The Centaur Tractor

FOREWORD
R. F. Durig
January/February 1990
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This history of the Centaur Tractor was put together using information and pictures from many sources, including the author's manuals, advertisement collection and discussions with other Centaur collectors. In the end, it became almost like solving a mystery, since Central Tractor Company and LeRoi Corporation records are long vanished. There are no Greenwich, Ohio, town records for the Central Tractor Co. and the only manufacturing data available are the property deeds in the Huron County Recorder's Office and recollections of retired employees. However, when you put all the clues and pieces together an interesting story emerges.

The tractor was a fairly successful one and played a significant role in the conversion of small farms from horse power to mechanization. The Model 'G' was sold worldwide during the 1920's and 30's. It was simple and easy to run, could be used with a variety of attachments and really did replace horses on small farms. The following Centaur story contains not only facts, but also some of the author's conclusions and estimates. We hope it makes enjoyable reading for a tractor enthusiast.

Acknowledgement: The Author wishes to recognize the contributions of two former Centaur employees, Mr. Richard G. Roscoe and Mr. Vernon Reddick, of Greenwich, OH, both for memorabilia and reminiscences. The story would not be complete without their valuable and generous assistance.

The name 'Centaur' was used for all the tractors manufactured by the Central Tractor Company of Greenwich, Ohio, and was continued for that line after LeRoi purchased the company.

The first Centaur (Model A) was designed and produced in 1919-20. Three acres of land was purchased at the site of the H. L. Hurst Mfg. Co. in February 1921 for the factory. The Model 'A' was powered by a New Way 6 HP air cooled engine with Bosch high tension ignition. The tractor was chain driven through the front wheels and steered using handles like a small garden tractor, although the attachments were hung from a riding sulky. A differential was mounted in the left front wheel drive sprocket. It had a geared transmission with one speed forward and reverse.

Centaur Tractor

This Model 'A' design was refined and improved through several model changes, up through 'F', until 1926 when the Model 'G' was introduced. The Model 'G' incorporated several significant changes in design, notably a two-cylinder water cooled 10 HP LeRoi Model 'MR' (3 1/8 x 4 ? b x s) engine, and a rack and pinion steering wheel system added. The Model 'G's' used a Fairbanks, Wico or Eisemann magneto and Zenith carburetor. However, the transmission and chain drive system was similar to the earlier models. The riding sulky carried most of the implements-the plow, cultivator, disc, spike tooth and Acme harrows, seeder, grape hoe, and potato digger. Most of the attachments were designed and manufactured by the Oliver Corporation and Centaur supplied the special fittings and brackets necessary for mounting. A variety of extension rims and wheels were available.

The 1927 Model 'G' Centaur with automatic governor, extension rims and complete lug equipment weighed 1220 lbs. and cost $484. This Model 'G' was also called the Centaur 6-10. An optional belt pulley mounted on the front of the engine crankshaft was available. Most of the Model 'G' tractors delivered for field use in dusty conditions had a large Pomona air washer mounted on the front. Another interesting attachment was a gear reduction device mounted above the transmission to provide a speed as slow as ? mile an hour for pulling transplanters.

In the year 1929, the Model 'G' was changed and improved with a larger LeRoi engine (Model 'T', 3 3/8 x 4 ?, b x s) adding two more horse power, becoming a 6-12. Gears, pins and chain were strengthened, as were the drive wheels, to accommodate the added power. These changes coincided with a factory name change from the 'Central Tractor Company,' to the 'Centaur Tractor Corporation.' Two parcels of land in the village of Greenwich with all the buildings were sold to the Centaur Tractor Corporation for the sum of One Dollar ($1.00), by C. E. Stuart, president and Mr. A. B. Thomson, secretary of the Central Tractor Company. Also, in this year, Centaur was able to deliver field driven mowers from McCormick Deering, Walter A. Wood, John Deere, and Massey Harris with hitch modifications to plug directly into the Model 'G' drawbar. This tractor apparently sold well. It was advertised, not as a better tractor than others, but as a replacement for the horse. This was meant to attract first time tractor buyers who had small farms. Many of these tractors were exported to France where they were ideal for vineyard cultivating because of the narrow wheel width.

The years 1929-30 were difficult for many manufacturers (particularly those who made farm equipment) with the Depression getting underway. The Centaur Corp. in some way became part of the organized independent manufacturers and distributors company called the 'United Tractor and Machinery Company' of Chicago. The Model 'G' was advertised as the United-Centaur tractor. This organization did not last long.* However, the Model 'G' continued to be built in Greenwich by Centaur.

In 1934, an Edgar A. Cross of Greenwich filed a patent application for an improved type of tractor as follows: 'A purpose is to provide a tractor in which the relationship of the various parts is such as to provide greatly increased visibility for the ground surface immediately adjacent to and in front of the operator.' The patent was granted in 1936 and assigned to the Centaur Tractor Corp. This was the beginning of the 'Klear View' or KV series of Centaurs.

This 'KV-22' was powered by a 4 cylinder LeRoi, 22 HP engine with Eisemann magneto ignition and weighed in at 2200 lbs. An optional power take off belt pulley was available. Because of the unique features of the Klear-View design, the tractor was only 45' high. It was an 'unstyled' KV, i.e. flat fenders and no grille. This model was produced until WW II.

Some time in the 1930's (?), the Centaur Corp. must have received a contract from the State of Ohio for a new design of roadside mower. A short wheelbase (58') tractor with rubber tires front and rear, using the bar frame concept of the earlier models was produced. It used the 2 cylinder LeRoi engine, a front mounted radiator, and the same clutch, transmission and chain drive mechanism as the G, except it was a rear wheel drive. A belt driven hydraulic pump was added to lift the rear mounted sickle-bar mower. These tractors are rare and no literature, manuals or advertising photos have been found.

On December 26, 1940, the Centaur Corp. was sold to the LeRoi Corp. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the long time supplier of engines.

During 1941-45, the Greenwich plant manufactured gear boxes and elevation mechanisms for tank turrets and transmissions for military vehicles. Tractor production was suspended.

In 1939 the LeRoi Model M, KV Centaur was produced. This was a 'styled' version with rounded sheet metal grille, hood and fenders. The tractor was powered by a 26.9 HP, valve-in-head, 4 cylinder LeRoi Model D140 engine with displacement of 140 cubic inches. It had a 6 volt battery, starter, generator and distributor ignition system and 4 speed transmission. The implement drawbar was the swinging bar type with a mechanical lift. This tractor was produced as a farm machine, however many of them were sold to the State of Ohio for mowing with a side mounted sickle bar. These were factory painted a bright yellow instead of the usual gray with red wheels. 200 of these mowers were also sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Production of the KV continued into the 1950's with some improvements, primarily larger engines. A Model 'CI' was produced with an overhead valve LeRoi D140-1 engine and cast grille. Model CI-6 was sold with a multiple belt driven, 6 foot sickle bar. This version had a manifold vacuum assist lift for the heavy mower. The large cylinder was mounted inside the fender on the tow bar platform. All of the KV models were manufactured under the patent for Klear-View.

In 1945, LeRoi developed the Centaur Tractair, an integrally built 105 c.f.m. compressor with a 35 HP wheel tractor. The four-cylinder engine and two compressor cylinders were cast 'en-bloc' and two air storage tanks were mounted on each side between the wheels. On some early Tractairs, a Bosch magneto was used. Many of these mobile air compressors were sold to the U.S. and Canadian military. This appears to be the last model of the Centaurs, for in September, 1954, the plant and property in Greenwich was sold to the Westinghouse Air Brake Company. LeRoi became a division of WABCO and the manufacturing and production facilities were moved to Sidney, Ohio. When production of the Tractair ceased in the 1950's, the name Centaur disappeared from the tractor scene.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Huron County Deed Records, Vol. 99, Page 543; Vol. 15, Page 27; Vol. 142, Page 94; Vol. 215, Page 222.

2. Secretary of State Incorporation Record, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio.

3. History of Greenwich Area, Greenwich Area Historical Society, 1979.

4. Greenwich, OH Enterprise-Review, 4 August 1949, 4 July 1952.

5. Advertising: Ohio Farmers Magazine, April 3, 1926; 1925; 1921; 1938; Country Gentlemen, May 1928; October 1929; Centaur Brochures; Author's Photos.

6. Manuals; Instruction Rooks and Parts List Centaur Tractors, 1927; Centaur Tractor Accessory Book, 1926; 1929; LeRoi Engine, Model MR Instruction Book; LeRoi Instruction Manuals, Model KV, 1927; Tractair Parts List, 1953.

7. Wendel, C. H., Nebraska Tractor Tests Since 1920, Crestline.

8. Wendel, C. H., Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, Crestline.

9. Patent No. 2,035,876, March 31, 1936.

10. Personal Communications: Richard G. Roscoe, Greenwich, OH; Vernon Reddick, Greenwich, OH.

This Centaur model 20 tractor, serial number 22856, was manufactured by the Central Tractor Co. of Greenwich, Ohio, in 1926. It has one forward gear and operates at a speed ranging from one to three mph. Centaur tractors were often called 'The Central Tractor' and were commonly mistaken as a product of the Central Tractor Farm & Family Center of Des Moines, Iowa, which owns this particular tractor. Central Tractor Farm & Family Center is the nation's leading supplier of new, rebuilt and used tractor parts for all makes, models and vintages of tractors. For a copy of their free 144-page catalog, write to them at 3915 Delaware Ave., P.O. Box 3330, Des Moines, Iowa 50316. For hard to find tractor parts, try calling them at 800-247-7508.


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