Hip to be Square

By Staff
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It appeared the Square Turn came with an underslung Oliver 3-gang plow, as shown on this early Albaugh-Dover tractor, probably about 1917. A couple of minor differences are apparent on this tractor – a gear cover (the dome-shaped object above the word “square”) where there was none earlier and the lack of a front wheel brace (which appeared to be on earlier tractors).
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A 1918 issue of Northwestern Tractor & Truck Dealer ran this photo of a Square Turn pulling a 9-ton load of hay. By this time the company had reverted to Norfolk, Neb., and was no longer affiliated with Albaugh-Dover.
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This early ad shows the Square Turn being sold by Albaugh-Dover Co., but under a different rating than other ads: This displays 15-30, while most other ads show 18-35, although some say 18-30.
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Square Turn tractors obviously could attach other implements besides a plow, as this 1922 photo shows the machine working with an underslung Fresno scraper on the road. Though this is a later Square Turn, it again has the front wheel braces.
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When this circa 1918 ad for the Square Turn came out, it appears the tractor was only being manufactured in Norfolk again, with a sales office in Chicago. Albaugh-Dover was apparently no longer involved, as the ad states Square Turn Tractor Co.
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Vital statitistics for Square Turn tractors varied: This circa 1918 ad lists specifications (not shown) both from earlier Square Turns – weight, magneto, drive wheel size – and from later ones – height, length, width and price. Pinning down exact years for information like this is often difficult.
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This early ad for the Square Turn tractor, circa 1915, boasts it could turn a square corner in a field with three plows in 5 seconds. The illustration has what appears to be a front wheel brace (the white bar emerging from the central axle), and does not have a gear cover, as later illustrations do. (See the difference above the word “Square” on the image at the top of page 18, and above the word “Tractor” on this image.) It also differs saying the drive wheels are 70 inches in diameter while others say 60 or 61.

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.

At first glance, the Square Turn tractor appeared to run
backwards, with two large drive wheels in front, and a small,
single guiding wheel in back. Ads said, “The Square Turn tractor
operates equally well in either direction. All you need to do is
swing the driving seat around to the direction you want to go and
you drive with the same two handy levers and in the same manner as
you would drive a team.”

This mention of a team of horses showed another facet of
agricultural manufacturing during this time: Manufacturers wanted
to show that operating an internal combustion engine machine could
be as simple as running horses, as well as playing on the
sentimental attachment many farmers had to their horses.

The Square Turn tractor probably came with a standard underslung
three-gang Oliver plow. Again, literature said, “The adjusting
levers for your plows are right at your side, and you can instantly
stop, lift your plows by power, back to clear trash, set plows any
depth you wish, and go ahead – all without leaving the driver’s
seat.”

Another ad plugged how all the working tools were within full
view of the operator. “Your work is always in plain sight. No
twisting of the neck to watch the plow … Reverses instantly and
lifts plow by power to clear trash or turn corners. Has fewer
working parts than any other tractor; having no clutch, no
differential and no transmission gears, hence no expensive parts to
replace. Every part accessible, easy to get at, operates
successfully on either gasoline or kerosene, will work in all kinds
of soil, in wet places and on side hills too steep for a binder. Is
the most completely power controlled tractor on the market, 90
percent of the turning being done without the operator touching the
steering wheel.”

The Square Turn used a system of fiber-faced driving cones,
which allowed the drive wheels to travel different directions when
making a sharp turn, thus the name of the machine. One ad says the
machine had two driving levers (one for each hand), and that was
all that was used to stop, start, turn or back the tractor. “It’s
just as easy as handling the reins of your team and much quicker.
You have no footwork to do, no clutch to throw in or out, no
steering wheel to spin – just shift the two levers and the tractor
itself does everything by power. No other tractor will turn so
short and quickly.”

While the rights to the tractor were owned by Albaugh-Dover, the
ads weren’t afraid to use jargon making the machine sound
important. It was still the practice of companies to send experts
to farms to offer help, as farmers were still learning about
engines: “The two fiber-faced cones are gripped firmly between two
large gray iron faces shifted in either direction separately or
together by a positive eccentric throw, giving six times the
frictional contact necessary to perform the heavy duty without
slipping.”

About 1918, the company was renamed Square Turn Tractor Co., and
shortly thereafter reverted back to the Norfolk manufacturers,
possibly because Gilbert R. Albaugh, the main mover in
Albaugh-Dover, seemed to be a man of whims with a love of engines.
After working for Rambler, Olds and Peerless auto companies, he
built the Star automobile in 1902, with H.C. Robinson, who had left
the chocolate-making business, as The Automobile magazine said,
because “the progressive automobile industry was more to his
taste.” Together they built the Star, with a single-cylinder,
4-stroke engine mounted under the center of the car beneath the
floorboard that produced a whopping 8-1/2 HP.

By 1904, the Star had disappeared, but Albaugh started on a new
car, the Wolverine, including 2- and 4-cylinder models with a
driveshaft and selective sliding transmission, which harkened to
the transmission that would eventually be used in the Square Turn.
By 1906, the Wolverine (with the odd motto of “like the deer,
swift, graceful and beautiful”) was no more.

In 1910, Albaugh built the Aldo, named after the first two
letters of Albaugh and Dover. The Aldo was a high wheeler,
two-passenger motor buggy with a 2-cylinder air-cooled engine with
planetary transmission and double chain drive, and tiller steering.
A year later, that car was dead.

Albaugh got into manufacturing cream separators and other items
as well, so it was no surprise when he lost interest in the Square
Turn.

Specifications

The KC and perhaps early Square Turn tractors had different,
although generally minor, vital statistics: two large 60-by-12-inch
drive wheels in front, while later Square Turn tractors possibly
had 61-inch drivers. (One ad says 70-inch.) Early tractors were 192
inches long, 102-3/4 inches wide and 76 inches high, while later
ones were just slightly longer, narrower and higher. Early tractors
weighed 7,400 pounds, later ones 7,800. Early manufacturers
recommended a 28-inch thresher, but later, no thresher was
recommended. All were rated for three 14-inch plows, while speeds
were 2.25 MPH early, 2.33 MPH later. (Another ad said 3 MPH, 4 on
the road.) Even the belt pulley was a different size: 12-by-8
inches early, 12-by-10 inches later. Early KC and Square Turn
tractors ran on either gasoline or kerosene, but later tractors
don’t specify. They also had Splittdorf magnetos, and later, a
Dixie H.T.

Different engine

The Square Turn was the first tractor using a Climax engine to
be tested at the Nebraska Tractor Tests, Sept. 27-Oct. 7, 1920.

Unfortunately, that first vertical 4-cylinder Climax, of
5-by-6-1/2-inch bore and stroke, was defective when submitted, so
another tractor had to be brought in.

This turn of events seems almost inconceivable and tells a lot
about the company. How could Square Turn Tractor Co. allow a
tractor with anything less than a perfect engine out of the
factory? This was very risky considering the jaundiced view most
farmers had of tractor companies’ shady behavior. And more
incredibly, how could they offer a tractor with an engine that had
problems – or more likely had not been properly tested – to be at
the Nebraska Tractor Tests (where many farmers determined which
machine they wanted to buy for their farm)? A tractor whose engine
did not work did not bode well for a company that hoped to sell
many tractors.

P.S. Rose, in his Manufactured and Estimated Report, printed
sometime after Aug. 1, 1918, listed 72 Square Turn tractors
manufactured in 1917, 102 during the first six months in 1918 and a
quite realistic estimate by the company for the second half of 1918
of 180 Square Turns. Square Turn Tractor Co. evidently figured
their tractor would really catch in 1919, as they predicted 1,000
would be built. Perhaps the debacle at Nebraska scotched any real
hopes for the company becoming a player in the tractor field.

One other oddity is worth pointing out: The turning radius of
early company tractors was listed at 8 feet and literature said it
could turn completely around within its own length, a tremendous
advantage over other machines (” … no clutch to slip, no gears to
strip, no expensive repairs, travels either direction at full speed
and power.”). Later literature did not have this information, which
is surprising when that “square-turn” was supposed to be a major
selling point of the tractor.

Unique transmission

The transmission, called the “Giant Grip Drive,” had never been
used in any piece of machinery, say Nancy Zaruba and Karen Rogt in
Norfolk’s Very Own Square Turn Tractor. “Its simplicity,
flexibility of control, durability and freedom from repair costs
has made it the center of interest at eight National Tractor
Demonstrations. No other farm tractor is so easy and natural to
drive as the Square Turn. Pull left lever to turn left; pull right
lever to turn right; pull half way back to stop and all the way
back to back up. No hard to turn steering wheel or pedals to push.
The Square Turn tractor turns completely around in 5 seconds. The
driver’s seat rotates 180 degrees to allow the forward and backward
driving. It is simple to operate and it is said anyone can learn to
drive the Square Turn in 10 minutes.”

The Square Turn sold for $2,075 in 1918 and $1,875 in 1920. The
Square Turn Tractor Co. dissolved in 1925.

One of three Square Turn tractors in existence is in the Elkhorn
Valley Museum and Research Center in Norfolk. Contact the museum
at: 515 Queen City Blvd., Norfolk, NE 68701; (402) 371-3886;
www.elkhornvalleymuseum.org

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books
on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400
Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; bvossler@juno.com

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