Rt 1 Franklin, Illinois 62638
Having noticed several letters in Reflections of the GEM lately, concerning Custom Manufacturing Company, I thought I might be able to shed some light on the history of these particular tractors.
Let me start this out in this manner back in 1948 or 1949, a neighbor and old friend of mine, F. Byron Smith, and I decided to make our first million by becoming farm equipment dealers. Let me say at the beginning, that we did not make our million but we were much wiser by the time we finally sold out.
At that particular time in our area there was not much available in dealer franchises. We did, however, hear of an interesting tractor manufactured by Custom Manufacturing of Shelbyville, Indiana. This tractor was marketed through Lehr Equipment Sales, Inc. of Richmond, Indiana and Elizabethtown, Kentucky. If memory serves me correctly, we sold three of these Lehr Big Boys.
These tractors were powered by a Chrysler Industrial #5 engine of 217 cubic inches. They were built with Chrysler components all the way, including transmission and rear-end from 2-2 Dodge trucks. The Lehr Chrysler engine gave no trouble and was very smooth and dependable. We did, however, experience problems with the drive train, mainly axles, ring gear and pinions, and bearings. We also had some problems with the Link-Belt chain reduction unit between the transmission and the rear-end. All in all though, this little Lehr did surprisingly well, pulling a three-fourteen inch plow and on several occasions stayed right with the then popular 'M' International.
Rees & Smith Farm Equipment went on to become dealers for Gleaner combines, New Holland and the wonderful little Ferguson, finally selling out in 1953.
Now the mystery beginsupon going back to my 1950 Tractor Field Book, I find that we have the same tractor as the Lehr Big Boy still made by Custom Mfg. Corp. of Shelbyville Ind., but now called Custom Model 'B' row-crop. Also listed is the Custom Model 'C' Standard which is of course the wide front axle model. Then when we turn the pages, we find what appears to be the same tractor as the Custom Model 'C' Standard but now listed as the Jumbo by Jumbo Steel Products Co., Azusa, California.
When we go to the 1952 Tractor Field Book, we still find the Custom Model 'B' and 'C' but now listed as being manufactured by Harry A. Lowther Co. of Shelbyville, Ind. Here too, we also find something newthe Custom Gyrol Fluid Drive Model HR and Model HW. These two tractors had what was called the 'fluid coupling' and the larger 230.2 cu. in. Chrysler engine. Then as we read on, we find two other models made by Lowther Co.namely the Model 'ER' and the 'EW', equipped with a still larger 250.6 cu. in. Chrysler engine. These also were equipped with fluid couplings. We find nothing in this 1952 book about the Jumbo.
When we move up to the 1953 Tractor Field Book, we for the first time find the tractor that was marketed through Montgomery Ward. This tractor was made by the Custom Tractor Mfg. Co. but now had been moved to Hustisford, Wisconsin. It was the Model 'HR', still with the 230.2 Chrysler and the Gyrol Fluid Drive. In the column next to the 'HR' we see the Model 'HW' but still sporting the Custom name on the hood and grill. Also, we see the Models 'ER' and 'EW' still listed.
Now to add to the confusion, in the 1952-1953 Red Tractor Book, we see the Custom EW &. HW and Custom ER & HR listed as manufactured by Harry A. Lowther Co., Butler, Indiana.
From the 1952 Red Tractor Book, the four illustrations below, all manufactured by the Harry A. Lowther Co. of Shelbyville, Indiana: