Tractor Designs: Styled or Unstyled?

Early tractor designs were strictly functional, but in the '30s took a new approach

| February 1999

Rusty iron collectors glibly toss around terms such as "styled" or "unstyled" that can be confusing to the unenlightened. While most of you know the difference, I'll expound on the subject anyway. 

During the first 35 years of farm tractor development, the machines were strictly functional. Little or no thought was given to how they looked. Engines, running gear and operator controls were exposed to the elements, although some manufacturers copied the canopies used on steam traction engines as protection against rain, snow and sun.

By the late teens and early 1920s, most tractor designs made some effort to protect the engine, although the driver's platform was almost always exposed. A long, flattened fuel tank – sometimes supplemented by a short hood – was usually placed above the engine. Some models also had engine side panels, but those were frequently removed to help keep the engine cool. After being removed, those side panels were often thrown on the junk pile. That's why original side panels are so scarce today, with tractor restorers paying high prices for good originals (or even reproductions).

A refinement on many early tractors was a pair of large sheet metal fenders over the rear wheels. These fenders were there for practical reasons rather than for appearance. The huge steel wheels revolving on either side of the operator were not only dangerous, but the steel lugs threw up an incredible amount of dirt, mud or dust.

Along with the functional design of early tractors went plain, unimaginative paint jobs. Virtually all were painted dark gray or green, usually with red wheels. One major exception was Deere and Co., which inherited its bright green-and-yellow paint scheme from the Waterloo Boy tractors it acquired in 1918. That color scheme continues in use today.

In 1929, Allis-Chalmers head Harry Merritt saw "acres of brilliant orange wild poppies" in California. He had the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. develop a paint that duplicated that color. Starting in 1929, Allis-Chalmers machines were painted "Persian Orange."