SAMSON by General Motors

Side view of  Samson Model 'D'

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Evergreen Farms, Franklin, Illinois 62638

General Motors may have made one of their worst mistakes when under W. Durant, then General Motors president, they started the Samson tractor business. It is estimated they lost $33,000,000 between 1917 and 1926 on this tractor venture. Walter P. Chrysler was at that time in charge of the Buick division of General Motors and it is said that he and Durant fell out over this tractor fiasco. Chrysler of course went on to head his own company.

It seems that General Motors, under Mr. Durant, wanted to compete with Henry Ford and his highly successful Fordson tractor of that era. History relates that in 1917 Durant, with his own funds, bought stock in the Samson Sieve-Grip Tractor Co. of Stockton, California. Later, in 1918, General Motors directors agreed to buy his stock in Samson. Samson was at that time building a tricycle type, heavy one cylinder low slung tractor for orchard work in California. It remains a mystery why Durant wanted the Samson companymaybe patents. After acquisition of the Samson company production was transferred to Pontiac, Michigan where the one and two cylinder Sieve-Grip was manufactured.

At this time, the new model 'M' was being designed by General Motors. This tractor was to have a Mason engine, similar to ones used in G-M trucks. It is said that the Model 'M' was designed to overcome one of Fordson's problems, that of rearing up and turning over, often with fatal results. In 1918, the Janesville Machine Co., Janesville, Wisconsin was purchased. This company manufactured farm implements and was merged with Samson to form Samson Tractor Co. division of G-M.

Production of the Model 'M' started in May, 1919 with a schedule of 10 units per day. At this time the Sieve-Grip was phased out of the line. G-M had said that they would sell the Samson for $650 but found they could not make a profit at this price. The price was raised and then it was found that it was not competitively priced to sell against Fordson.

Samson also intended to manufacture a second tractor, namely the Model 'D'; also known as the Iron Horse. This tractor was intended for the smaller farm built to replace a team of horses. Speaking of horses, the Iron Horse was to be driven with a pair of reins 'ala horse'. My literature shows it hooked to most anything that a team could pull. The Model 'D' was a four-wheel drive and through a series of belts, it steered much like a crawler. It was a small tractor, powered by a Chevrolet 490 engine. The original intent was to produce 10,000 a year but history has it that maybe 100 were built and supposedly these were all recalled. There was much trouble with the transmission belt set-up and it really didn't prove too successful. Production was to start in the spring of 1920 but never really got started. Samson was written off by G-M in 1923. The Janesville plant was transferred to Chevrolet.

The Samson Model 'D' that we own is in very good shape but had several parts missing when we purchased it from a junk dealer in White Hall, Illinois. Through the efforts of Mr. Eldon Coates of Zwingle, Iowa, we have most of the missing parts replaced and have high hopes of making it run some day soon. Incidentally, the intended price of this tractor was advertised at $450.00

Mr. Rees used as sources for this article a 1920 Samson catalogue and 'The Great Tractor Debacle' by Robert Lienert which appeared in Automotive News, September 16, 1983.