Beavers, bulls and bears, oh my! Tractor manufacturers use animal names so products seem wild and tough
"Hamster" and "Bunny Rabbit" are two names tractor companies never chose for their machines , for good reason: They aren't hardy or tough, two traits tractors need to perform hard labor on the farm. About 30 companies and tractors have been named after animals, like the modern-day Steiger Panther and Melroe Bobcat. Most, however, were built before 1930, and can be divided into three categories: tractor companies and/or their tractors with animal names, tractors with animal names from other companies, and tractor company and tractor names that might be a stretch.
At least 20 companies adopted animal names so their products might seem wild, independent and tough. Some are well-known, like Bull Tractor Co. of Minneapolis, whose Little Bull sold 4,000 units the first six months after its introduction in 1914, the fastest-selling tractor ever up to that time; the Caterpillar Tractor Co. of Peoria, Ill.; and Buffalo-Pitts Co. of New York City.
Others are much less known, like Alligator Tractor Co. of St. Louis, which manufactured the Model 66-G crawler in 1964-65; little else is known about the company.
New York City seems an unlikely place for a tractor company, but in 1923 Bear Tractor Co. began manufacturing 25-35 crawlers there. These 3-ton machines sold for $4,250. Promotional writers touted the Bear's compactness (118 by 54 inches), flexibility, 6-foot turning radius, and no-trouble track, which moved independently up and down over large objects. The company's motto was "The tractor that delivers its power to the drawbar."
Beaver Manufacturing Co. of Milwaukee, often referred to as a tractor manufacturer, actually made tractor engines, the JA 4 1/2- by 6-inch and the JB 4 3/4- by 6-inch bore and stroke. Beaver Tractor Co., Stratford, Conn., made Beaver garden tractors in the late 1940s.
The Bull Dog 30 tractor is an odd-looking machine whose four equal-sized but unusual wheels made it resemble the toy Hubley Avery 18-36 tractor. Bull Dog Tractor Co. of Oshkosh, Wis., manufactured the Bull Dog 30, powered by a Waukesha four-cylinder engine of 5- by 6 1/2-inch bore and stroke in 1920. Selling for $4,250, it was overpriced at a time when the great tractor wars and Agricultural Depression were beginning.
Though Chicago's Bullock Tractor Co. possessed an animal name, the company's tractors were Creeping Grip and Baby Creeper tractors prior to their 1920 merger with Franklin Flexible Tractor Co. of Greenville, Ohio.
A great tractor company of yore, Eagle Tractor Co. of Appleton, Wis., is little-known today, despite its manufacture of at least 20 different high-flying Eagles from 1910-1930, as well as complete traction trucks to create tractors. The company disdained the alphabet, started with Model D tractors, moving to F, then H, back to E, and skipping G. Eagle also manufactured a six-cylinder tractor.
In 1911 a writer at the Appleton Post noted that a tractor built in his fair city was making waves. A four-cylinder, 70 hp gasoline traction engine was hauling stone from the C.F. Smith Stone Quarry to Appleton, performing the work of at least eight horses. The Eagle could pull four wagonloads of stone - 11 cords -averaging 2,600 pounds per cord. The Eagle made four trips daily, doubling the output of horses, and could be increased by adding more wagons. It sped along at 2-4 mph, doing 'very little damage' to the roads.
Eagle gas tractors made the distinctive sound of steam engines for farmers nostalgic for bygone days. The company was nailed by the Nebraska Tractor Tests for questionable advertising, when Eagle's advertising claims - effectiveness of air breather, quality of engine governing, ability to burn kerosene as perfectly as gasoline - did not hold true. On the other hand, another Appleton company, Fox Tractor Co., is virtually unknown, as, says C.H. Wendel in Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, "It is said that less than a dozen Fox tractors were built," starting in 1919 with their 20-40 Fox, with a 5 1/2- by 7 1/2-inch bore and stroke. The Agricultural Depression of 1920 finished the company.
Information is scant for some of the most appealing animal-named tractor companies, like Ground Hog Tractor Co., of Detroit, which incorporated in 1920, then disappeared.
The fierceness of competition among tractor companies is exhibited in the saga of the Lion tractor, 'strong as a lion, made of steel, sensation of the world, never tired, never hungry, never sick,' first marketed in late 1914 by the Lion Tractor Co. of Minneapolis.
The Bull Tractor Co. immediately sued, claiming it had commissioned D.M. Hartsough, Bull's tractor designer, to make another tractor, which would sell for $50 less than the Bull (farmers at this time almost always bought the cheapest machine).
Hartsough, BTC's suit claimed, then sold the design to Lion Tractor Co., and it became the Lion tractor. Also, BTC claimed "Lion" was selected to mislead purchasers to believe the machine was sold by P.J. Lyons, a well-known Bull Tractor Co. stockholder. The court prohibited the Lion (the only two-wheeled tractor on the market, and with all its weight directly over the drive wheels) from being built. Simultaneously, the court discovered Lion Tractor Co. had made only three tractors thus far. LTC ignored the injunction, made a few more Lions, and was fined. Lion Tractor Co. was then ordered not to make Lion tractors with the identical brake-steering device as the Bull. LTC then added "Inc." to its name, reorganized, sold a few more Lions and a couple of years later went out of business.
Pony Tractor Co. of LaPorte, Ind., another animal-named company, was organized in 1919, then disappeared, probably without manufacturing any Ponies.
Wolverine Tractor Co. started in Detroit and moved to Saginaw, Mich., in 1920, while manufacturing a Wolverine 15-30 tractor with 4- by 6-inch bore and stroke with overhead valves, 12 1/2 feet long, weighing 5,000 pounds. Shortly afterwards the company disappeared.
The Angleworm 10 was one tractor with an animal name built by a non-animal-named company. Badley Tractor Co. of Portland, Ore., made it starting in 1934, but it disappeared by the beginning of World War II.
The Little Bear tractor was unusual because it was actually built with Ford Model T parts, including the steering wheel. This low-cost tractor built by L.A. Auto Tractor Co. from 1919-1921, weighed 1,600 pounds and should have been easy to repair, with the great availability of Model T parts.
In 1919 Goold, Shapley & Muir Co. of Brantford, Ontario, Canada, manufactured its Beaver tractor, a 12-24 with a Waukesha four-cylinder 4 1/2- by 6 3/4-inch bore and stroke. It had seven forward or reverse speeds, weighed 5,800 pounds, and disappeared in 1922, when Goold abandoned tractor manufacturing.
Caterpillar Tractor Co. was not the first to build a "Cat." That honor went to the Four Drive Tractor Co. of Big Rapids, Mich., in 1927, with its Model E 15-30 Cat tractor. It weighed 5,800 pounds, used a Waukesha four-cylinder engine of 4 3/8- by 5 3/4-inch bore and stroke, and died out when Four Drive went out of business in 1930.
Kansas City Hay Press Co. of Kansas City, Mo., can probably be forgiven for naming its tractor the "Prairie Dog," considering the abundance of the pests in their Great Plains location. Name or not, it was successful; four models were built: the original 12-25 in 1914; the Model L 9-18, in 1917; the 10-18 in 1920, (a re-rated 9-18); and the large 15-30 Model D with a 4 1/2- by 6 1/4-inch bore and stroke in 1920. The renamed Kansas City Hay Press & Tractor Co. went out of business by 1922.
Gaar-Scott tractors, after the company's purchase by M. Rumely Co. in 1911, were renamed the TigerPull line, reminiscent of Rumely's successful OilPull line. Once Gaar-Scott's tractor parts inventory ran out, so did the TigerPulls.
Toro (from the Spanish word for bull) tractors were first produced by Toro Motor Co. of Minneapolis in 1918. The Toro was a two-row power cultivator with a LeRoi four-cylinder engine of 3 1/8- by 4 1/2-inch bore and stroke. In about 1920, Toro manufactured the To-Ro cultivator (echoing 'two-row,' which it was). Over the years, Toro has produced smaller tractors and lawn-mowers.
Wallis Tractor Co. of Cleveland produced its Wallis Bear in 1912, and in 1913, the Wallis Cub. Fewer than a dozen Bears were made, and only one is known to exist today.
Besides Wolverine tractors built by companies with that name, the Ypsilanti Hay Press Co. of Ypsilanti, Mich., manufactured the Wolverine tractor in 1912, producing 18, 25 and 35 hp machines with a sliding gear transmission and a pair of forward speeds off a two-cylinder opposed engine.
With a bit of imagination, this group of tractors and companies can be included in the group of those with animal names.
In mythology, a centaur was a creature with the head, arms and trunks of a man, and the body and legs of a horse. Centaur Tractor Corp. of Greenwich, Ohio, manufactured various Centaur garden tractors starting in 1921, and the 2,200-pound Centaur KV (Kleav-View) 22. Centaurs were built until World War II.
The Farm Horse tractor was built first by Farm Horse Traction Works of Hartford, S.D., in 1916, and then Guttenberg, Iowa, in 1919. The 15-26 model weighed 4,800 pounds and sold for $895. Their 5,000-pound 18-30 Farm Horse tractor sold for $1,685 in 1920, after which the company disappeared, as did many from 1919 to 1921, the result of the Agricultural Depression.
Early Parrett tractors were built by Independent Harvester Co. of Piano, 111., and sold well enough that Dent and Henry Parrett, and Henry Pollard, formed the Parrett Tractor Co. of Chicago in 1914. They manufactured three other Parrett models: a 10-20, a 12-25 Model E and H, and a 15-30 Model K, through 1918.
The Parrett brothers also started Parrett Motors Corp. in 1920 to produce Parrett motor cultivators, 6-12 machines with a LeRoi four-cylinder engine with a 3 1/8- by 4 1/2-inch bore and stroke. PMC disappeared in 1921. Dent Parrett alone started Parrett Tractors Inc. of Benton Harbor, Mich., in 1935. That 2,600-pound Parrett tractor was sold for only one year. Bert B. Parrett organized the Parrett Tractor Co. in Jackson, Mich., but that's about as far as it got.
The phoenix is a mythical bird of great beauty that lived 500-600 years, burned itself up, then recreated itself from its ashes to live again, young and beautiful once more. Two companies of that name existed, Phoenix Manufacturing Co., Eau Claire, Wis., and Phoenix Tractor Co., Winona, Minn. The only Phoenix tractor (a 20-30 machine in 1912) was built at Winona, and soon disappeared, bought out by American Gas Engine Co. of Kansas City, which began selling the Phoenix as the Weber.
Other "animal-named" tractors or companies - Iron Horse, Little Pet, Rex, Webfoot, Steel Hoof - would be too great a stretch to be included here. R.B. Gray, in The Agricultural Tractor 1855-1950, even says one tractor's lugs were modeled after the footprint of the ancient mastodon, 'an ancient quadruped,' but doesn't say which tractor.
Today, few tractors are named after animals, probably because there is little need for manufacturers to prove that their machines can do the difficult and demanding work of tilling the soil, and probably because 900 tractor companies have dwindled down to a handful that have loyal followers, and successful lines whose names have nothing to do with animals. FC
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; (320) 253-5414; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .