A Plymouth By Any Other Name May Be A Silver King

Plymouth tractor

Fate-Root-Heath's Plymouth tractor.

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3203 Norton Road Radnor, Ohio 43066

In 1884 J- D. Fate formed a company and named it for himself. This company manufactured extrusion machinery used to form drainage tile and bricks and some other types of machinery. In 1888 this company merged with the Freeze Company of Galion, Ohio, to become the Fate-Freeze Company, which in 1894 merged with the Gunsallus Company and took the name the Fate-Gunsallus Company. Two years later, in 1896, the Fate-Gunsallus Company reverted to the J. D. Fate Company name once again. By 1900 this company began to build gasoline powered trucks and buses.

In 1909 the company merged with the Plymouth Truck Company, retaining the J. D. Fate name, and began development of the Plymouth car. One year later they brought out the first Plymouth car. It was powered with a four cycle engine and had a double-disc truck transmission with a chain drive to the axle.

In 1910 the J.D. Fate Company built its first locomotive using some of the engineering from the Plymouth truck, and when this avenue of trade outdistanced the sales of the Plymouth car and truck these were dropped.

This constant merging and absorption of lesser companies has been common in the history of most of today's farm and heavy equipment manufacturers. In 1919, the J. D. Fate Company (manufactures of clay extrusion and other machinery), the Root Brothers Company (Cobbler Suppliers) and the Heath Foundry (metal castings manufacturers) merged to become the Fate-Root-Heath Company. This company formed by J. D. Fate, Percy Root and Charley Heath produced locomotives and clay extruding and processing machinery.

Unveiled on November 10,1933 was the company's first Plymouth tractor. Two hundred and thirty two of these tractors were produced before the Chrysler Corporation came down hard on Fate-Root-Heath for infringement on the use of the name Plymouth.

The company brought out proof that they had manufactured their first Plymouth car in 1910, long before Chrysler thought of using the name. Still, in order to avoid a long court fight and possible negative publicity, Fate-Root-Heath sold their claim on the Plymouth name to Chrysler for one dollar.

This left the manufacturers on the horns of a dilemma. They had a splendid tractor but it had no name. The executives gathered around the board table to decide on a new name for their tractor. They all felt theirs was the 'King' of tractors. One of the board members had brought a bouquet of a silver leaved plant he had grown at home and he had placed it at the center of the table. One man suggested they call the tractor the Silver King. In this lighthearted and fanciful way their tractor was renamed.

A total of 8,600 Silver King tractors were produced between 1934 and 1954. Most of the major tractor manufacturers of this time period were routinely producing as many as 10,000 tractors in a single year. The company's best year was 1937, when they produced between 1,000 and 1,040 tractors because of the great demand of the mower industry.

Fate-Root-Heath produced farm tractors and industrial tractors. This company believed in aiming at the special needs of individual customers and produced as many as ten different models a year. This diversity makes the Silver King highly desirable as a collector tractor today.

The Fate-Root-Heath Company had excellent innovative concept people who included in the tractor design a starter, lights and rubber tires. The first tractors were shipped with both steel wheels and rubber tires. The rubber tires were never returned. The first tires used were Goodyear Diamond treads.

Other features which made the Silver King special were 4-speed transmissions, highway speeds of twenty-five miles, automotive-type steering and, best of all, it could plow all day without gobbling up gasoline. This saved both time and money.

The company, its engineers and work force all pledged themselves to producing the highest quality in their product. Parts were ground to tolerances accurate to one-thousandth of an inch or better. This precision was a necessary ingredient for reliability and long life of Silver King tractors. This company believed Silver King was the best tractor manufactured in America.

So what went wrong ? Why was Silver King left far behind by the other famous manufacturers? First, a fatal flaw some-times befalls the most successful ventures. The executives of the company decided against an innovative idea their engineers designed and wanted to develop. In this case Fate-Root-Heath did not recognize the usefulness of the three-point hitch. One of these engineers left Fate-Root-Heath and went to work for Ferguson and developed the three-point hitch for them.

Secondly, Charley Heath wanted to get out of the manufacturing of tractors and there was no one within the company who would take it over. So all rights were sold to the Mountain State Fabricating Company in Clarksburg, West Virginia. They produced only seventy five tractors before their company failed. Today these tractors can easily be identified because Mountain State used a completely different serial numbering system.

Until March 1966 the Fate-Root-Heath Company remained a family operation. In 1969 the company was sold to Harold Schott and became a wholly owned division of Banner Industries of Cleveland, Ohio. The name Fate-Root-Heath was eventually replaced by the Plymouth Locomotive Works.

The Silver King tractor was sturdy, lively and powerful, and it packed a punch when it pulled a single bottom plow all day without eating up a lot of gasoline. These attributes made it attractive to cost conscious farmers with little time to waste. It even had 'star appeal,' since Mae West purchased a fleet of ninety Silver Kings to tend her vineyard in California.

You can see many examples of these fine antique tractors at the Marion County Steam and Gas Engine Society's 17th annual Steam and Gas Show to be held June 16-19, 1994 on the Marion County Fairgrounds in Marion, Ohio. For information send a self-addressed stamped business envelope to: Earl Scott, 12736 Kaiser Road, Marysville, Ohio 43040 or call (513) 642-0574; (614) 482-2506; (614) 494-2489.

Much of the information (used with permission) for this article came from a series on the history of the Fate-Root-Heath Company by Bill Vossler published Sept./Oct. 1993, Nov./Dec. 1993, and Jan./Feb. 1994 in Polk's Antique Tractor Magazine, Dennis Polk, Publisher, 72435 SR 15, New Paris, IN 46553.