Interstate Tractor Co.

The short history of Plowboy and Plowman tractors

| December 2005

  • PlowmanTractor1.jpg

  • 1919Advertisement.jpg
    'Interstate Tractor Co. ran into financial difficulty in 1918, eventually becoming Plowman Tractor Co., and remaining in Waterloo. Shortly after this 1919 advertisement, the company disappeared, as did Plowboy and Plowman tractors. '
  • 1919AdforPlowmanTractorCo.jpg
    'A 1919 ad for Plowman Tractor Co., the third of three companies that manufactured Plowboy and Plowman tractors. In this ad, the name of the tractor, Plowman, was not broken into two words as in earlier ads. '
  • ThePlowMan13_30.jpg
    The Plow Man 13-30 was one of Interstate Engine & Tractor Co.ā€™s first machines. It had a Buda 4-cylinder engine with 4-1/4-by-5-1/2-inch bore and stroke. The later 15-30 was almost identical in appearance.
  • 1917InterstateEngineAd.jpg

  • APlowManTractor.jpg
    'A Plow Man tractor, manufactured by Interstate Tractor Co., is shown working a field in this undated photo. '

  • PlowmanTractor1.jpg
  • 1919Advertisement.jpg
  • 1919AdforPlowmanTractorCo.jpg
  • ThePlowMan13_30.jpg
  • 1917InterstateEngineAd.jpg
  • APlowManTractor.jpg

When Sandy McManus advertised for Sandy McManus Inc., of Waterloo, Iowa, in 1912, the ad read: "I am going to share my profits with you." It was just another way of saying prices of Sandow gas engines would be low. 1914 prices ranged from $27.50 for a 1-1/2 HP Sandow to $375 for the largest 16 HP machine. McManus also sold manure spreaders, cream separators and washing machines. (These Sandow engines were not related to the Detroit Motor Car Supply Co. Sandow engines.)

Mists of Time

Two things are unclear about Sandy McManus Inc. First is whether or not the company was an engine manufacturer. According to Manufacturing Companies of Gasoline Engines in Early Waterloo, a booklet from the Museum of History and Science in Waterloo, one-fifth of the entire nation's gasoline engines were manufactured in Waterloo from 1910 to 1915. The booklet also lists area manufacturing companies, and Sandy McManus Inc., is not included.

The second thing needing clarification is when McManus went into business. 1912 could be when the company started, although McManus' words in the September 1912 ad makes you wonder: "Though I've built up the greatest gasoline (engine) business on this good green earth, I've got a new plan that's going to stir things more than ever, and it's going to make my competitors sit up at night thinking about how to beat Sandy McManus." Those words hint that the company existed earlier, but more concrete information is not available.

The company was doubtless a mail order house, because it isn't likely that immediately after startup any company would have engines on hand in 1-1/2, 1-3/4, 2, 2-1/2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 16 HP sizes. All were hopper-cooled except for the air-cooled 1-1/2 HP engine.

Also, the similarity between Associated and Galloway engines, both manufactured in Waterloo at the time, give the sense that Sandows were merely re-badged Associateds and Galloways.

The End and the New Beginning

Within three years, stockholders lost their faith in McManus, and in 1915 he was pushed out. Almost before the ink on McManus' resignation was dry (it was announced Oct. 12, 1915), the company was reorganized in October 1915, into the Interstate Engine & Tractor Co., manufacturers of farm tractors. This was a road McManus didn't want to travel during his presidency.

Two tractors were proposed by the new company: the 10-20 Plow Boy and the 13-30 Plow Man, both four-wheeled lightweight tractors that farmers had been insisting on. These smaller tractors weighed from 3,800 to 4,800 pounds.

The first machines were produced in 1916, when a combined total of 50, 10-20 Plow Boy and 13-30 Plow Man tractors were sold. Plow Boys cost $675 each. However, shortly thereafter, the price of a Plow Boy was increased to $775, $875 in 1917 and $975 in 1918. Plow Mans sold for $995 in 1917 and $1,155 in 1918. Despite their price increases, Interstate tractor sales grew to 789 in 1917, and 679 during just the first half of 1918, with estimates of 650 for the second half and 2,000 for 1919. As of Aug. 1, 1918, the plant had 310 Plow Boys and Plow Mans on hand.

Plow Boy Tractors

In 1916, Farm Implement News headlined "Interstate Engine & Tractor Co. Announce New 10-20 Tractor." "It is interesting to know," the magazine wrote, "that this machine is made up entirely of standardized parts, representing a fully standardized machine." It's hard to imagine now, but farmers at the time did not have extensive machine repair skills, so anything that made the farmer's life easier - standardized parts, in this case - gave a tractor company a leg up.

Farm Implement News continued: "The reports of those who have seen the work of this machine show that the Plow Boy tractor is certainly one that will find itself ranking foremost among light tractors. This is not a new tractor in any sense but the name, but merely the combination of the proven successful parts into one successful tractor."

Another ad said, "From start to finish it is equipped with standard parts such as the Waukesha Motor; Foote-Strite Transmission; Dixie Magneto; Bennett Carburetor; Bierman Clutch; French & Hecht Wheels; Perfect Radiator; etc. The manufacturers of these parts are the recognized leaders in their respective fields. They have been in business for many years. Therefore you and your trade can always count on getting parts if needed. These thoroughly proven parts are combined into one all standard Plow Boy Tractor making the Plow Boy successful to the most minute detail."

On April 6, 1917, the U.S. entered World War I, and Interstate Engine & Tractor Co. immediately hooked onto the patriotic vote. A 1917 ad read: "Increased crops will help a lot towards winning this war. But it's just as necessary that farmers be fully equipped for their great work as it is for the Army to have adequate equipment. Farmers cannot work more acres unless they have more power and can get more out of their available supply of labor. In fact, they cannot even get the best results from their regular acreage without better power. The successful light farm tractor alone solves this labor and power problem. Farmers generally are coming to recognize this. It is therefore both a duty and an opportunity for implement dealers to help in the distribution of real tractors that have made good." Of course, that meant Plow Boy and Plow Man tractors.

Another 1917 ad said, "Uncle Sam is looking to his farmers for a crop production that will surpass every record." But there were many obstacles, including not enough man power, not enough horse power. "The one sure way to overcome these obstacles is through POWER FARMING - which both the Federal and State governments are now urging. This means an enormous increase in the demand for reliable tractors of real power. Our All-Standard Plow Man and Plow Boy Tractors measure up to every requirement of power, service and economy."

Plow Man Tractors

In 1917, Farm Implement News filed this report on the Plow Man tractors: "Plow Man tractors are manufactured by the Interstate Tractor Co. of Waterloo, Iowa. (The company name was shortened to Interstate Tractor Co. in 1917.) The Plow Man 13-30, pulling two 14-inch breaker bottoms, (was) entered in the Minot (N.D.) plowing contest and was in almost continuous demonstration throughout the meet. It burned kerosene, and the quality of plowing done was a subject of much favorable mention. Many visitors came to the meet primarily to look the Plow Man tractors over, though, of course, they did not fail to see others and compare them. It was the Plow Man, pulling an Oliver plow, that brought to light an Indian maul and an old musket. Many other Indian souvenirs were picked up by those following the plows."

L. Campbell of Velva, N.D., drove the tractor that turned the straightest furrow that ever was turned, according to the officials. An Oliver plow was used. "In the contest he only varied 4 inches in the first half mile first furrow, driving a Plowman."

Plow Boy and Plow Man Specifications

The Plow Boy 10-20 weighed 3,800 pounds with a Waukesha vertical 4-cylinder engine of 3-1/2-by-5-1/4-inch bore and stroke, recommended for two 14-inch plows. It was 156 inches long, and 70 inches tall and wide. In 1915 it sold for $675, in 1917, $875.

The Plow Man 13-30 was identical as far as weight and size, but used a Buda vertical 4-cylinder engine of 4-1/2-by-5-1/2-inch bore and stroke, was recommended for three 14-inch plows, and sold for $995 in 1917.

The Plow Man 15-30 weighed 4,800 pounds, was 156 inches long, 66 inches wide, 69 inches tall, and its Buda 4-1/2-by-6-inch bore and stroke engine was rated for three or four 14-inch plows. Drive wheels were 60 inches tall and 10 inches wide, exactly like the 10-20 and 13-30.

A 1917 Interstate Engine & Tractor Co. advertisement for the 10-20 and 13-30 All-Standard tractors said both employed the Buda 4-cylinder engine, a change from the earlier Waukesha in the 10-20. A 1918 ad for the newly-named Interstate Tractor Co. announced "The new 15-30," which carried "the idea of reserve power still further, and is a great forward step for improved service and long tractor life." The 13-30 was also mentioned in the 1918 ad, but the 10-20 was not. Sizes and weights of the tractors were different in this ad, listing both Plowman models at 12 feet long by 5 feet wide by 6 feet tall, and weighed 4,400 pounds and 4,800 pounds, respectively.

The information on the side of the hoods changed, too, as the Plow Man 15-30 displayed, "Plow Man 15-30, Built by Interstate Tractor Co., Waterloo, IA, USA," while the earlier ad simply marked "Plowman 15-30 HP" on the hood.

A 1918 ad for Interstate Tractor Co. was headed: "A Serious Shortage of Tractors," and continued saying that the modern tractor had arrived just in time, because farm animals could not handle the additional millions of acres being farmed. "Plow Boy and Plow Man All-Standard tractors in the past two years have made an enviable record for satisfactory service in this and foreign countries. Experimenting with designs and special types has long past (sic) so that in these two years no radical change in construction has been found necessary."

Twenty-four distributors were listed in a dozen states and Canada in a 1918 Farm Implement magazine full page ad. One ad said, "Because of the great tractor demand this year, some tractor manufacturers are advising their dealers they can supply only part of their requirements. Evidently, these manufacturers took on more dealers than their output justified. The Interstate policy has been to confine the Plow Man line to the better class of dealers and add new dealers only as the increased production would warrant."

Exporters were put on notice that the company had sufficient output to handle a reasonable amount of export business by claiming hundreds of their tractors were used in Great Britain and other countries.

Another 1918 ad proclaimed how farmers would save money with Plow Man and Plow Boy tractors, "because of low fuel cost, easy operation and very small upkeep expense. This record of economy and satisfaction has already doubled our last year's sales for 1918."

A year later, Interstate Tractor Co. was reorganized into the Plowman Tractor Co. in Waterloo, selling the Plowman 13-30 and Plowman 15-30 as offered by Interstate years earlier, except this later 15-30 (selling for $1,795) had a Buda YTU engine with a slightly larger bore and stroke - 4-1/2-by-6-inch compared to the old 4-1/4-by-5-1/2-inch.

A 1919 ad for the Plowman 15-30 (which was no longer the Plow Man, but the Plowman) said this was a remarkable tractor that had made friends all over the country, and represented the latest approved ideas in tractor construction. "For four years Plowman tractors have proven their dependability and economical operation. This big, robust machine, with its simple control and great reserve power, commands admiration whether in the field or in the sales room."

Unfortunately, the great wall of the 1920 agricultural depression loomed ahead, and like many tractor companies of that era, Plowman Tractor Co. hit it and the company disintegrated.

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and the author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact Bill at: Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56369; (320) 253-5414;

Grand Forks Distributor of Plow Man

An unidentified farm magazine of the time said, "The Grand Forks Tractor Co., Grand Forks, N.D., has entered into a contract with the Interstate Tractor Co. of Waterloo, Iowa, for the distribution of Plow Man tractors in the states of North Dakota, Montana, part of Wyoming and part of Minnesota. The contract extends over a period of five years and calls for a total of 600 tractors, beginning in 1918 and providing for an increasing schedule each following year. The arrangement was recently completed by P.W. Miller, president and manager of the Grand Forks Tractor Co., and Sandy McManus, president of the Interstate Tractor Co. This is one of the largest contracts so far recorded in the tractor business.

"An order for a trainload of Plow Man tractors was placed for immediate delivery and the illustration used in connection with this article shows the train leaving the factory at Waterloo. A large stock of extra parts will be carried at Grand Forks so that dealers in the territory, as well as purchasers, may have prompt service. With Mr. Miller's acquaintance through the territory covered by his contract, the Plow Man tractor will get the best possible representation."


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