Midwest Utilitor

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One of the joys of a magazine like GEM is the sharing of information among individuals who may never meet each other, but nonetheless share a hobby. Frequently, subscribers send us ideas for stories or old manuals which might lead us to do some research. Charles Shelton of 1528 Cliftwood Drive, Clarksville, IN 47130 is one reader who sends us stories and photos and about a year ago, sent us a 1920 Midwest Utilitor manual, which got us started on this story. As we began, we found that another subscriber, Howard W. Andrews of 59 Buena Vista Avenue, Rumson, NJ 07760 had also sent us a 1920 Spare Parts Price List for the Utilitor. Additional information was furnished to us by the Indiana Historical Society and the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission.

The Utilitor was a garden tractor manufactured by the Midwest Engine Company of Indianapolis. The company's history begins with the life of Stoughton A. Fletcher, Jr., who was born October 25, 1831. He was the son of Calvin Fletcher, an early pioneer in the area, and first lawyer in Indianapolis. Stoughton Fletcher had eight brothers and all were raised on the farm, received fine educations and became successful in various occupations. Apparently Stoughton showed great aptitude for agriculture and agricultural machinery. In 1853, he became conductor on the Bellefontaine Railroad and rose to the rank of superintendent within two years. 'He not only understood cars, but locomotives and railroad machinery,' according to the 1884 History of Indianapolis and Marion County.''

After several years in the railroad business, Fletcher moved on to banking, then the gas company, of which he was president for ten years. 'In 1878 he, through various circumstances, became the head of the Atlas Engine-Works, where portable and Atlas-Corliss engines are turned out by nearly six hundred hands,' the History continues. 'Its business extends over the whole Union and to distant foreign lands, and is said to be the largest and best equipped concern of its kind west of the Alleghanies.'

According to the 1902 Journal Handbook of Indianapolis, the beginnings of what was to become Atlas Engine Works (the largest exclusive engine and boiler works in the world) in the city, were the project of the Indianapolis Car Manufacturing Company. 'In 1880 the policy of miscellaneous manufacturing on orders was abandoned and the company deter mined to devote itself exclusively to the manufacture of steam engines and boilers of standard types and sizes.

'This meant repetitive construction, with interchangeable parts; the manufacture of engines and boilers in lots, instead of one at a time, and the carrying of large stocks of manufactured merchandise, not only in Indianapolis, but at various distributing points. These methods of production and distribution, so common today, were then new in heavy machinery and they were supplemented by constant effort to produce better goods, to sell them for less money, and to increase the volume of the business.'

The company apparently grew and prospered until in 1902 it had approximately 1,500 employees, an enormous building and the equipment included 'not only every labor-saving and cost-saving device that can be applied to the manufacture of engines and boilers, but also very complete arrangements for the health and safety of the men employed.'

A March 17, 1902 article in the Indianapolis News reported an in crease of capital and capacity for the 30 year old firm. The firm had in creased its capital by $ 1 million and planned to add to their buildings. At that time, the president was H. H. Hanna.

From an Indiana History Bulletin, 53 (March 1976), in an article by W. S. Huffman entitled 'Indiana's Place in Automobile History,' we see that the Lyons Atlas was manufactured by the Company in 1914, and the Lyons Knight from 1914-1916. Also, in a list of manufacturers of 'Tractors- Steam Engines' we find the Hume, made by Lyons-Atlas, and the Utilitor, made by Mid West Engine Co. The Indianapolis Automobile Indus try Thematic District nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, which included several still extant portions of the factory complex, provides additional history:

'The gasoline-engine production of the Atlas Engine was absorbed by the Lyons-Atlas Company in 1912. They produced a car called the Lyons-Atlas from 1912-1914 and also a car called Lyons-Knight from 1914-1915. The Lyons Atlas Company also absorbed the Atlas Motor Car Company of Springfield, Massachusetts .. . Five and even seven-passenger cars, as well as a closed limousine, were among the large automobiles produced by this company.'


The nomination goes on to say that after 1919, the firm continued to build truck and tractor engines, and produced six-cylinder engines for the 'Handley' of Handley Motors, Inc. of Kalamazoo, and for the H.C.S. Motor Car Co. of Indianapolis. The Midwest Engine Company was dissolved in the 1930's.

In an Indianapolis News article published October 26, 1912, announcement is made that 'Whistles of Atlas Engine Works Now Cal-ling Hundreds of Indianapolis Workingmen Back To Benches of Big Shops.' Additional company history is given in this article as follows:

'No industrial transaction in recent years has aroused such interest in local business circles as the acquisition of the Atlas Engine Works by James W. Lyons of Chicago and his associate capitalists. After almost five years of reduced activity and court control, the city's largest industry this week entered upon a new era that promises to eclipse all of its previous records as a producer and as an employer of men.'

Lyons was joined in the acquisition by his two brothers, William P. and George W., as vice president and secretary-treasurer respectively. The brothers were said to have entered the Indianapolis industrial field 'with practically unlimited capital.' Plans were announced for a $250,000 expenditure to increase capacity of the plant. Lyons had long been associated with some of the largest engine building concerns of the United States, including Allis-Chalmers.

The article goes on to detail the assets of the plant, which took up 27 acres of a 65 acre site and allowed for 427,000 square feet of manufacturing space. There was also a local rail-road. 'Seven miles of track run into every part of the works and it is a matter of Atlas history that one of their flat cars once was lost for several days, illustrating the magnitude of the concern.'

At the time of the article, the latest addition to the plant had been for the manufacture of the Silent Knight engine and Standard poppet-valve motor engines. (According to the World Almanac of 1912, the Silent Knight, invented by Charles Knight, a Chicago newspaperman, had been introduced to America some years ago without much interest. Only after Knight introduced it to the European market where it was widely manufactured, did it gain worldwide approval. Then the American makers took notice and by November 1, 1912, four manufacturers had been licensed to build it in the U. S.)

'The manufacture of the Diesel oil engine, which attained a reputation for efficiency and economy is to constitute a large part of the new corporation's interest. A diesel engine now in service at the Atlas plant was designed by Norman McCarty, of this city, and has proved its efficiency in every way.'

McCarty was apparently a NewYork engine designer who came to Indianapolis to work for Atlas in the last years of the old organization. McCarty was to be retained by the new management, as was F. H. Baker. At this stage in its history, Atlas had apparently manufactured more than thirty-five thousand steam engines, and thousands of boilers and motors. The news of the sale was said to be 'the one topic in every household and business place in the vicinity' of northeastern Indianapolis.

More change was announced in the Indianapolis Star on June 23, 1918. The Midwest Engine Company, a new $3.5 million firm controlled by Stoughton A. Fletcher, evolved from a merger of Lyons-Atlas with the Hill Pump Concern of Anderson, Indiana. The Hill Pump Company principally manufactured turbine engines and pumps, while the Lyons-Atlas Company by now was producing principally Diesel engines. Another $1 million addition to the plant was announced. The company predicted sales of $20 million annually and a work force of 5,000 after the addition was completed. Hill Pump Concern brought with it, apparently, a large volume of government contracts, and both concerns were producing turbine engines suitable for use in sub-marine chasers and ocean-going ships.

The story continues, and another article in the Star on July 12, 1922, announces that Midwest's assets were sold for $312,500, and management was taken over by a Reorganization Committee. The plan called for a name change to Midwest Engine Corporation.

Unfortunately, none of the material we found could tell us more about the Utilitor Garden Tractor, and what kind of success it may have known- how long it was manufactured or in what quantities, but hopefully one of our readers could fill in the gaps here. We would certainly like to hear from you if you have more information.

The Utilitor as a Stationary Engine

Subscriber Dennis Silva, 89 Arrowhead Dr., Griswold, Connecticut 06351, sent us quite a bit of information on the Utilitoras manufactured by the Midwest Engine Company (pre-corporate). Included in this information were the following detailed specifications:

The tractor was powered by a one cylinder, 4 cycle, L-head vertical type motor, with a 3? bore and 4?' stroke. The normal speed was 1200 r.p.m., with 4 HP at the pulley and 2 HP at the drawbar. All working parts of the motor were enclosed, and were water-cooled. Ignition was accomplished with an Eisenman high tension magneto.

The Utilitor had a total weight of 700 pounds, measured 84 inches long, 17? inches wide, and 3 feet high. Speed range was 1 to 4 miles per hour, with 2? m.p.h. being the recommended plowing speed. The body color was red, with yellow bull wheels and green flywheels.

Advertisements for the Utilitor, appearing in such magazines as The Country Gentleman circa 1919-1920, lauded the tractor for its ability to 'do more work than one horse or mule and do it better and cheaper. As a tractor it will plow, harrow, cultivate, mow the lawn, pull small loads; as a stationary engine it will saw wood, pump water, grind feed, turn grindstone, run separator or churn, or do the work of any 4 HP stationary engine.' All this work was claimed to be done for a cost of approximately five cents an hour.

Several Utilitor ads from issues of Country Gentleman, sent to us by Dennis Silva.

An interesting note in many of Midwest Engine Company's advertisements is the number of women pictured using the Utilitor.

By the summer of 1920 the company had received so many testimonials to the usefulness and economy of the Utilitor that they published 'Yes!', a promotional booklet of owner experiences with the tractor. An excerpt from a letter dated June 21, 1920, states, 'I have not had a horse or mule on my place since I rolled the Utilitor off the truck. The tractor and a one-ton truck have taken the place of a five-hundred-dollar pair of mules.'

The Utilitor, with standard equipment (magneto, air cleaner, 16 inch castor wheels, standard or cultivating quick detachable rims, handles, belt pulley and double clutch), sold for $345 complete.

At press time, we heard from Doug Tallman, 121 St. Rt. 224, Greenwich, OH 44837, who owns tractor #3531. We'll try to get a picture of this and any others for use in a future issue!