Hip to be Square

Square Turn tractor has mottled history

| June 2007

The years between 1910 and 1920 were unusual and exciting years in the agricultural manufacturing field: Which farm engines would work best? Sideshaft, air-cooled, water-cooled, gasoline, kerosene - the list of possibilities seemed endless.

How would they best work and be most useful? Stand-alone, portable, in tractors, cars or trucks? Everything was in flux, not only in the engine area, but also in the tractor field.

Companies, especially small ones, were sensitive to farmers' cries for change, so it was no surprise when A.J. Colwell, a machinist in Norfolk, Neb., heard the call of farmers for a small tractor with a sharp turning radius.

For years one of the major complaints about the lumbering steam engines and large tractors like the Rumely OilPull and Twin City tractor was their large turning radius. This wasn't a problem in the great Kansas wheat fields, or in North Dakota or Montana, but on Nebraska's smaller 80- to 160-acre farms, it was.

So in 1913, Colwell patented his own tractor design, working on the tractor in his machine shop with farmer Albert Kenney. They called their company the Kenney Colwell Tractor Co. and the tractor the KC. (This KC was not related to the KC tractor manufactured starting in 1909 by the Kansas City Hay Press Co.) But Colwell and Kenney dawdled for three years, distracted by their own work at making a living. In 1916, Albaugh-Dover Co. of Chicago, a mail-order house, bought the rights to the machine, an 18-30 front-wheel-drive tractor with a single steering wheel in the back. Shortly thereafter, it appears Albaugh-Dover bought the Kenney Colwell Tractor Co. as well, bringing it under their name, as a 1917 ad indicates Albaugh-Dover had factories in Chicago and Norfolk. The tractor was renamed the Square Turn probably about this time.

Literature in 1917 touted, " … any woman or boy can fill a man's place with a Square Turn tractor." But the greater advantage, ads said, was that the tractor could make a square U-turn, which allowed it to plow the corners of fields.