Dayton Daily News & Radio's 'Joe's Journal'
Once upon a time there were three bears -- Papa (Wallis) Bear, Middle-sized (Wallis Cub) Bear and Baby (Wallis Cub Jr.) Bear. Papa Bear growled 'n roared whenever anyone tried to kick his big rumpus of a motor over and get it to going. Middle-sized Bear merely whimpered, 'Chug, chug,' while Baby Bear cried, 'Pop, Pop, Poppa -- somebody's sitting in my seat 'n he's driving me crazy.'
Everyone, it seems, had been seeing 'Papa' Wallis Bear Tractor, around at all the various midwestern steam and gas reunions. But it wasn't until I had attended The Mountain Days Show at Bluffton, Ohio, last summer, that I first heard the story of The Three (Wallis) Bears as told by the Schmidt brothers -- E. F. and W. R.
It was the second year for the gathering together of antique gas engines, tractors and a sprinkling of steam engines, back behind the Bluffton High School football stadium. The 'first-nighters' basked in the rhythm of marching school bands across the green while the grandstand crowds, cheering the pigskin pushers, drowned out the usual din of popping gas engines. Papa (Wallis) Bear loomed shadowy in the night air, like a giant bruin watching guard over his pride of cubs. The steam engines simmered like monsters in repose, resting for tomorrow's labors.
When the morning sun arose, on the first day, the huge Wallis Bear on its seven-foot drivers towered like a primeval monster over the smaller tractors and engines around it. Art Heiland from Anna, Ohio, was chopping kindling to feed the little firebox of his small, six-horse Huber which he had built. It was cool and the dampness of the early hour wafted the wood smoke from the Huber stack back over the 'fringe on top' -- one of the more charming and nostalgic of Huber trademarks. Mama Heiland was frying bacon in the 'open-air kitchen' -- the aroma of bacon and wood smoke prompting engineer Heiland to hustle along his kindling splitting chores in time for breakfast. And all of it smelled mighty good to O. W. Nichols who was feeding sticks into the firebox of 'Sassy Lady' only twenty barnyard clod-hopper jumps away.
Gas engine and tractor men don't have to rise as early of a morn, as do the steam engine men who have their fire-boxes 'n boilers to feed 'n fill. For them the day begins a couple of hours later -- lugging gas cans and checking dripping crankcase oil-sticks, thence twisting cranks and heaving heavy fly-wheels to set the mighty din into motion.
But being the 'spiritual' head -- the organizer and man behind the Bluffton Engine Show, E. F. (Gene) Schmidt was rather ubiquitous -- being literally two places at once -- and a rather hard guy to come by for interviewing and information concerning his family of the rare Wallis Bear and its 'pride of Cubs.'
The big and colorful parade came down Bluffton Main Street, celebrating their Swiss ancestry Mountain Days Festival. The 'mighty' Joe Dear had just dropped a valve and was limping around just as the other tractors and engines were getting in the line-up on the grounds to make up their segment of the parade. For a while I decided I'd better not try to make it. But then the Joe Dear began breathing steadier, and on we went to take our belated niche in the fray. We were heartened by the fact that Joe Dear kept chugging, despite its ailments, right past the Judge's stand, while the car ahead and the tractor behind both faltered to a stand still just in front of the announcer's stand. And as we chugged further along in the big parade, we were even more heartened when we saw the Heiland Huber stalled for want of a handful of coal with the Nichols 'Sassy Lady' rushing to its rescue. (A tribute to the late O. W. Nichols whose passing is so recently mourned.)
When (Papa) Wallis Bear was parked outside the W. R. Schmidt Machine Shop, at Upper Sandusky, Ohio, you could hardly see the shop. But, it's somewhere behind it. And in case you wonder what that 'little thing' is standing by the rear wheel, that's W. R. who's doing everything he can to demonstrate how high the seven-foot drivers are. We'd dare say, it's a mighty good thing for W. R.'s sake that Papa Bear wasn't hungry at the time.
Upon returning to the engine grounds, there was still no Gene Schmidt to be seen around -- his business being else where and everywhere, world without end. Meantime, between the setting and rising of another sun, our sweet repose was rudely interrupted by the furious clickety-clack of the midnight N & W hot-shot skirting the grounds a bare hundred feet away -- . And I lay awake, hoping every one of those tiny wheel flanges, literally 'flying over the track,' kept their proper courses, lest any one of them bounce free of the rail-crown, burying our reunion grounds beneath a 90-mile-an-hour pile-up.
'Did you hear that freight train fly past last night, and those flanges flitting over the rail-joints?' said I to Art Heiland next morning. 'Your trailer's even closer to the tracks than ours.'
'Never heard anything like it,' replied Art. 'And was I ever hoping those wheels stayed on the rails.'
The sun was getting well up in the noon-time sky of Sunday when the elusive Gene Schmidt was finally spotted.
Grabbing my beat-up old camera, I rushed toward him, like a rodeo champ trying to rope a steer. Cornering him up against the huge 7-foot drive wheel of the giant Wallis Bear Tractor (so he couldn't get away), I plied him with the usual questions. --
'How much does it weigh . . . ? When was it made . . . ? What's the horsepower . . . the measurements of the bore, the stroke, the engine displacement . . . and so on?'
'Well, it's all right here on the sign,' explained Schmidt, reading the facts from the big card as I jotted them down.
'This Wallis Bear Tractor is the only 'Bear' Model in existence,' explained Gene. 'It was built before 1912, being the third one made out of a total of nine. It has power-steering, individual turning brakes, spring-loaded clutch, en closed three-speed transmission, all-speed governor,' he continued. 'The gasoline motor has a 7? inch bore and a 9 inch stroke with a 1480 cubic inch displacement. It has a gear oil-pump with force-feed to the connecting-rods and wrist-pins, the rear wheels are seven feet in diameter with a thirty-inch face and the total weight is ten-and-a-half tons, powered to pull eight to ten bottoms.'
More old-time tractors which made the Schmidt brothers' line-up at the Mountain Days Show, Bluffton, Ohio. E. F. (Gene) Schmidt of the Bluffton Farm Equipment Company demonstrates old-timer to the right, sporting a side-mounted radiator. The old adage, 'Name it, you can have it,' doesn't work here. You can name 'em, but as long as Gene's sitting there on guard, you can't have 'em. Don't they all look small beside that giant rear wheel of Papa (Wallis) Bear, to the extreme left?
'I now have the original six-fourteen plows that were bought new with this tractor,' said Schmidt.
The huge Wallis Bear was made by the Wallis Tractor Company of Cleve-land, Ohio, and Racine, Wisconsin, and carries the serial number 203. It is shared in ownership by both E. F. (Gene) Schmidt of the Bluffton Farm Equipment Co., Bluffton, Ohio, and W. R. (William) Schmidt of the Schmidt Ma chine Co., Upper Sandusky, Ohio, the two brothers often showing it together at various midwestern engine reunions.
I once made a short recording of this monster Wallis Bear at the N. T. A. Reunion at Wauseon, Ohio. And, after the big four-cylinder engine finally died down to a stand-still, I plied Gene with some questions of my own -- requiring answers that weren't on his placard.
E. F. (Gene) Schmidt displays the cast-iron bear -- symbol of the line of Wallis-Bear family of tractors -- mounted on the front of the Wallis Cub Jr. Tractor at the Mountain Days Engine Show, Bluffton, Ohio. The Wallis Company began manufacture of the Cub Jr. in 1919.
For instance, 'How do you ever start it?' was the first question uppermost in my mind.
'It was originally made to start with a big crank,' said he. 'But we have a nine-horse auxiliary engine mounted on it to turn it over.'
'I can well understand why you wouldn't want to crank it,' I replied. And Gene chuckled briefly -- some thing he doesn't often indulge in, being the serious sort he is.
I then asked him if he thought it would be able to climb the incline at Wauseon.
'Of course it could climb the hill, but I wouldn't want to try it,' he answered. 'The engine isn't in condition to risk it.'
'I imagine this big tractor could pull quite a few box-cars on the railroad if it was given the chance,' I injected, recalling I had seen smaller farm tractors shuntling four or five railroad cars at elevators.
'Yes, I should say it could,' said Gene.
It was at the Bluffton Show that Schmidt revealed the scope of his ambitions concerning the family of Wallis Tractors.
Pointing to other models in the line-up of antique tractors which appeared dwarfed beside the towering Wallis Bear, he explained, 'This one with the cast-iron 'Bear' mounted on the front is a Wallis Cub Jr. I am presently looking for a Wallis Cub which is the model between the large Wallis Bear and the Wallis Cub Jr.'
Were my ears deceiving me? Or was I actually hearing the fabled story of 'The Three Bears' being told all over again -- Papa Bear, Middle-sized Bear and Baby Bear. Yes I was -- only this story was about tractor bears and not grizzlies.
Meantime, while the Schmidt brothers, E. F. and W. R., are awaiting developments on procuring the Middle-Sized Bear of their Three-Bear Family -- a Wallis Cub Tractor to add to their menagerie -- Gene called my attention to a Wallis Model K tractor which was occupying their time and efforts.
'This afternoon I'll come by and take you a spin over to my work shop and show you some more,' added Schmidt.
And sure enough, right after dinner there came chugging up the two Schmidt brothers in a shiny black 1921 Dodge touring car. If I hadn't already met them, I might have thought they were the Dodge Brothers coming to demonstrate their latest factory model.
'Jump in,' said Gene Schmidt. And off I went with them -- Gene not bothering to shift into lower gear, the big, slow-firing, four-cylinder, low-compression Dodge engine starting its load in high without a struggle. My eyes feasted on the ancient but polished dash board, the antique speedometer, the handle-type dash-board light switch, the spark and gas adjustments on the smooth quadrants in the center of the wooden steering wheel. I hadn't experienced this thrill since, as kids, we used to hoof it out to Uncle John's farm a mile in the country, to be fetched back in the evening in his big Dodge touring with isinglass rear-view window slots flopping in the breezes.
My heart skipped a beat as we approached the very fast crossing of the Norfolk and Western Railroad, enroute.
'There's one of those high-speed hot-shots coming right now,' said I, hoping Gene would stop.
'Oh yes -- they really high-ball it through here,' said he, rumbling slowly on in front of it while I prayed that the old Dodge momentum would take us on across.
Down and around and over the big hill we went, my eye spying the fast freight that had missed hitting us -- thanks to the old Dodge's plodding, no-stop performance.
It was to the right at the next lane, and up the hill that an extended work shop and storage shed beckoned us to stop. Here it was that mine eyes feasted on more of the secret cache of the Schmidt brothers -- where members of the Wallis Bear family of tractors have been or are being worked on prior to their appearance on the reunion grounds. Here also was an impressive line-up of other old tractors, trucks and what have you.
And here too it was that the Schmidts explained a little more of the history of the Wallis Tractors down through the years.
'Engineering on the big Wallis Bear Tractor actually began around the turn of the century -- around 1904 or 5,' explained Gene Schmidt. 'In 1919 the company was taken over by the J. I. Case Plow Works at Racine, Wisconsin. Then the Massey-Harris bought out J.I. Case in 1928.'
It was a Wallis Model K that Gene and Bill were working on at the time we paid a visit to Gene's shop.
'We don't want the public to think this Model K we're working on was made by J. I. Case. It wasn't,' pointed out Gene with a sly grin. 'It was made by the Wallis Tractor Company.'
'But we're still looking for a Wallis 'Cub' Tractor, 15 to 30 horsepower,' said he. 'They were made in 1913. The Wallis 'Cub Jr.' that we have was made six years later, in 1919.'
The Schmidt brothers acquired their first-love for big farm tractors from life on their Dad's farm. Later, Gene worked eight years for the Massey-Harris Company and has been a Massey Ferguson Implement Dealer at Bluffton, Ohio, for twenty-five years. Brother Bill has the large Schmidt Machine Company, Farm Implement Sales and Service at Upper Sandusky, Ohio. All their tractors and engines are repaired in their own shops.
Gene Schmidt likes to relate the story of his first experiences with a self-propelled combine.
'I owned the first self-propelled Massey Harris Combine in the state of Ohio -- it was back in 1941,' he said, as we bounced back to the Mountain Days Engine grounds in the old Dodge. 'I'll never forget the time I drove the self-propelled combine 70 miles to the Ohio State Fair. Started early one morning, north of Indian Lake. I could make only six miles an hour. Drove all that day, had to park in someone's barnyard overnight and continue to Columbus, Ohio, next day.'
And that, dear reader, is the story of how the Schmidt brothers became knowledgeable in the way of big farm machinery. A knowledge that later evolved into a sort of mission -- that of preserving the big farm machinery of the past before it was all scrapped.
Papa (Wallis) Bear tractor was exhibited at Bluffton, Ohio, Mountain Days Engine Show. Giant ten and a half ton tractor, the third in a line of nine built, is the only remaining one of its kind. It's the 'grand sire' of the Three Bear tractor family which includes the Wallis Cub and Wallis Cub Jr.
(This was used on the cover of G.E.M. on the July-August 1966 issue in case you folks want to look it up in your old magazines. -- Anna Mae.)
'When I saw this big Wallis Bear sitting in a junk yard, I knew it was the only one left of the nine the company had made,' recalls Gene. 'The owner of the junk yard told me, if I didn't take it, it would soon be cut up for scrap. It was a decision I had to make quickly, considering the difficulty of transporting it and other problems. But I'm glad we now have it.'
If they didn't have the giant Wallis Bear Tractor -- it would indeed require the telling of a rather 'tall story' to describe how big the monster was, without someone being called to the 'liar's bench.' But now 'Papa' Bear tractor can speak for itself.
But, like the Bible parable of old, 'The shepherd leaves his flock in search of the one lost sheep. And when it is found there is much rejoicing in the household.'
So Gene and Bill Schmidt are leaving everything to hunt for the lost Wallis 'Cub'. And when that is found, there will be much rejoicing in the Schmidt households.
All of which we hope soon happens and that The Three (Wallis) Bears -Papa Wallis, Middle-Sized Cub and Baby Cub. Jr. will live happily ever after.
I. to r. -- E. R. (Gene) Schmidt and brother William work in Gene's shop at Bluffton, Ohio, repairing Wallis Model K Tractor. (But we're willing to bet that, if they found the much coveted Wallis Cub Model, those Schmidt hammers and wrenches would become quite busy working over the Middle-sized (Wallis) Bear. 'This Model K is not the tractor made by the J. I. Case Company,' explained the Schmidt brothers. 'It's a genuine Wallis K.'
I enjoy the G.E.M. It is interesting and educational to me -- a collector of those old stationary gasoline engines.
I would like to ask the readers of G.E.M. who have a Schleicher, Schumm engine to write me telling about the engine they have and what they know about the Schleicher Schumm Company history. I have one of the engines that came out of an elevator at Cummings, North Dakota. It was used there at the turn of the century. The horsepower is not marked on this engine. The flywheels are 56 inches in diameter with three inch face, 7 inch bore and 16 inch stroke. Embossed in the engine base is as follows: Schleicher, Schumm & Co. Philadelphia. Pat. Aug. 14, 77 & Oct. 23, 77. N. 4044.