Mystery History of 1948 Case SI Outfitted with an Evans Winch Finally Comes to Light
Alfred Evans (right) explains the workings of his winch to Virginia Governor William Tuck (seated) and Charles Upham, engineer-director of the American Road Builders Association, in this 1940s publicity photo. (Photo courtesy Bill DeHardit)
Back in the March 2003 issue of Gas Engine Magazine, I wrote about the discovery and restoration of my 1948 Case SI, serial no. 5212750. It is an unusual tractor, because where the belt pulley would normally be located, there is a two-speed gearbox instead. The following information is printed on the gearbox:
During the Case's restoration I tried, unsuccessfully, to find information about Evans winches, about how the missing winch mounted on the tractor, and what was the winch's intended purpose. However, since the article was published, all of these questions have been answered, due to the many alert and knowledgeable readers of Gas Engine Magazine. I received many letters and phone calls from readers who had information on my Case, enabling me to piece together the details and history of my winch tractor.
Alfred Way Evans started his company after purchasing the rights to manufacture a hand-operated winch called a Pull Jack. Once established as a manufacturer, he developed a more powerful, powerdriven winch that mounted on Fordson tractors. This unit was sold and shipped all over the world and was used extensively for clearing forests. When Ford switched from the Fordson to the 9M, Evans turned to Case for a suitable tractor. He ended up mounting his winch on Case SI tractors fitted with steel wheels, which proved to be a very effective combination; the company described it as a 'land-clearing and stump-pulling tractor.'
Evans liked performing dramatic demonstrations of his equipment to prove its efficacy, and on one occasion he used a Case winch tractor to pull over a 7-foot-diameter cottonwood tree. He hooked a line about 25 feet high in the tree, and using snatch blocks and a tackle, he pulled the tree away from the tractor and down to the ground. For another demonstration, he suspended a 5,600-pound weight from a cable controlled by a Case winch tractor. He then stood under the weight and had the winch operator lower the weight to just touch his out-stretched fingertips. Putting his arm down, he had the operator lower the weight until it just touched the top of his head. Talk about trusting your own design!
To further demonstrate the efficiency of his winch, Evans conducted demonstrations wherein a six-man crew pulled as many 8-inch stumps as fast as they could. In one case they pulled 10 stumps in 58 seconds!
Typically, Evans ordered a group of tractors from the Case factory in Racine, Wis., and they were shipped to his plant in Gloucester, Va. Once the tractors were at his factory, workers mounted the Evans winches, painted the tractors silver or olive drab, and then shipped them to customers around the world. Some helped build Denison Dam and Reservoir in Texas, while others cleared the jungles of Africa or South America. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was one of the biggest customers for Evans winches.
Lever to the left of the steering selects desired winch gear. Combined with the two-speed gearbox, the Evans outfit has four possible winching ratios.
Pulling it Together
Among the helpful readers who provided me with information was Ray Gay, of Ellensburg, Wash. After seeing the March 2003 article in GEM, Ray called to tell me he owned a complete and running Evans winch tractor, and he invited me to see it. Since Ray lives only 90 miles away, I made the trip at my first opportunity so I could inspect and take pictures of his very special tractor. Ray and I compared serial numbers, and we found that our tractors are only 71 numbers apart; they were built in the same batch at J.I. Case in May 1948.
Of great interest to me was the chance to inspect a complete Evans winch assembly, mounted and functional. The winch assembly, which is missing on my tractor, mounts directly on the back of the Case, and it takes its power from a sprocket on the two-speed gearbox on the side of the tractor. A chain from this sprocket runs around the rear axle to a very large sprocket on the rear-mounted winch, where another set of reduction gears drives the cable drum. A control lever on the winch selects low, high or neutral gear, and a 'handle dog' locks the lever in position. Vertical rollers acting as fairleads prevent wear on the cable as it exits the spool. The entire winch is massively built and can clearly pull quite a load. A loop of steel cable is attached to the winch frame and is suspended under the tractor and brought up to the front. This serves as the anchor point for pulling.
A rather elaborate set of instructions is engraved on a plate on the chain guard. The two gearboxes, plus the 'handle dog,' make for a lot of levers to pull and push. In general, a high gear ratio was used to pull in the slack cable through all the tackle, then the operator switched to a lower gear for heavy pulling. Another plate on the control handle identifies the manufacturer as the 'Evans Clearing Corp.'
A row of case SI winch tractors ready for shipment to South Africa, parked in front of the Evans headquaters in Gloucester, Va., in the late 1940's. The old Evans headquaters is now an auto parts store and antique mall. (Photo courtesy Bill Dehardit)
The End of Evans Winches
The development of modern earth-moving equipment after World War II (with items such as hydraulic backhoes and large dozers coming to the market) spelled doom for the Evans land-clearing winch tractors. When Evans died in 1950 at the age of 66, his nephew took over the company. By this time, sales of Evans winches were in decline, a trend that continued until the company was eventually forced to close a few years later.
Alfred Evans' handsome headquarters and manufacturing building in Gloucester is now an auto parts store and antique mall. Even so, some of his winch tractors are still alive and well. They're rolling - and working - tributes to his inventive skills and relentless drive.
I am grateful to Betty Jean Deal, director of the Gloucester Museum of History, for her help in tracking down sources of information; to Bill DeHardit of Gloucester, who shared a wealth of history and photos of the Alfred Evans Clearing Corp.; and to Mike Intlekofer for research assistance.
Ray Gay, owner of the complete and functional Case SI winch tractor, can be reached at: P.O. Box 5, Ellensburg, WA 98926.
Kirk Unzelman has been, at various times, a cowboy, rancher, farmer, army medic, truck driver and mechanic. He is devoting his retirement years to finding, restoring and displaying antique farm equipment. Contact him at: 4635 130th Ave. S.E., Bellevue, WA 98006.