1902 Hart-Parr No. 1

1902 Hart-Parr No. 1

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1021 F Street, Schuyler, Nebraska 68661

I'm enclosing an article written by W. H. Williams in 1927, which may be of interest to G.E.M. readers.

In going through the article, it seems that Mr. Williams guessed at the weights of the parts he mentions. I looked up the parts he mentions. In my book, the 220 pound crankshaft is listed at 368 pounds for the early number and 350 pounds for the later number. Next he mentions a 500 pound flywheel. The flywheel of the 45 and 60 horse engines, of which Mr. Williams writes, is listed at 1124 pounds. The belt pulley isn't mentioned. The pulley had a 40' diameter and a 12' face. Within this pulley was contained a planetary gear set to provide a reverse gear plus the belt and traction clutch. This conglomeration weighed nearly as much as the flywheel and had to be removed when the crankshaft had to be replaced. No doubt, the service man erected a tripod from which to suspend a block and tackle for this heavy lifting. I was looking at a Hart Parr '60' in Saskatchewan, noticing that the key had split a piece out of the hub and an iron band had been shrunk on to the hub to hold the broken out piece in place. I said it would be a calamity if that flywheel came off while the engine was running. The owner said it did while they were threshing. It rolled past the rack and the wagons and into the 'bush.' They had an awful time getting it out of the bush and then it took 16 men to get it back on the crankshaft. Those 16 men must have been crowded like ants on an ant hill.

Twenty-five years ago there was no such thing as the farm tractor. For the past ten years it has been a commonplace in agriculture. Mechanical inventions develop very rapidly in the twentieth century, whose first years saw many experiments in the tractor building. Several of the large builders of gasoline engines took part in these experiments, but all these designs consisted simply of a stationary gas engine mounted on a truck and when put to field tests failed because they lacked special features to adapt them to this different class of service.

In 1902 the Hart-Parr Company of Charles City, Iowa, put its first farm tractor in the field. The results were valuable chiefly in showing what features their design lacked, and some of the features it should contain. The next twelve months were spent in an entire re-designing of the first model; in the spring of 1903, the first successful model of a gasoline tractor was put in the field. They were purely threshing engines, but could propel themselves and pull a separator around the country. Fifteen of these were sold that first fall, and so well were they designed and built that all of them remained in the field from five to twenty-five years, and six were still in operation as late as 1925. The year 1903, therefore, marked the successful beginning of what is now known as the farm tractor. But the real farm tractor was not to come until after many moons of trials had passed over the heads of the early designers.

In 1905 the Hart-Parr Company re-designed the transmission gears of their 1903 model, making them much heavier, and using an enclosed 'spur differential.' This enabled them to pull plows as well as threshing machines, and marked another step in the right direction. In 1906 they abandoned the old pushrod type of valve gear, and used a rotary valve gear, with removable valve cages and high-tension ignition. These changes did away with most of their ignition troubles. During the next four years most of the weak spots in this 1906 model were worked out through field experience and showed the world that the farm tractor had come to stay, although still far from perfect.

In the summer of 1905, I joined the Hart-Parr Company as sales manager, which position I held for nine years. But these machines were not then known by that name 'tractor.' They were called gasoline traction engines. In 1907 I began using the word 'tractor' in our advertising. In 1912 I began to use the term 'farm tractor,' and the term seemed so appropriate that it has stuck with us ever since.

Those nine years I spent as sales manager were the most strenuous in my life. In the beginning we had all the old, established, powerful steam traction engine builders to fight. They ridiculed the 'gasoline contraption' as they usually called it and unanimously declared it was a failure. Still its sales increased by leaps and bounds. But the worst of our troubles were the weak spots which kept bobbing up in the open field. They seemed to exemplify that old saying, 'Life is just one damned thing after another.' No sooner had we located one weakness and corrected it than another one came up-before we barely had time to catch our breath.

When tractors began to be commonly used for plowing, a new crop of troubles arose. Parts which had never given any trouble for threshing work began breaking with alarming frequency. For example: In 1907  some rear axles broke. They were of four-inch cold-rolled steel. So an axle of five-inch stock turned down at both ends to the bore of the driving wheel hubs was designed. We thought this would cure the trouble, but they broke oftener than the previous design. The designing engineer had overlooked the fact that these axles were subjected to a large and unknown twisting strain, as the drive was through the axle. Making the axle five inches from end to end remedied this difficulty. In 1908 the large differential gear began to break altogether too frequently. Close analysis showed that improper heat treatment in the foundry was the cause, so this was easily remedied. In 1909 driving wheels began to give away. The power of the motor had been increased at least 25% through various refinements in design, so that the driving wheels which had stood up well in 1907 were now too weak for the strain. Increasing the size of the spokes and the thickness of the tire remedied this. In 1910 we began using a drop-forged crankshaft, which, theoretically, was better than a hammered forging. But these broke more frequently than the old design. The cause was traced to improper heat treatment by the makers of the forgings, and this was corrected, but not until it had cost the company at least $100,000 in free repairs and expert service; for by this time we were turning out about twenty tractors per week.

Believe me it was no joke to replace those 220-pound crankshafts. Three times out of four the tractor was located out on the prairies twenty miles from nowhere, and the first thing the field expert had to do was to remove a 500-pound flywheel. He therefore had to carry a formidable kit of tools right to the job with him.

We had other field troubles, but our worst troubles came from the ignorance of the purchasers. Back in those early years, not one farmer in a hundred knew very much about a gas engine. What little experience farmers had came from the use of a small stationary pumping engine. Automobiles were then in about the same stage of development as tractors and even good automobile mechanics were not plentiful. So we had to sell a man a tractor and then teach him how to operate it. But first we had to train a large force of field experts. From 1907-1908 I think we employed about one field expert for every dozen tractors we sold. In the winter of 1909-1910 we began to conduct schools at the various prospective owners of our tractors. These helped very materially. The next year we not only held these schools, but had compiled and had printed a 'Correspondence School' course of lessons in Gas Tractor Operation. We carried on these winter training schools for four or five years, with gratifying results. They helped more than any other factor in training competent operators. Other companies which had come into the field followed our lead and began to hold winter schools of instruction in 1912 and 1913 and by 1914a limited number of good tractor operators could be hired by tractor owners.

The original Hart-Parr models all used two-cylinder, horizontal, slow- speed motors. In 1908 the first crop of tractors having vertical, four- cylinder, high-speed motors appeared in the field. The first of this design was called the 'Transit Thresher.' Through various faults in design and construction, every one of the first year's output, I believe, came back on the hands of the makers, who spent the year 1909 mostly in revising their design and correcting faults, so that when their new model known as the 'Big Four' came out in 1910, it made a creditable showing, and eventually had some fine records. In 1909 the Kinnard-Haines Company (which had sold one or two-cylinder tractors since 1903) entered the field with a tractor equipped with a vertical, four-cylinder, high-speed motor.

The advent of these two tractors, equipped with heavy-duty automobile-type motors, started a controversy which still exists over the question: Which is the best farm tractor motor, the two-cylinder, moderate speed motor or the four-cylinder, high-speed motor?' Both sides have their advocates and good points; the majority of builders are now making the four-cylinder type. In 1910, the M. Rumely Co., one of the large builders of steam traction engines and threshing machines, entered the field with a tractor of the same general design as the Hart-Parr. This was the first of the old-line companies to acknowledge the supremacy of the gas engine as the motive power for the farm tractor. By 1914 almost every builder of threshing machinery was building a farm tractor operated by a gas engine; and several other firms has gasoline tractors on the market.

The first gas tractors were large, heavy machines, equipped with motors of 45 to 60 brake horsepower capacity. They were admirably adapted to the pulling of five to eight plow-bottoms and operating large threshing machines. In the years from 1907 to 1914, they played a conspicious part in breaking up and bringing under cultivation millions of acres of raw prairie sod in the Great Northwest of the United States and Canada. I have received hundreds of reports of tractors which broke up from one to two sections of raw sod in a single season. They were the greatest single factor in the unparalleled development of this great grain-growing section. These millions of acres of new grain land were a tremendous factor in the winning of the Great War which broke out in 1914. And it has always been a matter of deep personal satisfaction that I had quite a part in the development of these labor-saving machines.

But in 1912 and 1913 the farmers of the Middle West began to call for smaller tractors suited to their needs; the plowing and harrowing of cultivated fields of modrate size. This called for a smaller tractor in which light weight was the most important factor. As early as 1912, I advocated the design of a light tractor capable of operating three plows, but could not persuade the management to build such a tractor. They declared it would be an economic failure. But in the fall of 1913, the first model of what was known as the 'Bull tractor' was exhibited at several fairs and created much favorable comment. In 1914 several hundred Bull tractors were sold. They were designed to operate two stubble plow-bottoms.

Unfortunately, Bull tractors were so lightly and cheaply constructed that they did not last very long, yet they sold like 'hot cakes' and were the immediate forerunners of the present-day small tractor. In 1915 at least a dozen tractor models of two-plow to four-plow capacity were offered to the farmers. The light farm tractor, designed for a multiplicity of uses, required many new features in design, and brought a host of new troubles and surprises to the designers, so that the years 1915 to 1920 were full of disappointments and failures; but American inventive genius finally triumphed. Thoroughly enclosed construction was probably the largest single factor in 'putting over' the light tractor as it is today. But it seems to me that these later designers and builders had an easy time of it compared to the pioneers who from 1903 to 1914 blazed the trail. When they began they were literally 'sailing on an uncharted sea,' but they finally landed, as did Columbus, on firm ground, and gave the world a new and invaluable labor-saving tool, while Columbus gave it a new continent.

I cannot close this brief narrative without paying a tribute to the field experts of those pioneer days. The majority of them were capable, conscientious, loyal men. They frequently worked sixteen to eighteen hours a day in order to get things running again, and often times they endured considerable hardship. Many warm personal friendships sprang from these associations, and have lasted up to the present time.

Some of these field men had remarkable sight-seeing tours in connection with their work. We sent a number of them to Russia, Austria, Hungary, and Romania, and one of them to British East Africa. When the Great War broke out in 1914, six of them were in Hungary, and they had some trying experiences getting out of the war zone.

Note. The World War stimulated the domestic side of the tractor industry but retarded its foreign growth and hampered it abroad, as the Central Powers and Russia were unable to import tractors such as they undoubtedly would have bought in peace times. The war left several nations, normally tractor buyers, too poor to invest in American farm machinery of this nature. Even so, America's tractor exports have grown to great proportions.-Editors.