Oddball: The Distinctive Fageol Tractor

Thanks to toothed or 'Spud' drive wheels, Fageol tractors had a distinctly different look from the farm machinery made by other companies then or since.

| December 2002

Fageol tractors were anything but ordinary. The best-known model, the Fageol 9-12 (sometimes identified as an 8-12), was down right odd looking because of the shape of its rear wheels, which had teeth or 'spuds.' Also, the first Fageol tractor really was more of a train than a tractor: it was built for carting passengers around the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition grounds in San Francisco.

The Fageol Motors Co., owned and operated by brothers Frank and William Fageol, opened in 1917 in Oakland, Calif., but Frank and William's first contact with vehicles can be traced to 1899 in Iowa, when at the tender ages of 17 and 19, respectively, they built that state's first automobile. It was a steam-driven, eight-passenger vehicle, and the brothers ferried passengers in it, for a fee, from their hometown of Ankeny, Iowa, to the Iowa State Fair near Des Moines, a distance of about 10 miles.

After moving to California, Frank and William worked on an orchard tractor called the Fageol Walking Tractor without a great deal of success. Then, they got the contract to solve the transportation problems at the Panama Pacific Exposition. As J.H. Fort writes in the book The Fageol Success, 'The Fageols proposed to solve the problem by building a small tractor, using the motor of a popular automobile to draw the passenger trailers. The idea amused and appealed to the directors; the Fageols (required to print 'Fadgl' in large letters on the sides of the tractors so people could pronounce their name) received the transportation concession.'

They used Ford auto motors for power to pull 20-passenger, open-sided trailers around the 635-acre exposition grounds. The tractor/train looked more like a small car with four small wheels, a barrel-shaped hood and a large, mesh-filled front bumper. The wheels of the trailers were shrouded so passengers wouldn't catch clothing or feet in the spokes as they sat in the small cars with their legs dangling off the edges; if they stretched, they could touch the ground with their feet. A sight-seeing trip cost 10 cents, and the project proved wildly popular. After the exposition, the trains were shipped to Chicago and used there, in Lincoln Park.

Building on that success, the Fageol brothers decided in 1917 to construct their own factory. Two thousand people attended the groundbreaking, where the men announced that their newly minted company, Fageol Motors Co. of Oakland, would build military tractors, cars, and trucks.

The end of World War I, a year later, squelched the military tractor plans, but regular tractors were made, and although the Fageols were inventors, their tractors were actually the invention of another man. He was Rush Hamilton of Geyserville, Calif., and he had patented his tractor, and other inventions, in 1915 and formed the Hamilton Tractor Co. His concept was an odd-looking orchard tractor built to tow wagons full of fruit. Instead of flattening ground in front of a plow or harrow or other machinery being pulled, this tractor drew implements along after having loosened the soil by means of its rear wheels, which had long, blade-like teeth.