Iron Man Antique Tractor Collector

A would-be farmer settles for a collection of rare antique tractors, including a 1931 Allis-Chalmers Monarch 50.

| August 2018

  • This unrestored 1931 Allis-Chalmers Monarch 50 tractor is still in very good condition.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Robert Lefever’s Monarch 50 tractor.
    Photo by Nikki Rajala.
  • This 1931 Allis-Chalmers Monarch 50 tractor has an Allis-Chalmers engine, different from the original Stearns engine in the Monarchs produced by Monarch Tractor Co., Watertown, Wis., and Springfield, Ill.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Robert says his 1931 Allis-Chalmers Monarch 50 tractor gives a bumpy ride, as most tractors with crawler treads do.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Echoing a popular song of World War I, this 1919 Monarch Tractor Co. ad in Tractor & Gas Engine Review said the Monarch had been “Proved ‘over there’ and ‘over here.’”
    Image courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Robert Lefever.
    Photo courtesy Robert Lefever
  • ”Little brother to the big tanks.” Monarch Tractor Co., in a March 1919 ad in Tractor and Gas Engine Review.
    Image courtesy Bill Vossler
  • In this January 1920 ad in The New York State Farm Grower, the Hoke company noted that “Quality put the ‘OK’ in the Hoke tractor.”
    Image courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Robert’s unusual General tractor, which shares similarities with the Hoke.
    Photo courtesy Robert Lefever

For Robert Lefever, antique tractors are a sort of consolation prize. “When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a farmer, but that didn’t work out as a possibility,” Robert says. “It was a rough and tumble business, and pretty expensive and difficult to get into it.”

Instead, he settled for watching the engineers at one of the oldest tractor shows in the country, the Pennsylvania Farm Show. Located near Harrisburg, the show marks its 102nd year in 2018.

That sufficed when he was young, and in the long run, he says, it probably worked out for the best. After working in a family petroleum business for years, he bought a 33-acre farm where he can house his unique tractors and produce sheet metal fenders and hoods for antique tractors.

Robert bought his first tractor, a 1929 McCormick-Deering 10-20, in 1964. “At that time, it was socially unacceptable to buy old junk like tractors, but I was interested in it, so I bought it as a toy to play with, at a time when they were cheap,” he says. “After a few years, collecting tractors got bigger.” Noticing a shortage of sheet metal parts for tractors, he began producing them commercially.



As the popularity of antique tractors picked up speed, Robert began collecting crawlers. “Again, years ago, those crawlers were cheap,” he says. “They were the undesirable tractors of the hobby, so nobody much bothered with them.”

1931 Allis-Chalmers Monarch 50

About 15 years ago, he noticed a 1931 Allis-Chalmers Monarch 50 tractor for sale at a Missouri auction. Knowing he didn‘t have a Monarch in his collection, Robert asked a friend to take a look at it, and, if it looked decent, to buy it for Robert.

“It was located close to the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, so I had it taken there, and that’s where I keep it yet today,” he says. “The people at the show have been very kind to allow me to do that. So once a year I go and visit it and have fun with it.”

Years ago, the Monarch was used for township road maintenance, Robert says, but it came from a collection, so much of the earlier history is lost. “There aren’t too many Monarchs around,” he says, “which is one of the reasons I bought it. It was in good running condition then, just as it is now. I‘m glad I bought it because I‘ve never seen another one for sale. I like stuff that nobody else has.”

Even after a year in storage, the Monarch springs to life after Robert primes it with a bit of gasoline. He remains intrigued by the crawler, but he says he wouldn’t have bought it for regular use.

“If I was going to work a crawler, I’d use another one to do that. This one has a steering wheel on it, which makes it odd because not too many crawlers have that. And it’s not the nicest thing to drive,” he says. “This crawler is bouncy, like pretty much all crawlers, and I can live with that, but to steer it, you have to work every time you steer it. I’d rather have a crawler with the levers. I like that setup a lot better.”

Tracing the Monarch’s lineage

Robert’s Monarch 50 has the same engine as an Allis-Chalmers Model E tractor, a 4-cylinder with a liquid-cooled vertical I-head, of 510.5 cubic inches. In Nebraska Test No. 179 (June 27-July 3, 1930), the A-C Monarch developed the claimed 50 hp on the drawbar, pulling 6,000 pounds.

That information was pretty much the same as Nebraska Tractor Test No. 147, for the Monarch 6-Ton tractor, in 1927. That Monarch was built in Springfield, Illinois, at the Monarch Tractor Co. plant, and was almost identical to Robert’s Model 50. After Allis-Chalmers purchased Monarch Tractor Co. in 1928, the Monarch 6-Ton tractor was renamed the Monarch 50.

The Monarch purchase proved to be a prudent move for Allis-Chalmers. “Before the purchase, the farm tractor and equipment division of Allis-Chalmers represented 6.8 percent of the company’s business,” notes Keith Haddock in Giant Earthmovers: An Illustrated History. “By 1930, with the addition of Monarch, the tractor division accounted for almost 30 percent of Allis-Chalmers’ total business.”

Other differences included the use of an Allis-Chalmers engine in the new Monarch 50, compared to the Stearns engine that Monarch Tractor Co. had used. “You don’t see them around very often,” Robert says.



1918 Hoke 12-24

Robert’s 1918 Hoke 12-24 tractor is one of only two known to exist. First used in Nebraska, it came to his collection about 25 years ago. “It originally had a plow mounted under it, but that’s long gone,” he says. “It’s similar to the Moline Universal, a more-or-less overgrown garden tractor. You could put a binder on behind it, sit on the binder and drive it.”

A two-plow tractor with a Waukesha engine, the Hoke was manufactured in South Bend, Indiana, by Hoke Tractor Co. John I. Hoke launched his first tractor in 1912, in Washington, Indiana. He was granted a patent for his universal tractor design, and moved to South Bend a year later. The company only lasted to about 1918.

“It’s an odd tractor, and people like to see odd stuff,” Robert says. “There’s hardly anything else like it. It was probably designed so you could use your horse machinery behind the tractor. The design was different, with the huge drive wheels at the front and the seat at the back for the operator.”

The Hoke is a product of a time when tractor design was still evolving. “There was a lot of trial and error,” Robert says. “It was a time when companies thought a ‘universal‘ tractor would be the one that would catch on.”

Bringing them home

Because Robert regularly buys tractors overseas, he sometimes faces challenges in getting his purchases home. “The tractors I buy overseas are put in shipping containers, loaded on a ship and eventually they show up here in Pennsylvania,” he says.

Years ago, his Monarch was used for township road maintenance, Robert says, but it came from a collection, so much of the earlier history is lost. “There aren’t too many Monarchs around,” he says, “which is one of the reasons I bought it. It was in good running condition then, just as it is now. I‘m glad I bought it because I‘ve never seen another one for sale. I like stuff that nobody else has.”

“This is my life. It keeps me out of the bars and off the streets,” he says with a laugh. “I travel around the world every two years, go to Australia and look for tractors down there. I have a lot of friends there, and we have a good time together.” FC

For more information: Robert Lefever, 879 Goshen Mill Rd., Peach Bottom, PA 17563; (717) 548-4131; email: RL17563@aol.com

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: wdvossler@outlook.com.


Tracking the Monarch Tractor Co.

Following the history of the Monarch tractor line is a notoriously difficult undertaking. An article titled “Monarch Lightfoot and Neverslip” in the May 1919 edition of Tractor and Gas Engine Review is one of few reliable sources on the Monarch Tractor Co. Though the article does not specifically refer to the Monarch 6-Ton tractor, which later became the Allis-Chalmers Monarch 50, it does give basic information:

“This tractor is of the flat-wheel or creeper-type and lays its own track over sand, mud, freshly plowed soil, swamps or any sort of footing that might be difficult for a round wheel type of tractor to work on. The weight of the tractor is distributed over this long wide surface so that the tractor does not bed down in soft soil. The pressure on any one part of the driving surface of the creeper is less than the pressure of a man walking and far less than that of a horse’s hoof.

“It is claimed by the makers of the Monarch that the creeper type of drive makes it possible for all the power delivered through the transmission to the driving wheels to be utilized in doing useful work, there being no loss through slippage. The drive wheels ride like gears in the creeper belt. They cannot slip, regardless of where you are driving the tractor, for they always are riding over a perfect roadbed.

“Ease of operation is one of the big claims made for the Monarch tractors. This tractor will turn around in its own length and turn much more quickly than it is possible to turn a team of horses. The steering is by means of an automobile-type steering wheel and the mechanism is so constructed that the tractor responds readily under the handling of the operator.

“All Monarch tractors are designed to burn kerosene. They are equipped with a combination carburetor and governor control. The usual practice is followed by heating up the motor on gasoline and, when thoroughly heated, shifting over to the kerosene fuel. It is necessary in all gasoline-kerosene burning engines to be sure that the motor is good and hot before switching to kerosene. Otherwise the kerosene will not be burned satisfactorily.

“The motor used is of heavy duty, slow-speed type. Three piston rings are used on each piston. The combination of gasoline and kerosene carburetor is provided and the governor is flyball sensitive control. A combination of splash and pump lubrication is used, which provides an efficient lubrication to all parts. The ignition is high-tension magneto with impulse starter. No batteries are necessary for starting. The cooling system makes use of a circulating water pump and a Perfex bronze radiator.

“The transmission gears are enclosed in dust-proof case and running oil. The gears are cut steel and hardened. The transmission throughout is equipped with high-grade anti-friction bearings. This eliminates much of the care and attention required by the ordinary old type of plain bearings. It does away with the rebabbitting and refitting of boxes. It is the boast of the Monarch people that Neverslip tractors are built from the very best material, with high-grade workmanship throughout, with heavy bronze bearings and the best type of anti-friction roller and ball bearings wherever required, with proper lubrication protected against dirt, grit, sand and dust.

Monarch Tractor Co. of Watertown, Wisconsin, changed its name to General Tractors, Inc., in 1920, and at some point moved to Springfield, Illinois, though it’s unclear when, and doubtless changed its name back to Monarch Tractor Co., before it was purchased by J.I. Case Co. in 1928. – Bill Vossler


The Flash-in-the-pan Hoke Tractor Co.

In 1912, John I. Hoke invented a universal-type tractor. The Washington, Indiana, man named it after himself, as the Hoke, and received a patent for it. “The new tractor showed promise,” says C.H. Wendel in the Encyclopedia of Farm Tractors. Hoke Tractor Co. was formed in South Bend, Indiana, in 1913 to build and market the machine.

Rated at 12-24, Robert’s 1918 Hoke was sold as a 2-plow machine recommended for a 24-inch thresher. It had a turning radius of 12 feet, a Waukesha L 4-cylinder engine, vertical, and a 4-1/2- by 5-3/4-inch bore and stroke. It had two fuel tanks and ran on gasoline and kerosene. The transmission was of the company’s own make. It measured 16 feet long, 56 inches wide and 66 inches high, and weighed 3,800 pounds.

Though most references say the company no longer existed after 1917, The Chilton Tractor Journal of May 1, 1920, said Hoke Tractor Co. (then called Medina Hoke Tractor Co., Medina, New York) had been sold to Indiana Silo Co., Anderson, Indiana. “The Medina plant,“ Chilton said, “is being dismantled and all equipment and materials and parts are being shipped to Anderson. John I. Hoke, inventor of the Medina Hoke tractor, has been retained by the Indiana company as an advising engineer.”

After that, the trail goes cold.



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