How many readers of this magazine have Big-4 tractors in their
Either there are many who do, or the number is small, but very
The reason we say that is the response to an article by Carl M.
Lathrop in Iron-Men Album, which appeared in the
September-October issue of 1980. Carl, a consulting engineer who is
a frequent contributor, said he had never received more
‘fan’ mail than he did for this.
Since the Big-4 is a tractor and not steam-powered, we are
publishing this article in GEM and welcoming further replies.
Carl, in his article, said there were only three ‘Big 4’
tractors remaining in the United States. The one he wrote about
particularly was at Monticello, Utah.
Blaine Griggs, Rt. 3, Nevada, MO 64772, wrote to make a
correction. He listed a total of 16 in existence, including the one
at Monticello. His owners list follows:
Harold Ottoway, Wichita, KS (two); Clarence Butler, Parshall,
ND; Milton Ayers, Madison, SD; Krumweide Tysse, Voltaire, ND;
Sedburg, Anderson & Gustafson, Fargo, ND; Stuhr Museum, Grand
Island, NE; Jim Rathart, Forman, ND; Oscar Cooke, operator of
Oscar’s Dreamland, Billings, MT (two); Western Development
Museum; Saskatoon, Sask., Canada; Reynolds Museum, Wetaskiwin,
Alberta, Canada; Palmer Anderson, Glenham, SD; Krumweide &
Tysee, Crosby, ND; John Hall, Cap Girardeau, MO; Chamber of
Commerce, Monticello, UT.
Robert Worbois, of North Huntingdon, PA, sent Lathrop a copy of
a 1913 Big ‘Thirty’ catalog which contains many good
illustrations plus other valuable information. Lathrop sent this on
Consulting books on tractors, we found that the ‘Big
Four’ dates back to experiments started in 1899 by D. M.
Hartsough, whose first product was a one-cylinder, 8 HP outfit. At
that time, the automobile was beginning to make headway as a
replacement for the horse in transportation.
Hartsough wanted to find a substitute for the draft horse, to
‘pull a heavy load slowly rather than a light load
swiftly’, according to the catalog. The 8 HP engine was a
failure; so was his next, developing 15 HP. Hartsough left the 15
HP engine with his son, Ralph, and set out on a tour of North
Dakota to raise more funds. The catalog continues:
‘After weeks of travel and many disappointments, he
interested a few well-to-do farmers, who realized the need for some
substitute for hobos and horses. These men put up the necessary
money to build a few more engines, and the inventor started on
experiment number three.’
That was abandoned for number four, which had four 4 x 5′
cylinders. This was a real breakthrough-and hence the name.
Patrick J. Lyons entered the scene and the Transit Thresher Co.
was formed. When Fred Glover joined, the name was changed to the
Gas Traction Company.
The Emerson-Brantingham Co. bought out Gas Traction Company in
1912 and added the Big4 to its line. It built the Big 4
‘Thirty’ for several years. Later it became part of J. I.
The Big 4 ‘Thirty’ was noted for the self-guide device
attached to the front, with an arrow on it, to keep the tractor in
proper relation to prior furrows.
(For good reading on the Big 4, see: ‘The Agricultural
Tractor, 1855-1950,’ compiled by R. B. Gray, and
‘Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors,’ by C. H.
Wendel, both of which are available from Stemgas Publishing