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

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.