-Bradley tractor. Like the real tractor, the scale model was featured in the 1939 and 1940 Sears catalogs.

M. Rumely Co.

Roots of the Rumely tractor go back to the mid-1800s. Two Rumely brothers (Meinrad and John) operated a foundry in La Porte, Indiana. Meinrad later bought out his brother and incorporated as M. Rumely Co. in 1887. Rumely’s iconic kerosene-powered traction engine, developed in 1909, was considered its most famous product.

Rumely OilPull Models B, E and F came on the market shortly thereafter. Like many fledgling companies, Rumely was plagued by financial difficulties. A 1911 merger with Advance Threshing Co. changed the company name to Advance-Rumely.

This 44hp Rumely OilPull Model G 20-40 was manufactured by Rumely from 1918 into 1924.
Photo by Fred Hendricks

Following the reorganization, the OilPull Model G 20/40 was introduced in 1918. In 1924, Advance-Rumely purchased Aultman-Taylor Machinery Co. Introduction of the 47hp Model 6A tractor – the company’s debut into conventional tractor design – followed in 1930. This tractor was available with steel wheels or rubber tires. Many additional models, too numerous to mention, were produced and sold from 1924 into 1931.

As sales of big, heavy tractors started to weaken, the company sought a buyer. In 1931, Allis-Chalmers Mfg. Co. took over Advance-Rumely. With the ownership change, production of Rumely-branded tractors was discontinued. The new ownership focused on Rumely threshing and harvesting machines along with the company’s well-equipped manufacturing facilities and extensive dealer network.

For a time, with addition of Allis-Chalmers harvest equipment, the La Porte operation was known as the “Harvest Capital of the World.” Eventually, however, Allis filed for bankruptcy, dismantling its vast business interests in 1985.

M. Rumely Toy Tractor

Photo by Fred Hendricks

Old Time Toys produced the first Rumely toy, a 1/16-scale, sand-cast Model W 20-30, in 1972. Other builders had small runs made with sand-cast aluminum, also in 1/16-scale. This 1/24-scale, sand-cast Rumely OilPull (with no model identification) is a product of Scale Models. Scale Models manufactured the greatest number of Rumely toy tractors. Their first release was a 1/16-scale, sand-cast OilPull (with no model identification) in 1981, followed in 1992 by a 1/16-scale, sand-cast Model 6A with steel wheels.

R.H. Sheppard Co.

An innovator in diesel engine design and with sights set on powering farm tractors, R.H. Sheppard Co. (established in 1937 in Hanover, Pennsylvania) developed a 3-cylinder diesel conversion kit in 1949. Because of its popularity, the Farmall Model M was the targeted tractor. The company touted the ease of replacing the gas engine and the cost savings of an entirely new tractor. They also claimed the same horsepower with added diesel lugging power – and fuel savings of 75 percent.

This nicely restored Sheppard Diesel Model SDO3 tractor was built in 1951. The orchard tractor sported a 3-cylinder diesel engine with a 32hp rating. The Model SD3 was available in row-crop, orchard and grove versions.
Photo by Fred Hendricks

But sales for the conversion kit were disappointing. Sheppard countered with a diesel farm tractor of its own. The company’s promotion was based on three features: simplicity, economy and power. Producing the SD-1, SD-2, SD-3 and SD-4 (the latter two models available in row-crop, orchard and grove versions), the larger tractor models were the first to have a patented torque converter, 13-speed transmission and high-ratio power steering.

Following slumping sales of farm tractors in the early 1950s, Sheppard introduced an industrial line in 1954. Unable to overcome paltry market interest and a poor dealer organization, Sheppard tractors were discontinued in 1956. 

R.H. Sheppard Toy Tractor

Photo by Fred Hendricks

The Farm Toy Price Guide shows three Sheppard diesel replicas. In 1949, the Sheppard company produced 1,000 1/16-scale, sand-cast models with limited detail. Dave Nolt of Nolt Enterprises produced several 1/16-scale, sand-cast versions of the Model SD-3 like the one shown above. In 1995, Scale Models released a 1/16-scale, sand-cast Model SD-4 in row-crop and standard versions.

Wards/Custom Mfg. Co.

Custom Mfg. Corp. was launched in 1940 by three former NFMC employees in Shelbyville, Indiana. During World War II, companies capable of manufacturing military equipment were required to support the war effort, which in turn provided finances for Custom Manufacturing to launch its new enterprise.

During wartime production, Custom’s management began networking with established companies willing to market their yet-to-be produced tractor. Their agreement allowed the name of the marketing company to be inscribed on the tractor.

When war-time restrictions on manufacturers were lifted, Custom introduced its first tractor. The Model B emulated the CO-OP B-2. The row-crop tractor was equipped with a Chrysler 6-cylinder engine and 5-speed transmission. About this same time, Custom introduced its Model C (a standard version of the Model B).

This Wards Model HW was built by Custom Manufacturing Corp., Shelbyville, Ind., in 1950. The tractor is equipped with a Chrysler 6A, 6-cylinder gas engine. The Model HW is the standard version of the Model HR.
Photo by Fred Hendricks

Custom marketed its tractor through Lehr Equipment Sales under the brand name Lehr’s Big Boy. In eastern Canada, Custom tractors were sold by Regal Motors as Regal Customs. Rock Oil Co. marketed the Custom tractor in western Canada as the Rockol.

In the early 1950s, Custom was sold to the Harry A. Lowther Co., Joliet, Illinois. Lowther marketed the tractors with the original Custom nameplate. Following an agreement with Montgomery Ward & Co., Custom built Wards-tagged tractors from 1950 to 1952, marketed through the Wards catalog.

In 1952, George Pusch of Hustisford, Wisconsin, acquired rights to the Custom line and its manufacturing equipment. By 1953, Custom was producing Model E and H series tractors and improved Models 96 and 98 were readied for production. It is estimated that only three dozen tractors were sold from the Wisconsin location.

With no structured dealer organization, Custom faced stiff financial challenges. By late 1954, Custom had ceased U.S. operations. Tractores de Mexico S.A. acquired the last remnants of Custom in 1955. FC

Wards Toy Tractor

Photo by Fred Hendricks

In 2006, SpecCast (the sole producer of Wards toys) released a narrow-front Wards model with a Chrysler 6-cylinder engine. SpecCast produced the limited-edition convertible wide-front Wards model shown above in recognition of the Missouri Future Farmers of America in 2008. Also in 2008, SpecCast produced a 1951 Wards row-crop puller, inscribed with Family Tradition. All three are precision-built, 1/16-scale, resin models.

Freelance writer Fred Hendricks of Mansfield, Ohio, covers a vast array of subjects relating to agriculture. Email Fred at fwhendricks@gmail.com.

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