Gray Tractor

Earl Olsen

Content Tools

Concrete, North Dakota 58221

I was born in Milton N.D. in June 1900. We lived in Milton until 1907 when we moved to a farm two miles south of town, where we farmed and did custom threshing with steam until 1917, when we bought land near Concrete, N.D. In the winter of 1918 and 1919 I went to Fargo and took a short course on Tractor and Automobile repair. These schools were well attended and were very helpful, as both cars and tractors were new experiences to most of us at that time.

The big steam threshing outfits were beginning to fade out and were being replaced by smaller gas rigs. Many farmers were wanting smaller tractors for farm use and a small separator to go with it.

In 1919 my father, brother Carl and myself bought a new 15-30 Hart Parr tractor which was one of the first small tractors that Hart Parr manufactured. Along with this came a Case 28 Inch separator with a 20 bar cyclinder. We soon found out we had too much separator for the Hart Parr, so in the fall of 1920 we traded the Hart Parr in on a new Gray tractor made in Minneapolis.

I still have this Gray tractor and it is in very nice shape yet. This was an excellent outfit and was used until the combine took over. One year we threshed fifty days and ended up twenty miles from where we started. Starting at home in the valley where the grain ripened earlier than on the higher land enabled us to make such long runs. This old tractor saw a lot of service on farm work, threshing, road work and has broken several hundred acres of raw brush land using a 24 in heavy duty brush plow, turning anything in its way. I always operated this old Gray tractor myself.

In 1922 we bought a used two speed Waterloo Boy for on the grain binder and other farming jobs. Later I got a Wallis Cub Model J with one wheel in front and later a Model K that had two wheels in front. These Wallis tractors were a great improvement in speed and ease in handling.

Their weakness was in the governor and connecting rod bearings. The governor had a rubber diaphram bolted to the block and water pressure held the RPM's where you set it. If the pressure of the water was not up to par, it affected the governor and it would run wild. The connecting rod bearings were kept from turning in the rods by shims and when they were worn, you soon knew it. I overcame that by putting a very thin layer of solder on the bearing which clamped the bearing to the rod and stopped that. I believe the Wallis was one of the first tractors to have removable cylinder sleeves. They were a good tractor in their day. In 1941 I put the Model K on rubber.

Top picture is of the Gray Tractor threshing on the Lein Farm, north of Concrete, North Dakota in 1924. Center photo shows the sturdy Gray breaking brush in 1920s. Bottom shot gives a better view of tractor as it is plowing brush. Harry Carlson standing on the tractor.

Several pages could be filled with some of the experiences we had in those early days in making homemade repairs in the fields. There were very few local dealers, no branch houses and the quickest source of repairs was the factory several hundred miles away. No socket wrenches, electric drills, nor welding of any kind were even thought of then. Some men became mechanics by pure necessity, in order to keep the tractor of those days going.

All of the earlier tractors were subject to more bearing troubles because the bearing materials of today were unknown in those days. It is surprising the number of old models of all makes that can still be found at shows and in the hands of collectors today. Some of us older men have watched the industry grow from the start to what it is today and it has been a big jump. But don't forget while crude as they may seem today, they did their share in making this great agricultural country.