Victim of the Times and Rival Tractor Companies

The promising Grain Belt tractor was swamped by stiff competition from hundreds of other tractor companies and ultimately discontinued.

| May 2015

  • Grain Belt 18-36 tractor
    By the time this photo of a Grain Belt 18-36 was taken, Grain Belt Mfg. Co. had merged with two other companies, setting the stage for an uncertain future.
    Photo courtesy Richard Birklid
  • 1917 Grain Belt 15-30 tractor
    In 1917, this Grain Belt 15-30 tractor was used near Litchville, N.D. The bank there had invested a great deal of money in the company, and lost it all. This single tractor was its payment. It came to Litchville on a flatcar and was unloaded and bought by an area farmer, who eventually quit using it and put it in his shed. When he decided to put his new combine in his shed, he removed the Grain Belt and sold it for junk.
    Photo courtesy Richard Birklid
  • Grain Belt 18-36 tractor turning sod
    This Grain Belt 18-36 tractor is turning sod at the 1919 Interstate Fair in Fargo, N.D. Fairs were of huge interest to farmers. Each fair had a "machinery hill," where the newest tractor models and other machinery were exhibited.
    Photo courtesy Richard Birklid
  • 1919 Grain Belt tractor
    A stern trio poses with a Grain Belt tractor in front of the company's factory in 1919.
    Photo courtesy Richard Birklid
  • Radial drill at the Grain Belt Mfg. Co. factory
    A look inside Grain Belt Mfg. Co., showing a radial drill in use.
    Photo courtesy Richard Birklid
  • Mammoth lathe at the Grain Belt Mfg. Co. factory
    A mammoth lathe at work in the Grain Belt Mfg. Co. factory.
    Photo courtesy Richard Birklid
  • Grain Belt tractor ad
    In this 1917 ad, Grain Belt Tractor Co. took advantage of farmers' fears about dirt eating up open gears on tractors. It possessed extra-wide wheels 5 feet in diameter with an 18-inch face, and all the gears and bearings were in an oil-tight case.
    Image courtesy Bill Vossler

  • Grain Belt 18-36 tractor
  • 1917 Grain Belt 15-30 tractor
  • Grain Belt 18-36 tractor turning sod
  • 1919 Grain Belt tractor
  • Radial drill at the Grain Belt Mfg. Co. factory
  • Mammoth lathe at the Grain Belt Mfg. Co. factory
  • Grain Belt tractor ad

The Grain Belt tractor suffered from the same pangs as those endured by most new tractor companies before 1920: strong competition from hundreds of companies trying to break into the suddenly wide-open need for small tractors like the 15-30 Grain Belt, which weighed 5,700 pounds.

These were years of great hype, seemingly the norm for the times, so future buyers could hardly be blamed for being flummoxed as they tried to figure out which might be the best machine for their needs. With three years remaining until the Nebraska Tractor Tests would begin to help rate tractors – sorting the gold from the dross – buying a tractor was a hit-or-miss affair.

The Feb. 28, 1917, issue of Farm Implements magazine describes the new Grain Belt tractor as “designed for those who want a light, substantial machine, of medium weight, designed and built to give the best service possible. The Grain Belt is substantially constructed, insuring long life and ample power, together with low fuel consumption.” Of course, none of the claims could be tested, unless another farmer had a similar machine.

Line launched in Minneapolis

In Fessenden, North Dakota, the Fessenden Free Press reported that the Grain Belt tractor was the invention of Chas. Himrich of Fessenden (though other references say Heinrich). The Jan. 31, 1917, issue of Farm Implements recorded that, “The Grain Belt Co. has been organized under the laws of Minnesota with capital stock of $1,000,000. The directors are Charles Himrich, Fessenden, N.D., C.R. Fletcher, Minneaplis, and Elmer Pitcher, Minneapolis.”



In Farm Tractors 1890-1980, author C.H. Wendel says that Grain Belt Tractor Co. began operations in Minneapolis in 1917. Pitcher, a well-known player in tractor circles of the time, was also involved in the company’s organization. He may even have been involved in the tractor’s design. Among many patents issued to him was one for a Liberty tractor, though it was not granted until 1919. Despite claims that Himrich (or Heinrich) held patents on the Grain Belt, none have ever been found.

Though some references say the first Grain Belt was a 15-35, it was more likely a 15-30, judging by a 1917 ad announcing that model and indicating that the machine was built in Minneapolis at 2115 Como Avenue Southeast.