Ward Tractor Launched into Oblivion

Cushman-powered Ward Tractor failed to capture the market


The 20 HP version of the Ward Tractor Plow, without canopy, pulling field equipment bearing the name Deering New Ideals.

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It was not uncommon for early gas engines made for general farm or industrial use to find their way into both homemade and factory-made tractors. It was also not uncommon that many of these tractors had limited success. Such is the case with the Ward Tractor Co., manufacturers of the Ward Tractor Plow, powered by Cushman Motor Works 2-cylinder engines, all made in Lincoln, Neb.

The Men

From at least 1910 to 1922, Louis M. (L.M.) Ward was secretary, and ultimately, vice president of Cushman Motor Works, evidenced by original factory letterhead, other company literature bearing his name and Lincoln city directories for the period. Everett B. Cushman is also listed as a mechanical engineer during this time. By 1920, Everett Cushman was no longer a part of the company he helped found. After moving to Topeka, Kan., he designed a unique engine for the Piersen Co. with a rotating radiator in the flywheel (GEM, December 2001, pages 16-19). The Piersen sales brochure from that time states: “Mr. E.B. Cushman, designer of the Superior Piersen Motor, has won a nationwide and enviable reputation as a designer of high grade gasoline motors. The Superior Piersen Motor has fittingly crowned Mr. Cushman's reputation as an engine designer.” The brass nametags on these engines distinguished his career as an engineer, and he eventually settled in California, where he also designed a radiator-in-flywheel engine for the Bean Sprayer Co. A brilliant engineer and devoted Christian, it is said by some he was a better engineer and inventor than businessman.

The Machines

During the period in question, Cushman Motor Works experienced ups and downs in its success in manufacturing and selling gas engines for farm or industrial use.

  Among the engines made in its Lincoln factory were the famous 4 HP Model C “binder” engines, and several 2-cylinder, 4-cycle engines including an 8, 10, 15 and 20 HP. Out of apparent loyalty to the company for which he worked, his firsthand knowledge of the quality and capabilities of these lightweight, high quality engines, and no doubt some favorable cost and availability considerations, Ward chose the Cushman engines for his new company's tractors. Information available shows that at least the 8 and 20 HP Cushman engines were used in Ward tractors.

C.H. Wendel notes in Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, “L.M. Ward, manager of Cushman Motor Works at Lincoln, Neb. (identified in an overview of Cushman in Lincoln and Lancaster County, 1916, as ‘factory and production manager') announced plans for the Ward Tractor Plow in 1912. Within a few months, the Ward Tractor Co. was apparently organized at Lincoln. This machine was shown at the National Tractor Demonstration at Fremont, Neb., where it received a lot of attention. Power came from a 20 HP 2-cylinder engine. This outfit was about the extent of Cushman's involvement in the U.S. tractor trade, although their Canadian division sold some tractors.” (Wendel's book also shows the Macdonald Tractor and the Multi-Tractor, both featuring Cushman engines.)

  Wendel makes no reference to the 8 HP version of the Ward, and I believe that until photos of the 8 HP version surfaced recently from a West Virginia estate, it was unknown as the photos were unseen for 80-plus years.

The Company

It is not clear what, if any, engineering training or experience Ward had. Lincoln city directories from 1910 to 1922 initially show L.M. Ward only as secretary of Cushman Motor Works from 1910 to 1913. The first listing for Ward Tractor Co. appears in 1914, although Wendel suggests Ward founded the company shortly after 1912. Ward is still listed as secretary of Cushman and also as president of the Ward Tractor Co. from 1914 to 1917.

In 1916, John Therkelsen's name first appears in listings as superintendent of the new Ward Co. The company's 1917 address of 2020 N St. would have been in the same block as Cushman Motor Works, probably even sharing one of Cushman's buildings.

The 1918 and 1919 city directories are missing, but in 1920 the name changed to Ward Mfg. Co. In 1921, Ward continued to be listed as president of the Ward Co. and secretary of Cushman, but then in the last listing in 1922, he is listed as vice president of Cushman Motor Works, with no reference to the Ward Co. It seems the Ward Mfg. Co. had ceased to exist, while Ward was elevated to vice president of the Cushman Co. It makes you wonder which event precipitated the other.

Posing Questions

The Corporations Division of the Nebraska Secretary of State's office shows no Articles of Incorporation for either the Ward Tractor Co. or Ward Tractor Plow. The University of Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory and Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum, the repository for the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory archives and equipment, has no record that a Ward tractor was ever tested by them. Mandatory tractor testing did not begin until 1919.

The only advertisement known to have been published for the Ward Tractor Co. was in the February 1914, issue of Gas Review magazine. The address in the ad, 2100 N St., would again have been one of the buildings, or at least in the same block occupied by the Cushman Motor Works factory and foundry at the time. The ad makes clear reference to a 20 HP Cushman engine, and in reference to the Fremont, Neb., Plowing Demonstration, it reports the Ward Tractor Plow did “The best job of plowing on the grounds.” With this type of glowing report, it's a wonder the Ward didn't enjoy greater success. No price information is found for either the 20 HP or the later 8 HP version.

There is at least one other picture of the 20 HP Ward Tractor Plow. It is shown “working,” not plowing, even though the 3-bottom plow is attached. Rather, it is operating a 17-inch ensilage cutter and blower, filling a silo 35 feet high, on a farm near Lincoln in a photo that appears in an original circa-1912 Cushman Motor sales brochure, promoting the 20 HP Cushman engine, more than the Ward Tractor Plow.

Based on these “known” dates, the Gas Review ad, and the dates on Therkelsen's original drawings of the 8 HP version of the Ward, the 8 HP model came several years after the 20 HP version, even though both sizes of Cushman engines were manufactured at the same time.

Little is known about the engineer whose name appears on the mechanical drawings. John Therkelsen is identified in city directory listings for the Ward Tractor Co./Ward Mfg. Co. as superintendent from 1916 to 1920.

My original photos came from an estate in West Virginia and show the 8 HP Ward Tractor apparently being field tested near Lincoln, so it would appear that at least a prototype was made. The tractor is mounted with a mower blade and is pulling a rake, but it is not shown plowing. The limited number of cleats on the rear wheels were perhaps a sign it was “pieced together” for test purposes, or that it was not a particularly rigorous test.

Cushman Motor Works continued to enjoy varying success manufacturing water-cooled farm and industrial engines until 1952, when the last Cubs were made. (By then, the air-cooled Cushman Husky engines had taken their place.) Many Cushmans are in the hands of engine collectors and enthusiasts today, although the 20 HP models are not as plentiful as the binder engines or Cubs. Cushmans frequently appear at threshing, tractor and engine shows around the country, sometimes even as feature engines.

Yet it would appear that for whatever reason, the Ward Tractor Co. was not successful, as there is no record of how many tractors were actually made, no evidence that any were sold and it is believed that no examples of the Cushman-powered Ward Tractors survive today. Obviously, I would be delighted to hear from anyone who has further knowledge of the Ward Tractor Co. or the Ward Tractor Plow.

The Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum is open daily on the East Campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For visits, contact them at: (402) 472-8389; e-mail: tractormuseum2@unl.edu or visit their website at: http://tractormuseum.unl.edu  

Contact engine enthusiast Jim L. Brown at: browncushman@aol.com