What’s In the Wallis Tractor Name?

Wallis Tractor Co. collector feels kinship for early tractor line

| October 2012

Ron Wallis was a heavy hitter in the Depression glass hobby. Well known in collector circles, he once displayed more than 2,200 pieces of the pattern known as Laced Edge Katy Blue in his Sandwich, Ill., home. “I had a small fortune tied up in glass,” he admits. But then he discovered an obscure line of antique tractors — Wallis — and cast iron trumped glass.

It all started in a chance conversation with a friend. “He had the March 2007 issue of Farm Collector, the one with the Wallis Bear on the cover,” Ron recalls. “‘It’s spelled just like your last name,’ he said to me. ‘Have you ever seen anything like it?’” Ron hustled home and got on the computer. He tracked down Fred Schmidt, Bluffton, Ohio, one of the owners of the Bear on the Farm Collector cover, and before long Ron and his wife, Patricia, were headed east.

“We spent a whole morning there,” he said. “Fred let me drive the Bear. I was like a kid in an ice cream store.” In visiting with Fred, Ron learned that Wallis Tractor Co. relocated to Racine, Wis., shortly after it was established in Cleveland in 1912. So the Wallises headed northwest to Racine.

“We spent a week in Racine, just digging and digging,” he says. “I tried to find all the information I could because we have the same last name, even if we’re not related.” But 100 years after the company was launched, the trail had gone cold. “We talked to people in Racine who’d never even heard of Wallis,” Ron says. “Even the Racine museum didn’t have very much on the company.”

Early entrant in the industry

Initially an interest of J.I. Case Plow Works Co. with roots going back to 1902, Wallis Tractor Co. was formally organized by H.M. Wallis, son-in-law of Case founder J.I. Case. Between 1912 and 1928, Wallis produced the Bear (already in production before the Wallis company was organized, built under the auspices of J.I. Case Plow Works), the Cub, the Cub Junior (Model J) 13-25, a motor cultivator, the Model K 15-25, the Model OK 15-27 and the Wallis 20-30.

A 1916 historical account of the city of Racine elaborated on the technologically advanced Wallis tractors. “The chief distinctive characteristic … is the frame construction, which consists of steel plate rolled up into a U-shaped boiler construction in which all of the working parts of the tractor are mounted and run in a constant oil bath. Thus the frame of the tractor serves the dual purpose of being a frame and also the housing for the motor base, transmission and differential. The company has been fortunate enough to obtain a basic pattern on this original construction. By reason of its box girder frame construction, the machine is unusually light for its strength and develops more horsepower than any other tractor in the world.”