Henry 'Hank' Krohne sitting on one of his Krohne tractors sometime around 1941. Hank built the chassis himself, sourcing the running gear and other hardware from readily available new and used sources. All told, he built 50 of these tractors, most of them evidently staying in Michigan.
Henry 'Hank' Krohne of rural Hartford, Mich., a large tree fruit, vegetable and grape farmer, needed a new tractor. In early 1941 farm machinery was hard to acquire, so Hank decided to take matters into his own hands, turning his attention to building his own.
Hank built his tractor drawing from a combination of new and used parts. His tractor used a Ford Model A motor, a Ford Model A transmission coupled to a Ford truck transmission (which was evidently used much like a transfer case, most shifting being done through the Model A transmission), a Ford truck rear end, an Allis Chalmers gas tank, a custom-made hood, 16-inch front tires and 12-inch by 28-inch rear tires, all pulled around a 6-inch channel-iron frame. The resulting tractor was fast and durable. Painted a distinctive bright red, these tractors sold for $800 in 1941, and all told Hank made 50 Krohne tractors.
The Bronte Winery and bottling plant in nearby Keeler had three Krohne tractors on their 140-acre grape vineyard to disk and haul out wooden boxes of grapes on a 4-foot by 10-foot trailer.
The surviving Krohne tractor, which Robert has since purchased. The Ford Model A engine is clearly visible despite years of overgrowth.
The only known surviving Krohne tractor, which has been sitting idle for the past 45 years. Robert was able to buy this tractor the same day he finished putting this story together.
The Krohne tractor was hardly Hank's first offering. Hank was a very good welder, and when he was 28 years old he designed a 400-gallon spray rig with a wooden tank, a John Bean pump and a 4-cylinder Willys motor. As the driver drove along at about four mph a spray operator (standing on top of the tank in a square, welded pipe frame so tree limbs would not knock him off) used a spray nozzle attached to a rubber hose to spray the trees. The sprayers sold for $1,200.
Louis Gelder & Son, a large Oliver tractor dealer 15 miles away in Millburg, commissioned Hank to build several of the sprayers. The dealer was in the middle of southwest Michigan's 'Fruit Belt,' and the sprayers were much needed at the time with farmers changing from livestock and grain operations to fruit and vegetable farming.
A surviving photograph, also taken around 1941, of Hank's custom spraying unit. Hank built around 70 of these units, which used a John Bean pump and a Willys 4-cylinder engine. The operator stood in the square platform on top as the unit was pulled along.
Hank built about 70 sprayers, and he also built a duster for applying powder on fruit trees. The duster used a Root blower and motor mounted on a trailer. Additionally, Hank also made farm trailers -an 8-foot by 16-foot flatbed for fruit and vegetables and a 4-foot by 10-foot for use in grape vineyards.
Hank's inventiveness didn't stop with farm implements. Hank's neighbor, Curtis Coats, needed something to dig canals and build an island on low land he owned on a very large lake. Hank welded up a 20-foot by 30-foot barge, then mounted a mud-sucking pump, a gas engine, some hose and some pipe. The barge was used to dredge out canals to create a large island on Paw Paw Lake in the Coloma-Watervliet, Mich., area. Today, there are still houses on the island and on the canals. He also did welding work for the oil wells in Bloomingdale, Mich., and his wife, Marie, says they called him day and night to come weld for them.
The only known Krohne tractor left has been sitting in woods for the past 45 years, and I have just purchased that tractor. Hank still has three of his own spray rigs on his farm.
This area has, interestingly, been the site of a lot of independent manufacturing. Within a 20-mile radius Krohne, Parrett, Friday, Love and Kaywood tractors were made, all designed for use on fruit and vegetable farms. They also were specifically designed to be faster and for hauling fruit and vegetables to packinghouses.
Hank Krohne is 86 years old now, and his son John runs the farm now - about 300 acres of mostly open land planted with pickles and corn.
Thanks to Hank, Marie and John Krohne, and Jill Rauh at the Benton Harbor Public Library.
Robert Hall Jr. has written frequently for GEM on the history of little-known tractors produced in Michigan. Contact him at: 444 S. Olds Ave., Hartford, MI 49057-1355.