It would take a brave man to try to tell readers of the Gas Engine Magazine anything about the gasoline tractor.
This is a field in which even the angels fear to tread and of which the full story has yet to be told.
In all modesty we can say that the Western Development Museum has one of the largest and most varied collection of gas tractors on the North American continent. Where else can you find a tractor whose main and only frame is a 6 x 10 length of lumber. The front wheel assembly bolted on to the front of the log and the rear wheel to the back. It was built in Medicine Hat Alberta. Competent visitors from all over the world express surprise and delight at our gas tractor displays. There are about 250 all told and most of them are restored to operating order.
In a companion letter, now going out to the Iron Men's Album the Museum tells the story of the Museum transition from a disused air force hangar of World War Two to a new building on Exhibition Park in Saskatoon. The writer of this article was an immigrant coming from England to Saskatchewan in 1908. Enough said! This will indicate that he was a witness to the birth pains of the coming of the. gas tractor to the wheat fields of Saskatchewan in the early years of the present century.
The term gas tractor covers a very broad field since such tractors would burn anything from gunpowder, turpentine, water, whiskey, powdered coal, distillate, coal oil and of course gasoline. I personally knew an early gas tractor man who claimed he had operated a Rumely Oil Pull on a quart of whiskey. This may have been a sinful waste of good 'likker' but it at least proved a point. John Froelich built a gas tractor in the United States in 1892. It was the forerunner of the Waterloo Boy. Two of the most prominent names in gas engine history are Charlie Hart and Charlie Paar. Their number one engine was produced in 1901. It weighed ten tons and was rated at 45 horse power on the belt and 22 on the draw bar. The Hart Paar was one of the first tractors to use fuel other than gasoline.
What can the gas enthusiast expect to see at the Western Development Museums in Saskatchewan in the way of internal combustion engines--to give them their proper name. We are not like the placid girl of whom it was said that her emotions ran all the way from A to B. The Museum gas tractors start with the Allis Chalmers and go all the way down to the Wallis. Along about the 1910 period it was open season for the makers of gas engines. Anyone with wild ideas that he could build a gas tractor went ahead and did it, even if he went broke at the job, as many did.
If such machines would operate on almost anything in the nature of fuel the same thing applied to their driving. The Museum has tractors driven by one wheel, by two or three or by four. And the drive wheels go up to, and over, eight feet in height. The cop-out is a Museum gas tractor with five wheels! Such engines were powered with from one cylinder, as big as a barrel, all the way up to six. One four cylinder engine was obligingly furnished with four carburetors.
A good example of the unusual type is the Gray Drum Drive. The one and only rear driving wheel is almost five feet across. It was supposed to not pack the ground, leaving an imprint less than the weight of a man's foot. Private comments, and they are very private, are that it was a rebel to steer. Another unusual machine is the Bates Steel Mule. This strange looking machine is a 3 plow tractor costing $1375, new in 1917. If it ran over a dead leaf it would roll over on its side. Field equipment for this track type machine was a team of horses with spare gas, water and oil. The team was used for pulling the tractor upright again after a turn over.
One of the early large I.H.C. Moguls was equipped with a one horse power engine bolted on to the frame. If you were able to start the small engine it was used to start the big one. The only hitch in this arrangement was that you had to master the vagaries of starting two engines instead of one. Anyone who has helped to swing over two tons of fly wheel and cylinders on a cold and frosty fall morning will believe that any help in starting was appreciated.
A Museum Moline gas tractor was too light for the owner. He removed the two drive wheels, laid them down in a cement mixture and put a five hundred pound block of concrete in each wheel. Another Museum tractor is one in which the driver rode the seed drill or binder the tractor was hitched to and drove the machine from the implement.
'Alpha' engine made for the De Laval Separator Company by Lauson Power Products in May 1932, S. N. 75018, 1 to 2? HP, 850 to 1400 rpm. Wico type B rotary driven magneto was original equipment which is not the type shown on the engine--(anyone have one?)
Many of these early gas tractors were difficult to start, hard to keep going and brutes to ride, but the farm boy of the 1920s took them in his stride. It was said in those days that when a steamer gave trouble it took ten minutes to find out the trouble and a half a day to fix it. When a gas .engine balked it took half a day to find out the difficulty and ten minutes to fix it. Very often it was just a loose wire or an empty gas tank.
A significant advance in tractor manufacturing was made in the 1930s when the gas tractor changed over from steel to rubber tires for the drive wheels. This lengthened the life of the tractor and, incidentally the life of the operator. Another great forward step was the use of diesel fuel.
Other features soon followed such as the power take off and equipment for front and rear loading and hoisting. The modern farm tractor is a moveable power plant on wheels. It is a living tribute to those who wrestled with the early machines to bring them to the perfection exemplified by the farm tractor today. It is hard to say who deserves the most credit. The early gas tractor operator, engaged in almost mortal com-bat with his ornery old style machine or the dedicated experts working in the labs to give us this modern mechanical marvel. We salute the grunt and groan boys of the early gas engine era. See them all at Saskatoon or at our thriving branches at North Battleford or York-ton. Come and see us. We enjoy meeting you.
If you have charm, you don't need to have anything else; and if you don't have it, it doesn't matter what else you have.