Tractor Owner’s Dilemma: 1917

By Staff
article image
J. C. Allen
This historic photo comes from J. C. Allen and Son, Inc. of West Lafayette, Indiana, and is reprinted with permission.

If you think You’ve got troubles, take a look back to
wartime, when tractor owners and operators faced problems of
shortages and delays that usually were tougher than those of peace
time today.

Among our readers who lived through World War II are doubtless
many who recall the effects of rationing on the civilian

The same effect occurred during World War I, when the government
cut back stringently on civilian supplies of fuel, and the call to
the armed forces depleted manpower on the home front.

It was a Catch 22 kind of puzzle: How to produce more at the
exact time that you were having trouble finding equipment to run,
more fuel, and a way to get repairs done fast.

Here is a letter written by T. F. Finch, of Box Elder, Montana,
to the state’s Governor S. V. Stewart, dated May 18, 1917,
which tells the story in plain words.

‘Gov. S. V. Stewart’ Helena, Montana

‘My Dear Governor & C ‘Can’t you help us out
just a little bit. Within sound of our farm there are twenty
tractors and there is not one gallon of gasoline in Box Elder.
There is one half dozen tractors standing still for the want of
some small repair. One of our own tractors has been standing in the
field all spring. We wired Helena for repairs and it was fourteen
days before we received them. We run for about two hours and broke
another small casting. We wired for it two weeks ago and have not
received it yet. We [also] ordered a small repair for our
automobile six weeks ago and have not received it yet and we need
it badly every day.

‘Now I tell you my dear Governor, that the farmer is as
anxious as you, or the state, or the nation to get in all the crop
we can and will say right here that we [are] being knocked out of
the use of’ one of our tractors and our auto. [It] will cut our
crop short two hundred acres. We have in now between 500 and 600
acres and should have in 800 instead.

‘Now we are not writing this for our own account. Could get
two hundred men to back us up in this request in two hours if we
had our car. Please see if you can’t help us a little.

Yours truly, T. F. Finch’

(We found this letter in a book on Montana, while looking for
material for Gas Engine Magazine, some years ago in the Helena
Public Library. We regret that we cannot cite the title of the
book, having failed to make note of it at the time (Gerry

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