Rare Hamilton-Fageol Walking Tractor Found

The only known surviving example of an articulated Hamilton-Fageol walking tractor was rusting away on a ranch near Geyserville, CA.


| May 2006



walking tractor - early Hamilton-Fageol tractor

An early Hamilton-Fageol walking tractor, with the pointed grousers on the front, or drive, wheels. The wheel concept was invented by Rush Hamilton, Healdsville, Calif. Evidence of the machine's articulation can be seen in the location of the rear wheels.

Photo: Farm Collector Magazine Staff

In 1990, Tom Todd of Geyserville, Calif., was buying an old one-lunger generator from Ron Waltensfield on the nearby Hamilton Ranch.

As they walked by a rusty old tractor on the way to the generator, Ron pointed at it and asked Tom if he wanted it. “I said, ‘No, it’s just a piece of junk,’” Tom recalls. “At the time, I didn’t know what it was. It was just a tractor that looked like a rust pile. I didn’t know about its history or its value, and I didn’t know anything about restoring tractors.”

Today that “piece of junk” is the only known example of the Hamilton-Fageol Walking Tractor in existence, and though it is in very rough, not-yet-restored condition, it remains a truly rare find.

Taking Another Look

About a year later Tom, Ron, and another man got into a discussion about an old Sterling truck each was familiar with. Tom remembered a Hamilton tractor had been parked next to it, and wondered aloud what might have happened to that. “Ron asked if I was interested in the Hamilton tractor, and when I told him I was, he said he had a Hamilton,” Tom recalls, “a real early model.” Tom remembers him saying it was rough, but restorable.

Turns out it was the same “pile of junk” Tom had seen earlier. By that time, Tom knew Hamilton tractors were part of Geyserville’s history. “I’m from Geyserville,” says the 56-year-old truck driver, “and I drive by Hamilton Lane and the Hamilton Ranch all the time. So I went and got that old tractor and started restoring it, scraping rust and paint off, and began looking for parts.”

As much as half of the tractor is missing, from the articulated joint back. Damaged parts include the bottom of the early Waukesha Model B engine, which has rusted away. “The rest of the parts – sheet metal, rear axle, the seat – I can make,” Tom says. “The wheels are broken up, so I have to take them to a foundry and have them cast. Using the old ones for a pattern. I can rebuild the clutch and stuff. But that model engine and the parts of it that I need are hard to find.”

Tom’s Hamilton tractor was an early prototype of an articulated tractor, which bends in the middle. “The driver sits over the axle in a seat on the back,” Tom explains.

A Lot of Digging

After ranch owner Wes Hamilton died, Tom speculates, nobody wanted the circa-1915 Hamilton tractor, and it was abandoned and allowed to deteriorate. “It was just a piece of junk back then, so in about 1920 it was placed on the bank of the river as a water break to keep the soil from eroding.”

Prunes were among the crops raised on the ranch, and brush from the prune orchards was pushed on top of the tractor and set on fire, doubtless numerous times. “After Ron bought the ranch, and dug the tractor out in the late 1960s,” Tom says, “there was a big gob of aluminum under the tractor where the crankcase had melted.”

Hamilton History

The history of the Hamilton Walking Tractor is murky. What is known is that Rush Hamilton of Healdsville, CA, (near Geyserville) invented the concept of “spiked” drive wheels, and patented it in 1915 when he formed the Hamilton Tractor Co. About 10 years later, the wheels were called “Hamilton wheels” when used on a Fordson, but it’s unclear if that’s how the wheels were designated when Hamilton first invented them.

He also patented a Hamilton tractor transmission, among other patents. Tom says he talked to Geyserville old-timers who had known Rush Hamilton. “They said he was an inventor, and spent most of his time in San Jose, and invented the spiked wheels,” Tom says.