For a Brief Period in the Teens and 1920s, Dozens of Companies Manufactured Systems to Convert Old Cars, Mostly Model Ts, to Rudimentary Tractors. This Fond du Lac was one Such Offering.
I have been a subscriber to Gas Engine Magazine for many years, and I have enjoyed reading about rare engines and interesting things lost in time.
Enclosed are pictures of a Fond du Lac tractor. The Fond du Lac Tractor Co. was located in Fond du Lac, Wis. This company was like the Smith Co., which made units to form a truck and make a tractor. This tractor is missing its seat and hood, and it has been sitting outside for many years.
The Fond du Lac Tractor Co. used the Torbenson reduction gearing system made by Torbenson Gear and Axle Co., and they also offered an outfit to make a truck.
The Fond du Lac tractor unit is mounted on a 1923 Dort. The Dort car was produced from 1915 through 1924, with total production of about 135,000, so it is a rare car these days. Power was from a Lycoming four-cylinder engine producing about 19-1/2 HP and featuring thermo-syphen cooling.
John Dudley's Fond du Lac tractor conversion, in this case based on the chassis of a 1923 Dort, itself a very rare car. Dorts were highly regarded in their day for their quality, and perhaps this made the Dort a better foundation for this conversion, as Model Ts were generally not up to the task of farm work.
Conversion rigs were popular for a relatively brief time, hitting their peak in the late teens and early 1920s. It's possible this conversion was mounted on a succession of old cars before finally coming to rest on this Dort.
Head-on view of the Fond du Lac. It's unknown if the solid disc front wheels were original to the Dort or added on as part of the tractor conversion.
Drive wheels on the Fond du Lac. John says it uses a Torbenson gear reduction system made by Torbenson Gear & Axle Co., Cleveland, Ohio. Viggo V. Torbenson went into the axle business around 1915 in partnership with Joseph O. Eaton. The company changed its name to the Eaton Axle Co. around 1920. Eaton still makes truck axles.
Contact engine enthusiast John Dudley at: Route 1, Box 576, Hood, VA 22723.
Most of us have seen tractor conversions before, a set of ungainly steel tractor wheels and conversion hardware usually bolted up to an old Model T. In their day, they were the poor man's tractor, allowing at least the promise of working the land with motive power.
Conversion tractors reached their peak in the late teens and early 1920s, with dozens of companies around the country building conversion rigs. GEM reader John Dudley has come across one such rig. But it's one we've never seen, and about which we can find almost no information.
John identifies the conversion as a Fond du Lac from the Fond du Lac Tractor Co., Fond du Lac, Wis., but there was also a company called the Farm Tractor Co., Fond du Lac, Wis., building a conversion rig at the same time. Whether these were two separate companies, or the same company marketing under different names, is unknown.
According to information in C.H. Wendel's Standard Catalog of Farm Tractors, 1890 to 1960, the Fond Du Lac was made by the Farm Tractor Co. of Fond du Lac, Wis. The company was formed in 1917 to build tractors, tractor attachments and engines. Wendel's book shows a 1919 advertisement for a conversion tractor made from a sedan of unknown make.
Aside from Wendel's citation, the only other information we've been able to dig up is a Web site (www.stltikn.com, click on 'pictures' to find the conversion tractor) belonging to tractor collector and restorer Don Dougherty of Colfax, Calif. Don's Web site features a 1926 Ford Model T outfitted with a Fon du Lac (as the Web site calls it) tractor conversion setup that looks identical to John Dudley's.
The unit featured on Don's Web site is said to have been used regularly for some 23 years, in the process going through around 20 used Model Ts. It's hard for many of us to imagine now, but in the years following the introduction of the Model T and up to World War II, Model Ts were plentiful and cheap. Ten dollar Model Ts were the order of the day back then, making it economically attractive to simply replace a worn out car with another used, running model whenever a donor car wore out.
Don's Web site says the Fond du Lac unit featured predates the 1926 Model T to which its currently equipped, and that it was originally used on a farm starting in 1923. If true, this would suggest the Farm Tractor Co. was in business for perhaps as long as six years.