A Disguised Gas Tractor

By Staff
article image
Robert Hesse made this model gas tractor based on the Townsend Tractor design.

When gas powered tractors were new to farmers,
they were little more than an engine on a frame. They looked
nothing like the steam traction engines that farmers were used to
seeing. In order to try to market their tractors to skeptical
farmers, Townsend Tractor built a gas tractor that resembled a
steam engine.

About 35 years ago, my dad, Robert Hesse, built a model tractor
based on the Townsend design. The “boiler” is made from a piece of
16-inch natural gas pipe. He used a 6 HP Economy engine, and the
clutch and 3-speed gear box from a Ford Falcon car to power the
tractor. The water hopper was removed and a plate bolted to the
top. The cooling water is routed to a heater core from a large
truck that is hidden in the boiler along with a water pump from a
washing machine to circulate the water. The steam dome is the water
reservoir and extends down into the boiler. The engine exhaust is
piped forward and creates air flow up the smokestack, which draws
air past the heater core to cool the engine. The smokestack is made
from a 6-inch piece of pipe that Dad cut and re-welded to form the
taper. All of the electrical wires, spark plug and other items that
would reveal it is a gas tractor and not a steam engine have been
hidden or disguised to look like something else.

The tanks in front of the wheels on either side that would have
been used for water are used for fuel and to hide an air tank. A
small air-cooled engine was converted to an air compressor to
provide air to blow the whistle, something that every steam engine
would’ve had. The air compressor, clutch and transmission are
inside the fire box along with a drive gear from a John Deere
tractor coupled to a differential from a Ford Model A car to make
up the final drive. Dad was a mechanic for the local Ford dealer
for many years, hence a lot of the parts used on his projects were
from old Ford cars and trucks.

The water valves above the firebox are actually electrical
switches. Dad converted the hit-and-miss engine to a
throttle-governed engine using an updraft carburetor. Then, by
using a flyball governor, as well as the original governor, he
could switch back to hit-and-miss running by closing one switch and
opening the other.

On the right, a small tank of kerosene is pressurized and piped
to the exhaust so that by opening a valve, the kerosene can be
injected into the exhaust and make the tractor smoke like a steam
engine. The battery for the ignition system and the electric fuel
pump are in one of the wood boxes under the seat, and the wires are
hidden inside a water pipe. The other wood box is used as a
toolbox. The wheels are from a corn binder and have been reinforced
to handle the extra weight.

The levers on the left side control the throttle governor and
the spark advance and use part of a flywheel ring gear for the
detents. The small lever in the middle is to override the governor
to bring the engine to a real slow idle – about 50 to 60 RPM.

The 4-pump auto-oiler is used to lubricate the cylinder, roller
drive chain, connecting rod and the valves. The worm gear, used for
the chain steering, was part of the blower chute control off an old
threshing machine. The flat belt clutch pulley was hand built by

He has taken it to many shows and been in a few parades, and I
enjoy showing it off today as much as I did when I was a kid.

Contact Kevin Hesse at 6028 E. Joy Road, Ann Arbor, MI
48105 • khesse@comcast.net

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