1918 Heider Tractor

Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390

Joe Fahnestock

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Dayton Daily News & Radio's 'Joe's Journal'

Whenever we come across a fellow who makes a practice of 'just stringin' other folks along', we shrug our shoulders, tap our heads and cast the evil eye at him -- then go on.

'Don't want nothin' to do with that there kind o' feller,' thinks we.

But when an antique tractor collector strings wires all over his neighbor's house and clear down to his barn -- and comes off with a 28-440 Oliver Tractor for doin' it - 'Well, now that there feller -he's a smart one,' thinks me.

He knows enough 'bout wirin' not to trust professional electricians, so he just up and wired his own modern, new electric house two years ago. Then, when he spotted that Old Oliver 'setting' in his neighbor's barn, casting an evil, covetous eye thereon he suddenly up and convinced friend-neighbor that his house and out-buildings were in immediate need of new wiring.

'He wanted his place wired, and I wanted that old Oliver -- so we just up 'n made a deal,' says Eli Truckner, collector of antique tractors for the past six or seven years. 'Now, altogether I've got about twenty-one of 'em -- all old and odd -- in my collection.'

'Always been a farmer in the Saginaw area,' explained Spark Plug Truckner, fumbling the controls of his ancient and rare old 1918 Heider Tractor, 'neath a spreading chestnut tree on the fairgrounds of the Tri-State Gas Engine-Tractor Reunion, Portland, Ind., last summer. 'As a sideline I moonlighted in my spare time wiring houses -- about twenty in all -- here and there around the country. Then I got interested in old tractors.'

Strange as it may seem, in keeping with life's odd quirks, there was a day when Spark Plug Eli farmed as many as six-hundred acres, with but only one or two tractors to do the job. But after he began collecting tractors, the more tractors he got the less acreage he farmed.

'Now that I've got so many old tractors sitting around, I'm farming only two-hundred and thirty acres of land -- raise mostly navy beans, sugar beets and corn,' says he.

'This old '18 Heider Tractor was made by the Heider Manufacturing Co. of Rock Island, Ill., now part of the J. I. Case Company,' explains Truckner, starting up the fingers and thumbs of both hands to enumerate his collection of old timers. 'Rated at only five-to-ten horsepower, it'll pull one 16-inch plow that I got with it. But I've got too much sense than to risk trying to plow with it.' 'I've also got a nine-to-sixteen hp., two-plow Heider, built in 1915, and a twelve-to-twenty horsepower Heider, built in 1919,' continues Spark Plug Eli T., flopping up more fingers of his mighty bears paw) for Trucker's a hefty-built feller, he is. Hails from the tall pine woods up Michigan-way, he does.)

'Funny thing 'bout these old Heiders. They're all friction-clutch. This one I'm setting on, for instance -- has seven speeds forward, and seven backward,' says Truckner, pointing out the same engineering principle that transmitted power from the engine to the rear-wheels of many of the earliest motor cars.

The operation of the friction-clutch makes possible various engine-to-drive speed ratios by moving the smaller friction wheel at varying distances to and from the center of the drive plate. The principle is simple, not requiring the maze of gears which operate the more modern clutch-transmission system. Yet one is led to marvel how they can pull a load without slipping and/or, having done that -- how can they possibly last a long time? But they do.

Basking 'neath the spreading chestnut tree at the great Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Reunion, Portland, Indiana, Spark Plug Eli Truckner ponders the idiosyn-cracies of his ancient 1918 Heider Tractor, rated at only five-to-ten horsepower. Note the small, half-hidden belt pulley -- 'It's a joke just to please the buyer in that day,' says Eli. 'A fellow couldn't get in behind the frame to belt it up if he wanted to.' The unusual friction-type clutch, has seven speeds forward and seven backward. Eli often has to re-line the friction-clutch with butcher-quality paper. But it works, and was made to pull one plow. 'But I'm not fool enough to try it,' quoth he.

'The friction clutch won't slip,' says Eli. 'If they did, they'd wear out right away -- they're lined with paper. I've made up some of the paper linings. Got to be a certain kind -- a craft paper is best. But I made up this one out of butcher-quality paper.' (Of all things -- a clutch lined with paper. But then, I've heard that in the old days, some of the pilot-wheels of the early locomotives were fabricated of paper-mache.)

'My two larger Heiders, the engine is slid to different positions to get the various speeds,' explains Spark Plug Eli. 'Trouble with these old Heiders, though -- the friction wheel is flat, not bevelled, and thereby wears out quicker, due to the fact that both sides of the friction pulley are at different positions from the center of the driving plate, and therefore a part of it is slipping all the time.' 'I also have an old Go-Tractor, manufactured by The Go and Mamma Co. of Indianapolis, also an Emerson Brand-ingham and an Andrews Tractor made by Minneapolis and a Port Huron Tractor -- all with friction clutch, something quite unusual in a tractor,' pointed out Eli. One of the most questionable features of the old Heider Tractor that Eli Truckner was sitting on was the rather dubious little drive pulley which looked like it never could be utilized for what its name implied.

'The Heider belt pulley looks like a joke -- and it is a joke,' chuckled Truckner. 'I guess the farmer wanted a belt pulley so they put one on, just to say they did. But it's half-hidden down behind the frame, and you couldn't put a belt on it if you tried.'

Indeed, there was no way possible to line a belt on the undersize, makeshift pulley arrangement, unless a fellow cut half the frame away, then removed the engine -- after which what would you have left to furnish the power? But, there it was -- a belt pulley, (in name only) which the glib-tongued, fasttalking, striped-vested salesman could point to with pride in case the overalled farmer under the straw hat 'peared like he wasn't going to buy the contraption less it has all the 'extras.'

'Some of the belt-pulleys on the crank-shaft are a joke, too -- like on my old Moline,' mused Truckner. 'You can't stop it -- how in the world could you ever belt up to anything?'

Counting down the rest of his fingers, Spark Plug Eli Truckner went through the gamut of other old-time tractors he's collected thus far.

'I have three Fordsons, two from Detroit, one Irish, a twelve-twenty Cletrac, made by Cleveland Tractor Co. about 1918 or 1920, a twenty-thirty-five Rumely Oil-Pull, a six-cylinder Eagle made in 1930, a twenty-five-fifty Baker Tractor of 1930 vintage, an eighteen-thirty-six Huber Cross-Motor, year 1923, a 1930 high-clearance Caterpillar for corn cultivation and an 1897 Case Agitator

My 1? hp. Lauson gas engine. Found in junk yard in Roscommon, Michigan. Left is 1? - 2? hp. type 'LA' I.H.C. Right is VA hp. Hercules. I hope to restore the Lauson soon.

Old I.H.C. Farmall Tractor. History unknown.

A nice 'oil Pull' at the '68 show at Bird City.

A Kansas City Hay Press Engine pictured above. This, of course, is a headless engine. They have two pistons building up compression as they come together in the center and then the gas explosion -- or of course kerosene. Thought this might be interesting to readers.

The two old fellows who own this engine say that a large oil company offered them $25,000 for this engine. I told them when those fellows that offer that kind of money for that machine comes in his yard, I hope I'm not there because they must be plum nuts. They are liable to do most anything. I don't think they would be safe to be around -- do you think so?? (Well, I for one, don't know Morris, but that certainly is a lot of money, isn't it? -- Anna Mae.)


Tractor which I'll use at our second Annual Threshing Bee near where I live,' quoth Truckner, coming near the end of his fingers. 'I also have a Horse-Powered International Hay-Baler, dating from 1900.'

'The things I'm getting to play with now, I wish I'd had to work with when I was younger,' pined the Spark Plug. 'But then I enjoy things that are old more than I do the things that are new,' said he, eyeing the present, not the past, as the evil sufficient unto the day. 'One thing I've found out, though -- a lot of the old equipment was way ahead of its times,' snapped Truckner. 'For instance this old Heider came out with a mounted plow way back in 1915 -- way ahead of the others.'

'In my day I've seen good and bad years, and during the good ones I've produced as much as thirty-thousand bushels of all types of grain,' recalled Eli, thrusting out his chest a bit. 'As my neighbor used to say, 'When harvesting, I wish I had less -- when finished I wish I had more.' But last year, when I finally got finished, and the snow was coming, I was glad I had no more.' Now that he's farming less and playing more -- with his old-time tractors, that is -- Spark Plug Eli Truckner tries to make at least seven or eight of the reunion shows.

'I take my various tractors around,' says he. 'But especially 1 like to show this old Heider -- it's special and different, and light to haul,' confided Eli, casting an eye around the sagging bed of his weather-worn four-wheeled trailer.

Three mighty blasts of ether in the Joe Dear carburetor to you, Spark Plug Eli Truckner -- for keeping those old Heiders and all the rest of your ancient farm gearing a-rumbling for others to see. As Elmer so wisely said, like a prophet of long ago, 'Had not vou, and the others like you, put forth all this fine effort, these machines would long ago have been melted down into bullets to damn mankind rather than bless him.'

Hop on now and I'll chug you up to your seat in the vaunted Spark Plug Hall O' Fame.