In about 1876, Jerome I. Case financed a new venture to build a “center-draft” plow that had been designed by Ebenezer Whiting. Case, Whiting & Co. was located right next to the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co., but was completely separate and, after buying out Whiting, Case renamed it the J.I. Case Plow Co. and assumed the presidency of both firms. In 1884, the company became the J.I. Case Plow Works and built a full line of plows and other tillage tools.
In 1890, Case resigned as president and named his son, Jackson I. Case, to the post. The younger Case wasn’t interested in building plows, so in 1892, Henry M. Wallis, Case’s son-in-law, became president. Upon his death in 1891, J.I. Case’s will stipulated that his stock in the threshing machine company be sold, but left his stock in the Plow Works to his family.
First unit design for production tractor
J.I. Case Plow Works was fairly successful, but by 1910, Henry Wallis was feeling the need for a gasoline tractor. Meanwhile, Robert O. Hendrickson, who had trained as a watchmaker and worked on the Big 4 tractor for Gas Traction Co., was designing a big, three-wheeled tractor for Ajax Auto Traction Co., Portland, Oregon. The Ajax owner died in 1911 and Hendrickson took his tractor patents to Morgan Engineering in Alliance, Ohio, where he improved the design.
At that point, Wallis got wind of the thing and hired Hendrickson as chief engineer. Lacking factory space in Racine, Wallis took over the empty Royal Tourist Automobile plant in Cleveland, Ohio, and the result was the Wallis Bear 30-50. This behemoth, powered by a 7-1/2-inch-by-9-inch, 4-cylinder in-line engine manufactured by H.L.F. Trebert Engine Works of Rochester, New York, weighed more than 10 tons, with rear wheels measuring 7 feet in diameter with a 30-inch face and power-assisted steering. Only a few of these were built and Hendrickson, with the help of another tractor engineer, Clarence M. Eason, began work on a completely new tractor.
To eliminate the problem of frame members twisting under heavy loads and uneven ground, the two engineers had a single sheet of heavy steel rolled into a long U shape. This trough took the place of the frame or backbone of the tractor that was strong enough to eliminate any twisting, and served as the engine crankcase and the bottom of the transmission and final drive as well.
The design was the first production tractor to feature such a unit design, although Henry Ford was at the time developing his Fordson tractor with the engine, transmission and rear end castings all bolted to each other to form a single self-supporting unit. Before too many years, most tractor manufacturers had adopted this unit-frame construction.
The 4-cylinder engine was apparently designed in-house and had a 6-inch-by-7-inch bore and stroke, would operate on gasoline or kerosene, and was said to put out 26hp on the drawbar and 44 at the belt. Although not exactly tiny (it weighed about 4 tons), it was less than half the size of its predecessor, the Wallis Bear, and so was called the Wallis Cub.
The challenge of an endurance test
A Wallis Cub tractor had the distinction, in June 1915, of being the first farm tractor ever driven cross-country on a 1,000-mile durability run. The third annual National Power Farming Demonstration at Fremont, Nebraska, was coming up in mid-August and Henry Wallis decided to have his entry driven the 1,000 miles from the factory to the show, a feat never before attempted with a tractor.
Accordingly, a Wallis Cub with no wheel lugs and fresh off the assembly floor was hitched to a canvas-topped Mitchell farm wagon that was loaded with 1 ton of tools, oil, grease, a set of wheel lugs and the three drivers’ luggage. Leaving the Cleveland factory at 1:20 p.m. on June 21 and accompanied by an escort car, the caravan bravely headed west. The run across northern Ohio was primarily on good roads, “rock, sand pike, dirt, gravel and cinders, but it all looked alike to the Cub.” By the end of the sixth day, the Wallis and its crew reached Indiana, spending the night at Butler.
On through northern Indiana the crowds along the way grew as the newspapers picked up the story – Wallis was getting his desired publicity – but into Illinois the rain hit and mud roads became a problem, making it necessary several times to put lugs on the wheels. Fighting rain and mud most all the way through Illinois (at one point it took 5-1/2 hours to go 8 miles, although on another 15-mile stretch of pavement, they were clocked by the escort car as going 5-1/2 mph), the caravan finally reached the Mississippi on July 8, after 17 days on the road.
Cub makes its film debut
Across Iowa more of the same. A crew member’s log entry: “Ye gods! How did it rain! The Cub towed us into town (Knoxville, Iowa), our caravan resembling a tug pulling a houseboat rather than a tractor drawing a covered wagon.” They plowed on, stopping to pull several cars out of mud holes and once getting stuck themselves, although they were able to dig themselves out, and reached Council Bluffs on July 23.
Only 50 miles to Fremont and time to spare, so across the “Wide Missouri” and into the Nebraska rain and mud and by noon of July 28, they were just outside Fremont. From another log entry we learn, “Fremont turned out in full force to do honor to the mud-covered ‘Overland Limited’ and a committee from the Commercial Club, composed of Mayor Murrell, George Wolze, Sheriff Condit and Nels Steel, together with a band, led the triumphant procession about the town, amid the tooting of automobile horns and plaudits of the crowds on the street. The parade ended in front of Rex Henry’s implement house, where Mayor Murrell presented us with the key to the city. This ended the greatest durability run ever attempted by a tractor.”
The Wallis Cub and the wagon were cleaned up and, in the interval, before the trials began, was probably the first farm tractor to appear in a movie. The log reads, “The Cub had the distinction of breaking into the movies when it took a prominent part in The Tractor Girl – a drama in four reels – in which Miss Laura Wolze, the beautiful daughter of the Fremont Commercial Club president, was the heroine.
“Miss Wolze, driving the Cub, is supposed to just be completing the 1,000-mile run across the country and, as she nears Fremont, looks through her telescope on the city, with its great tractor show in full sway. The picture then depicts a hearty welcome of ‘the tractor girl’ and the Cub by a committee of prominent Fremont citizens. The Cub took its part well, proving its ability to do the right thing at the right time.”
A Fremont newspaper reported that the Wallis Cub went on to set a record for fast plowing at the trials. “The Wallis Cub tractor, of cross-country fame, lowered its own record of last year for plowing 3 acres with a 4-bottom plow from 87-1/2 minutes to 77 minutes. Coupled with this remarkable performance was the fact that the land the Cub was plowing had a depression half-filled with water and the plows had to be dragged through it. Other tractors filled their wet spots with straw and lifted their plows across but the little Cub pulled its 4-bottom plows through without lifting them once.”
The J.I. Case Plow Works struggled during the 1920s and was bought by Massey-Harris in 1928, with subsequent Massey-Harris tractors evolving from the well-engineered Wallis. FC
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 email@example.com.