Courtesy of Rolland E. Maxwell, Route 4, Huntington, Indiana 46750.
Route 4, Huntington, Indiana 46750
As has been pointed out before, the first old tractors were big cumbersome ones, patterned after steam engines, and they often weighed ten or twelve tons each. They were hard to handle, steer, start and maintain. Some were made on order by companies like the Minneapolis Steel and Machine Co. They seemed to go on the principle that the bigger they were, the more they could do, and that they could make more money on the sale of one big one than two small ones and there would be less servicing. But it did not always turn out that way. Then to, there was more of a demand for big Ones. These early big tractors had the power for the large separators and plows once you got them started, which was their biggest weakness. The ignition was their weakest point and more than one ran all night once it was started.
Castings were made of poor material, and often crystalized and broke, and since welding was unheard of in those days, it often required weeks of waiting for new parts to come from the factory. After they were being used for field work, more complications arose as factories did not stock enough parts to go around. Often the repairs on a tractor after a year's work would run as high as a thousand dollars.
This was a period when promotors took over. Many tractors were custom built and the reliability of the tractor was in many cases quite variable and ranged from good to no good.
The growth of the farm implement business was in direct correlation with the agricultural growth of our country. After 1800 Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas being settled and new land being brought under cultivation. It has been said that in 1880 there were 2000 concerns making agricultural implements in one form or other, practically all horsedrawn. By 1890 only 900 were left and by 1900 around 500 were left. This was brought about by bankruptcy and mergers. From 1900 to 1910 saw the beginning of some giant corporations such as United States Steel Corporation, National Biscuit Company, International Harvester Company, along with a number of others.
From 1910 on came the turn towards tractor, then called Gasoline Traction Engines, that name later to be called Tractors by Hart Parr. During the period from 1920 through 1950 we have seen nearly all farm operations mechanized to the point where one man can feed about forty nine people. The last crops to be mechanized has been sugar beets and potatoes.
While there was advertising of farm implements as far back as the 1800's it was not until 1900 did we see advertising of farm tractors. A May 1899 American Thresherman carried a Hart Parr ad stating that their gasoline engines were being made at 22 Murray Street Madison, Wis. In 1901 the Waterous Co. began advertising. In 1903 regular tractor ads appeared by Hart Parr, Waterous, Flour City, York and others. The enclosed picture of an early Flour City is taken from an ad in the 1901 American Thresher-man's Magazine. Thus a new industry was born. Many interesting pictures, descriptions and interviews can be found by browsing through the early issues of American Threshing, Threshers Review, Canadian Thresherman and others that were to follow. Now I will maintain that when the last three magazines, along with some lesser ones, went out of circulation that we lost something that is gone forever; mainly because the principals on the stage have all passed on. We all enjoyed each issue and could hardly wait until the next issue came. Yet few of us ever realized or even thought that there would ever be a change, and we, with few exceptions ever kept our copies of those magazines. Today when one comes up at an auction or flea market it brings a fantastic price, and lucky is the man who has a library of them today. I am reminded of a southern woman I met once in a very fine museum in southern Texas a few years ago. She said 'It just makes me sick to think of all the things we just pitched out'.
The transfer from steam to gas came faster in the west and northwest, due to bad water and long hauls for water and coal. Keep in mind there were a lot of engines burning straw for fuel. But by 1915 tractors had pretty well taken over and for good reasons. Much of the early prairie breaking, particularly in the Northwest and Canada was done by custom operators using large outfits. It is interesting to note that in many cases that the first breaking cost more than the land itself. The land itself varied in price per acre from sixteen cents to three dollars and fifty cents. They usually got three dollars and a half per acre for breaking prairie sod. Much of the three Canadian provinces, as well as the Dakotas and Montana was originally bought as raw land by big land companies using eastern or British money. With them came the big 110 H.P. Cases and big Reeves for the initial breaking. By the end of World War I these big outfits had either folded or had found it unprofitable and had broken up the large holdings into smaller farms of only a few thousand acres which were either sold or rented, and smaller outfits became the rule. That is a story in itself which I may take up at a later date as it is most interesting.
Steam held out much longer in the corn belt where the farms were smaller and individually owned and where water and fuel were more plentiful.
Mrs. Clarence Harch of Spokane, Washington and their very nice Model E 30-60 Oil Pull.