The story of Leader tractors begins in 1912 and, like the history of many U.S. tractor companies, meanders through several different tractor names and companies, until its final builder, Dayton-Dowd Co., vanished in the mid-1920s.
The first precursor to the Leader tractor was the 4,800-pound, $1,250 Midland tractor built in 1912. Only one fuzzy picture of the Midland exists, taken from the rear as the tractor pulled a pair of plows in heavy sod. It is difficult to tell which, if any, of the design characteristics of the Midland may have been carried over to subsequent tractors.
A year later, in 1913, Leader Engine Co. of Grand Rapids, Mich., which had been manufacturing engines for the Midland, bought out the Midland tractor. That same year, the Leader Gas Engine Co. was organized in Grand Rapids, combining Sinz-Wallin (a gas engine company), Midland Tractor Co., and, though it's unclear, most likely Leader Engine Co. as well, as it disappeared. Leader Gas Engine Co. then moved to Detroit and built 75 tractors in 1914.
Leader Steam Engines
Showing how intertwined things can sometimes get, Marion Mfg. Co. of Marion, Ohio, manufactured Leader steam traction engines at least as early as 1895, so it seems likely that Leader Tractor Mfg. Co., which started in Marion as Ohio Tractor Mfg. Co. (which built only very large tractors), took its name from the Leader steam traction engines.
Marion Mfg. Co. made Leader steam engines in sizes from at least 16-25 HP, as well as a 10-ton Leader steam road roller, sawmill machinery and the Leader Jr. separator.
In 1915 the odyssey continued, as Leader Gas Engine Co. moved to Quincy, Ill., and along with Dayton Foundry & Machine Co. and Hayton Pump Co., consolidated into Dayton-Dick Co., which had been building Leader tractors. Referring to Dayton-Dick Co., P.S. Rose concisely noted “Leader tractor on market in 1913” in his Report on Tractor Companies Made (In) 1915.
That was the Leader 12-18, a 5,000-pound tractor with a 2-cylinder opposed engine with a 6-1/4-by-6-inch bore and stroke and a rated speed of 750 RPM. Road gear carried it along at 3-1/2 MPH, while in-furrow speeds were 2 and 2-1/2 MPH. Drive wheel diameter was 54 inches, with a face width of 16 inches. It sold for a reasonable $890 FOB, factory. Later, when Dayton-Dowd took over, the drive wheels were reduced to 48 inches in diameter with a face width of 12 inches. Overall weight decreased to 4,800 pounds, and the price increased to $1,000 in 1919. The 12-18 was 129 inches long, 60 inches wide, and 66 inches tall. With two or three 14-inch plows, it could plow through an acre per hour. The cooling tank found on early 12-18 models was changed to a cellular radiator, which allowed the tractor to be shortened.
Though Dayton-Dick Co. added new models of Leader tractors, they sold just 54 total tractors in 1916 and 65 in 1917. Sales picked up the next year; Dayton-Dick sold 106 tractors in the first half of 1918 and estimated they would sell 210 in the second half, according to Rose's Manufactured & Estimated report.
New tractors for Dayton-Dick during this time included the Leader 9-15, a small tractor weighing 3,800 pounds and selling for the small price of $525 in 1916. Its unnamed engine had a bore and stroke of 5-3/4-by-6 inches, and the tractor itself was 60 inches tall and had 48-inch tall drive wheels. Road and furrow speeds were identical to the 12-18, 3-1/2 and 2 to 2-1/2 MPH, respectively.
Testing the Market
Dayton-Dick was still in a state of flux. Farmers had been clamoring for a lightweight machine, so Dayton-Dick introduced the small 9-15. The company then turned to crawlers, which looked to be the tractors of the future.
These included the Leader 18-36 crawler, a machine with a 4-cylinder Twin City engine of 5-by-7-1/2-inch bore and stroke and an L-head arrangement. Curiously enough, this machine could use gasoline, naphtha, alcohol, kerosene or distillate for fuel, while most tractors of the time would run on just one or two types of fuel. The 18-36 crawler weighed 6,600 pounds and used two 50-inch-long-by-15-inch-wide crawlers as drive wheels. Its turning radius was a ridiculous 50 feet, and top speeds were 2.2 and 3 MPH.
D and B
The final word on Leader tractors was spoken by the Leader Tractor Mfg. Co. of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, when they began producing their Leader Model D tractors in the late 1940s. There doesn't seem to be any connection between this company and one with an identical name out of Des Moines, Iowa, three decades earlier, or the Leader tractors made by Dayton-Dowd and its predecessor companies.
The Chagrin Falls outfit began producing tractors in 1946, powered with a Hercules 35 HP engine. This tractor featured a hydraulic lift and PTO, a clearance of 21 inches and forward speeds of up to 13 MPH.
The Model D had a Hercules IXB5 4-cylinder engine with 3-1/4-by-4-inch bore and stroke. It came with a belt pulley and PTO shaft, 3-speed transmission, 3-point hitch and weighed 2,500 pounds. Serial numbers are found stamped into the sheet metal below the gauges and ignition switch on the dash.
A Model B Leader tractor was also manufactured. There is some discussion that these Leader tractors were related to the Brockway tractors, but it appears both companies were in operation during the same time.
Other Leader crawlers were made, including a 25-40 with a large 4-cylinder Doman engine of 7-by-7-inch bore and stroke, which produced a drawbar pull of 4,000 pounds. Later, a Twin City engine of 5-by-7-1/2-inch bore and stroke was used. The 25-40 was 66 inches tall (96 with canopy), 64 inches wide and 153 inches long. Five or six 14-inch plows were recommended, and it could plow about two acres an hour at 1.89 to 2.6 MPH. Turning radius was 26 feet and it had a pair of drive wheels 54 inches in diameter, 12 inches wide (later 44-by-15 inches). It had a crankshaft journal diameter of 2-1/2 inches, weighed 6,000 pounds, and cost $1,550 in 1916. A year later it sold for $1,750. In 1920, it cost $2,895, so it was no surprise that production on the 25-40 crawler was suspended that same year.
C.H. Wendel says in Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, “Dayton-Dick was a leader in adapting automotive components to their tractors, particularly the radiator and automotive style front axle.” The automobile radiator style is especially noticeable on the later Leader tractors.
In 1917, Dayton-Dick produced the 5,000-pound, $1,150 Leader 15-25 tractor. With its Erd vertical 4-cylinder engine (bore and stroke was 4-by-6 inches), it was recommended to pull three or four 14-inch plows and a 30-by-32-inch thresher. Unlike most other Leader tractors, whose speeds varied from 2 to 2-1/2 MPH in the furrow and 3-1/2 in road gear, this one had two speeds forward and reverse, of 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 MPH. The 15-25 was produced only one year.
Then Came Dayton-Dowd
In 1919, Dayton-Dowd Co. of Quincy was organized to take over Dayton-Dick Co. As with the advent of most new companies, new products were introduced, including the Leader 16-32, with a Climax 4-cylinder engine of 5-by-6-1/2-inch bore and stroke. This reworking of the old Leader 18-36 sold for $1,985 in 1919 and weighed 5,000 pounds. The modern-looking machine had forward selective speeds of 2-1/4 to 3-1/2 MPH, and 2-1/2 MPH in reverse. It was 134 inches long, 70 inches wide and 72 inches tall. According to the company logo in advertisements of the time, Leader tractors were “Hogs for work, efficient power, enduring strength.” One ad says Dayton-Dowd were “Builders of four wheel and crawler tractors since 1911,” but there is no other evidence that any of the companies involved actually built tractors before 1912.
About 1919, letters were added to the model numbers, perhaps for easier reference. The 12-18 became the Model B, the 25-40 crawler became the Model C, the 25-40 became the Model D, the 16-32 became the Model N, and its sister, a 16-32 crawler tractor, was called the GU. The GU used the same Climax engine as the 16-32 tractor, but weighed 7,500 pounds and sold for $2,150. By 1922 its price had dropped to $1,785. Accessories on both tractors were the same: A Stromberg carburetor and Eisemann magneto, along with extensive use of ball and roller bearings. In 1921, the 16-32 tractor was re-rated as an 18-35, which seemed logical as it and the GU were basically reworkings of Dayton-Dick's 18-36 machines.
The agricultural depression, along with the tractor wars – large companies selling their tractors for cost or less – hit Dayton-Dowd just as it did other tractor companies. Dayton-Dowd managed to stay afloat until 1924, when it was manufacturing but a single machine – the Model N 16-32 Leader – but then closed its doors forever.
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and the author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact Bill at: (320) 253-5414; firstname.lastname@example.org
Similarities Between Huber Light Four & Rex 12-25 Tractors
Though there is no proof that the Leader Tractor Mfg. Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, had any connection with Leader tractors made by Dayton-Dick and other companies, there is an interesting story about the tractors the company made. Information on the Leader Tractor Mfg. Co. of Des Moines also helps clear up any misconceptions about who built Leader tractors, and points out curious connections between different companies.
In 1917, Huber Mfg. Co. of Marion, Ohio, came out with their Huber Light Four tractor. A year later, Leader Tractor Mfg. Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, put the Rex 12-25 tractor on the market, a dead ringer in looks – and more – for the Huber machine. Interestingly enough, Leader TMC was the successor company to Ohio Tractor Mfg. Co. – also of Marion, where Huber was located. Even more curious, Marion was the home of Marion Mfg. Co., who manufactured Leader steam engines.
Though weights of the two tractors were different (5,600 pounds for the Leader, 5,000 for the Huber), some things were uncannily similar: Both had Perfex radiators, Waukesha 4-cylinder, 4-1/2-by-5-3/4-inch bore and stroke engines, two forward speeds capable of 2-1/2 and 4 MPH, were recommended for three 14-inch plows, were rated at 12 HP at the drawbar and 25 HP at the belt, and not only was their general appearance similar, but it was almost identical.
Additionally, the language used in describing the tractors was almost exactly the same. For example: “Traction wheels: Four wheels, with two drives in rear, 60 x 10,” says the Huber ad, while the Rex ad says everything exactly the same, except, “two drive wheels in rear.”
It's possible that all of this could be coincidence, but with so many similar items, it does look fishy. However, there is no record of any kind of legal action or anything of the sort regarding similarities between the two.