One of the first tractor companies in this country – with the unwieldy name of The Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Co. – was started in 1893 in Waterloo, Iowa, to make John Froelich’s tractor.
Based on its 52-day threshing run in the fall of 1892, the Froelich machine is credited with being the first successful gasoline-powered traction engine.
Froelich’s first tractor may have been satisfactory, but his subsequent efforts were less so. According to one source, four tractors were built that first year and only two of those were sold, both to be returned as no good. John Froelich kept tinkering, but the other principals in the company prioritized the manufacture of Waterloo Boy stationary gas engines since they sold well. A tractor guy, Froelich left the firm, which subsequently changed its name to Waterloo Gas Engine Co. and became quite successful with its line of stationary gas engines for farm use.
Eventually, in 1911, Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. did build a tractor, a 9,000-pound, 25 hp machine with a 4-cylinder, cross-mounted engine and an exhaust-induced draft-cooling system similar to that used in many of its contemporaries. This model was available with standard rear drive wheels or with crawler tracks, in which case it was called the Waterloo Boy “Sure Grip, Never Slip” tractor.
Third time’s a charm
A lightweight (3,000 pounds) Model L (soon renamed the Model LA) was produced with a 15 hp, 2-cylinder, horizontally opposed engine. The opposed engine didn’t work out, but the lightweight, 2-cylinder design seemed ideal, so by 1914 Louis B. Witry had designed a horizontal, 2-cylinder engine with side-by-side cylinders.
The new machine was designated the Waterloo Boy Model R and rated at 12 drawbar and 24 belt hp. It had a single speed forward and the same in reverse, and did away with the exhaust-induced cooling by substituting an automotive-type tubular radiator and fan.
The Waterloo Boy was light, nimble and reliable and sold like hotcakes. As evidence of its popularity, the design was copied by several other tractor manufacturers. Although Deere & Co. likes to call the Waterloo Boy the first of “The Long Green Line,” early Waterloo Boy tractors were actually painted mostly a dark red color (in color ads, only the frame appears to be dark green).
Launched in 1914, the Waterloo Boy arrived just in time to help Great Britain, which was suffering under severe food shortages caused by the German U-boat blockade during The Great War. British farmers, short-handed and short of horses, were being urged to plow more land for planting cereal crops, but how?
Inspiration for the Ferguson System
Two London men, Howard Hawke and L.J. Martin, had joined forces in 1912 to import Amanco gasoline engines from Associated Manufacturers Co., Waterloo, Iowa. In 1915, they established Overtime Farm Tractor Co. to import Waterloo Boy farm tractors from America. While most American tractors brought to Great Britain during the war retained their original colors and names, that was not the case with the Waterloo Boy.
Waterloo shipped the tractors partly knocked down in wooden crates. As they were assembled, the tractor’s frame, front axle and rear fenders were painted dark green; the engine, fuel tank and radiator were painted gray; and the wheels (and possibly the flywheel) were painted red (although restored examples of Overtime tractors found at tractor shows display many variations on this theme). A unique Overtime transfer was applied to the front of the fuel tank; no trace of the Waterloo Boy markings remained.
Overtime tractors were sold in London, as well as in Edinburgh, Scotland, by Scottish Motor Traction Co., and in Belfast, Ireland, by Harry Ferguson. This seems to have been the trigger that started Ferguson on his quest to improve the plow. As he and right-hand-man Willie Sands demonstrated the Overtime tractor and a 3-bottom Cockshutt plow to skeptical Irish farmers, and instructed them in the use of other manufacturers’ plows, Ferguson realized the complexity and difficulty of adjusting plows of the day to do good work.
“There must be a better way of doing the job,” he told Sands. “We’ll design a plough,” and the two men began a 20-year quest for a lightweight plow that was integrated with the tractor pulling it. The result was the famous Ferguson System!
Felled by Agricultural Depression of 1920
The Overtime tractor initially sold for £231, less than the price of its competitors, and it was reliable and easy to start and handle. At the 1917 Highland Tractor Trials in Scotland, the Overtime pulled a 4-bottom plow. Described as working “very satisfactorily,” it completed an acre in 63 minutes on 2 gallons of “cheap paraffin” (the British term for tractor fuel).
During that time, Hawke and Martin also imported a few Allwork tractors made by Electric Wheel Co., Quincy, Illinois, but they were unable to match the Overtime in performance or price, and very few were sold.
By 1917, the Overtime’s price rose to £325, but demand remained high. At times the British took almost the entire output of the Waterloo factory. Even the influx of the Ministry of Munitions (MOM) Fordson tractors didn’t do much to dampen demand for the Overtime, and there was a chronic problem with unfilled orders.
In March 1918, Deere & Co. bought Waterloo Gas Engine Co. and, as a result, the British firm became a distributor for Deere implements as well as the Overtime tractor and advertised the 4-bottom John Deere No. 5 self-lift plow as the “Overtime New Model Plough.”
The Overtime tractor was still available after the war, but a severe agricultural depression set in during 1920 and demand fell away dramatically in Britain and the U.S. Both the Overtime and Waterloo Boy tractors were discontinued by 1923. FC
The author is greatly indebted to David Parfitt (whose excellent website www.steel-wheels.net is well worth a look) for the two photos of Overtime tractors on the rally field.Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.