Mr. Monarch

1926 Monarch crawler tractor

Bruce Zumwalt poses next to his prized restoration project: a 1926 Monarch crawler tractor that was manufactured in Peoria. He brought the Monarch back from the Buckley (Michigan) Old Engine Show in August 1995.

Content Tools

News Editor 1492 East Walnut Street Watseka, Illinois 60970

Reprinted with permission from Iroquois County (Illinois) Times-Republic, where it originally appeared in the January 5, 1996 edition.

Frequently a young boy never forgets this love affair with a tractor. And so it is with Bruce Zumwalt of Sheldon.

His fondness for a powerful and sturdy machine known as the Monarch crawler can be traced to the Great Depression years of 1928-30, when he recalls, 'I was just a little boy' and he rode with Alvin Batt, who was then the Concord Township road commissioner, as Batt used the Monarch to grade roads and shape water-drain off ditches between Sheldon and Iroquois.

'A lot of kids develop a love for certain types of machinery, and for me, the Monarch was it,' said Zumwalt.

So you can imagine his reaction when he first attended the Buckley (Mich.) Old Engine Show on the third weekend of August in 1989 and discovered a Monarch tractor there.

'This was the first year I had attended this show and I could hardly believe my eyes,' he said. 'I had my camper there, so I stayed for the full four or five days of the show and asked people at the information booth if they could gather any historical details concerning this Monarch crawler.'

Zumwalt subsequently learned that this tractor had sat at Buckley in 'junk row' for more than 20 years after it had been deposited there by its former owner, Albert Abacht of Grayling, Michigan.

Located in the same junk row was a collection of other aging surplus farm machinery; threshers, drills, planters, corn shellers and other tractors.

The Monarch, covered by a tarp, had gone largely ignored since the early 1970s, and in 1993, Leonard Clouse founder of the Buckley show visited with Zumwalt at the show and told him, 'If you want to restore this tractor, take it home and may be when you have it fixed up, you'll want to bring it back and put it in our show.'

Zumwalt said Clouse 'is 83 years old and looks better than most people at 60. He is truly a piece of living history. He and his wife have a 1903 Reo car that he drove in the parade at Buckley in 1994 when they were king and queen of the show.'

Zumwalt noted that Clouse has a lot of rare machinery, including a hand-fed small threshing machine made by Case, a hand-fed stone-crushing machine used to make stone for roads, and a 1910 tricycle Bull tractor that drives from its one large rear wheel.

Michigan farmer/trucker Ora Davis mounted the Monarch on a flatbed trailer and hauled it eight hours south to Sheldon last August.

So thus this Monarch tractor has been rescued from a junk heap and brought home not only to someone who loves it but back to Illinois, where it was originally manufactured.

The Monarch Tractor Company was started in Watertown, Wisconsin, in 1918, and after a brief move to Chicago, it relocated to Springfield in 1924. Monarchs were manufactured there until 1928, when the company was purchased by Allis-Chalmers.

Zumwalt's Monarch was manufactured in Springfield in 1926; it is officially known as the Monarch 50 crawler, signifying its 50-drawbar horsepower.

Zumwalt's Monarch is relatively scarce, because only about 120 of these 50-horsepower crawlers were made. His Monarch is gray in color, which also demonstrates its manufacture before the Allis-Chalmers buyout.

After that purchase, Allis-Chalmers crawlers were done in the popular Persian orange of other Allis-Chalmers tractors and featured that company's own engine.

'My Monarch has the Stearns engine, which was an engine adaptable to many vehicles, including tugboats, trucks, tractors, cars, and stationary engines,' said Zumwalt. 'This was a large and very reliable engine. It was manufactured in Ludington, Michigan, by Stearns Engine Company.'

Zumwalt said he and one of his sons, John, will begin restoration work on the Monarch this season. And almost miraculously, despite spending more than two decades on a junk row, it has no serious rust problem.

'This is because the air in northern Michigan has a very low humidity,' he explained. 'Machinery there doesn't rust out like it might here in Iroquois County.'

He added that the Monarch is also largely free of dents, which can be another time-consuming headache for antique tractor restorers.

For Bruce and John Zumwalt, work on the Monarch will be one more step in their restoration hobby: they are now completing work on an International Harvester Model F-30.

'Our main work on the Monarch will involve the engine and the clutch,' said Bruce. 'I have already taken the spark plugs out and squirted the engine with Kano oil, which I hope will loosen things up.'

After letting the oil work on the engine parts, 'we will pull the heads in our shop, then remove the gaskets, springs and all contents of the heads. We'll check the condition of all the valves, because the old valves may not be worth grinding and we may have to get new valves.'

If new valves are needed, he'll contact a supplier he knows in Washington state. Contacting such long-distance suppliers is nothing unusual for restoration buffs: Zumwalt once phoned seven states while seeking parts for one of his tractor restoration projects.

'I hope I don't have to make too many parts for this Monarch myself, because this is very time-consuming,' he said.

All properly working parts of the Monarch's engine and clutch will be cleaned and reinstalled.

'We'll want to be sure there are no cracks in the head,' Zumwalt pointed out. 'It may have to be magnifluxed to reveal any cracks and if we discover any, we'll send the head to Chapman Cylinder Head Company in Chapman for the necessary repairs.'

He said the Monarch's pistons will require a close examination, 'and it may need all new gaskets, and we may need to make them ourselves.

'We need to be sure all the pistons are working freely, and we may need to take off the connecting rods and hammer down into them and oil them to get them free,' Zumwalt noted. 'As for the clutch, it should be easy to get at. It may be stuck, in which case we'll need a special oil to loosen it up.'

The pins, rollers, brakes and tracks on the Monarch are all in good working condition, he reported.

'When I got the Monarch, one of the arm rests was bent, but it is now being repaired and painted at Ollie's Machine Shop in Sheldon,' he added.

Operators of the Buckley Old Engine Show refer to Zumwalt as 'Mr. Monarch.' When he completes this restoration project, the nickname may stick.