Spark Plug of the Month

Farm Tractor

Courtesy Gerald Lestz, Editor, Gas Engine Magazine.

Gerald Lestz

Content Tools

Union City, Indiana 47390

There he stood, leaning against the vibrating radiator and trying to out-shout the old 25-50 Baker Tractor which was doing 50-horse on the Baker Fan without losing his cheek-full of Bagpipe chawing tobaccer.

'She's doin' 'bout fifty, Joe,' he yelled over the steady, rythmic chug of the mighty Baker which was hitting on all four -- his grin depicting the proudest moment of a Spark plug's life without even losing his precious cud. What a 50-horse Baker couldn't jar loose, I felt his smile would. But Leo kept a tight lip.

From the files of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, we have obtained some old-time farm pictures. Perhaps some Kansas old-timers who are still there or living elsewhere can recall details. If you want to buy prints of the pictures they are obtainable from the Historical Society.

The one pictured above-is a tractor built by E. W. Willard, Morrill, Kansas about 1918.

You haven't met a friendlier

Spark plug than Leo Daniels. As I found out during my brief interview at the Rushville, Ind., Pioneer Engineers Club which turned out to be a shouting match between the human voice and an un-muffled Baker tractor leaning heavily into a tight belt against the Baker Fan, doin' fifty.

Yes, Leo Daniels is the friendly sort of guy who is long on the handshake and broad with the smile. The kind o' fellow who has fun at the shows both on and off his tractor and with the folks. Never sees a stranger does Leo -- whether it pertains to either gas tractors or people. For, as to tractor he's owned them all. As to people, he knows them all. And all of them he likes.

'If you're ever over in our area, pay us a visit,' is the welcome Leo Daniels always holds out to you. 'I've got a lot to show you,' says he.

But, even if I did make it over to Milton, Indiana, where Leo holds forth, despite the gas shortage, I knew I never could afford enough film to take pictures of all the stuff he's collected. For the lineage of old-time gas tractors and gas engines, the steam boilers and uprights and portables, the cider and sorghum mills and burr mills, not to count the horse-drawn implements and sawmill gearing -- to name a few -- read more like a Who's Who in Agricultural Memorabilia Americana than the old-time Sears Roebuck catalog. And I could probably spend the rest of my life there, taking pictures, with no time left to write the story.

'I have a 20-40 Oil Pull, a 25-50 Baker, 17-30 Minneapolis, a four-wheel drive Massey Harris, three Fordsons, an Oliver 70 and F-12 Farmall, a Regular Farmall, C C Case and a 25-40 Allis-Chalmers,' says Leo, just getting a good start at naming his 'family'. (Let's hope his memory doesn't give out.) 'Then I have a 40-62 Huber, a 30-50 Huber and a 15-30 and 10-20 L.C. Huber, a Best 30 Crawler, Caterpillar 10, a Toro Motor Cultivator and a 5-10 Avery Orchard Model tractor, very rare. And that's not all, Joe.' (Wow --that would be one box of film gone now.)

'I have a Model D. John Deere with spoke fly-wheel, a Model A John Deere, and a G-P John Deere and three old steel-wheeled garden tractors,' continues Leo Daniels, flipping through the pages of his classified calculus mentalis. 'And everyone I've named so far are on steel wheels,' says Leo, underlining the steel to let us know he's a stickler to the authentic and original, as per the factory catalog picture.

Naming some of his small internal combustion power, says Leo, I have about sixty gas engines from one to twelve horsepower -- many different kinds, some very rare, such as a 6 H.P. Woodpecker, an Aero-Motor, Fuller Johnson, Stickney  and  Emerson Brantingham, to name a few.'

Almost all of the tractors and gas engines mentioned are in working order and are used in the sawmill, threshing and fodder-shredding operations on the Leo Daniels Farm.

Top picture is an old-time threshing scene at the Leo Daniels Farm in 1971 and by tractor power. Next shows Leo and Jerry Daniels cutting wheat by tractor in 1968. Following scene shows Spark Plug Leo Daniels likes the smell of smoke and feel of the throttle on Walter Hood's 20-75 Nichols-Shepard which he houses at his farm. Bottom scene is Leo Daniels Baker, Best 30 and Woodpecker gas engine in background. Pictures are from Leo Daniels, Route 1, Milton, Indiana.

It seems that I have interests in many things,' says Leo. (As if we hadn't already guessed.) 'I have two stone burr mills and a sugar cane mill and cider press to make our own cider.' (While Leo takes time out to aim for the gobboon, I'll slip a new sheet into my typewriter. One page won't hold it all.)

Don't get the idea you've heard it all. For Leo Daniels goes on and on, listing his 'goodies' of yesteryear in other and diverse fields. And, in case you've already judged him a landlubber confined to merely tilling the soil -- forget it. This guy once sprouted wings to soar high and beyond the line fence -- and has the remnants to prove it.

Says Leo, 'I used to do some flying, way back when you flew by the seat of your pants. I still have a rare Heath-Parasol airplane engine and some parts from my planes, including the propeller and tail section.'

And Daniels doesn't want us to overlook his seven antique outboard motors, dating from 1914 to 1928. And he hastens to inform us he has a very old high-wheeled bicycle (the kind you fall off of and get laid up in the hospital in traction from trying to ride it if you don't know how.)

Then there is the antique motorcycle which he still has around -- to sort of remind him of the days when he used to zoom up the muddy turnpike roads, scaring all the horses into running away with their buggies and farm wagons and upsetting neighbors in corn shocks and wheat fields.

And still he hasn't mentioned his portable 50-horse Frick steam engine, and the several small stationary steam engines and upright boilers he has sitting around, just for atmosphere. Or the Advance-Rumely 28-46 separator and the New Idea shredder which he uses for threshing grain and shredding each year.

'We also have a sawmill which we use now and then,' says Leo. 'And I also have some horse-drawn implements.'

In case you might think that Leo Daniels has a lot of stuff just to play around with and have fun --don't. For the list of early gas tractors he's worn out in his farming over the years is just as impressive and endless.

'Yes, I was a farm boy -- raised at Riley, Ohio, a small town south of Oxford. Then we moved to Indiana in 1930. I helped my father with the threshing and working a great deal with horses before the gas tractors. I didn't get started with steam.'

Above is the 20-40 Rumely Oil-Pull on the Leo Daniels Farm. At top, that's Leo with the rig coming to do the family threshing. Bottom shows son, Jerry, standing beside Oil Pull. Pictures from Leo Daniels.

'My first tractor was a Fordson, then the 10-20's, 15-30's and (here we go again), 20-40 Oil Pulls', says he. 'After that it was the John Deere A's and B's, followed by a Minneapolis, Baker, Allis-Chalmers, Avery, some Hubers, a Toro, Oliver 70, the F-20's and F-12's. And somewhere between the John Deere and Minneapolis, a Frick portable steam engine came in.'

To use it reads like a Who's Who in the evolution of American farm tractors. But to Leo Daniels it meant trying them all out, possibly wearing some out, to see which one was best in getting the job done. And it doesn't surprise us when he comes up with this statement, 'I've always been interested in mechanics.'

'I do all my own work in restoring these tractors and engines and machinery,' says Leo. 'I have made several of my own shop tools such as a power hacksaw, an air-compressor, a drill press and trip-hammer.'

Leo Daniels is proud of the fact that he, and his wife, Josephine, still farm their 140 acres of rich river-bottom which lies along the winding, beautiful Whitewater River -- a waterway fraught with Indian legend and lore.

Altho Leo's daughter, Lucille, and two grandchildren live in far away California, he does have his son, Jerry, who still lives at home and is attending classes at Indiana University East at Richmond, Indiana.

'Jerry helps me out with the tractors and engines,' says Leo.

The only show that Leo Daniels takes a tractor to, for exhibition and performance -- as well as just to have fun -- is the Pioneer Engineers Club at Rushville, Indiana. After all, it would be most difficult and costly to move even a portion of his menagerie elsewhere for public showing, when all he has to do is remain 'back on the farm' and 'down in the river bottom' where every day he puts on a different show anyhow.

And who are we to doubt that, everytime he makes sorghum, or presses apple-squeezin's for cider, does a bit o' sawmillin' or threshes a jag o' wheat -- any and all who have a nose to smell and an ear to hear the barking of an old-time tractor come a-running anyway. At least that's what we'd do, if we were just happening by within earshot and our nostrils caught wind of that sorghum 'n cider.

All of us who remember -- we thank you, Leo, for preserving the sights and sounds and smells of yesteryear so dear. And for all your unwavering interest and labor in gathering together such an impressive array of old-time Americana we doff our Spark Plug katy, and dust off a front-row seat in our Hall of Spark Plug Fame.

Our love is greater than all the junk men who envy you. And hover over you, like buzzards at a banquet. GM-74