Keeping the Doodlebug Project Alive

Farmers from the 30s to the 50s built makeshift tractors called doodlebugs from available parts and pieces found on the farm.

article image
Forrest Spaulding
The front frame had to be extended to hold the large Allis-Chalmers engine.

There are a few of us in our rural part of northeast New York state who are trying to keep our history and heritage alive. From the ’30s to the ’50s, many farmers could not afford tractors, so they built makeshift tractors by taking old cars and trucks and converting them into something to pull farm equipment or work in the woods. They were nicknamed “doodlebugs.” Over the years, they have mostly disappeared. Now, we are doing this just for fun, with no practical purpose in mind. The nice thing about a doodlebug is there is no wrong way to build one, it is only limited by one’s imagination and ability.

For my latest doodlebug, the frame, cowl, and rear axle are from an early 1928 Ford AA truck. The front axle is from a ’30s Ford AA. The rear wheels are 20-inch spoke wheels from a ’28 Ford AA truck. The front wheels were cut down, and 17.5-inch tubeless Chevrolet pickup rims and tires were mounted. The grill, radiator and engine are from an old Allis-Chalmers WD tractor and the transmission is from an Allis-Chalmers WC.

The seat is from a 19th-century horse-drawn buck-board wagon. The box on the back is from a 1950 Chevrolet pickup, cut to fit. The doodlebug has a belt-driven hydraulic pump, which can be used for the three-point hitch or to lift a sickle bar mower attachment. The three-point hitch is from the Allis-Chalmers WD and the draw bar is a combination of Allis-Chalmers WD and WC. The original Ford AA hood would not fit, so we took some sheet metal and bent it around a piece of 3-inch pipe and topped it off with some chrome strips from a 1953 Ford car. The front of the frame had to be lengthened 10.5-inches to accommodate the large Allis-Chalmers engine and different mounts were made to attach the engine and radiator to the frame. The rear seats are two cream cans with old tractor seats bolted on top.

The rear fenders are something we found at a flea market and we bent them slightly to fit the tires. The tires are 750/20 tractor tires. The taillights are from a Ford AA car. The only place we could find to put the battery was between the front wheels, so we took an Allis-Chalmers WD battery box and welded mounts to it that would set on the frame rails. The hood lights are from a ’30s Model A car. The charging system was changed from 6-volts to 12-volts, so the light bulbs had to be changed. A resistor was put in for the engine ignition, and the starters’ rear cover had to be reinforced because the additional impact caused by the 12-volts would blow the back cover off the starter. Curiously, the engine would run fine under normal use, but on a long hill it would tend to starve for gas, so an electric fuel pump was installed to solve the problem. My brother-in-law had a special elbow we used to allow us to run the exhaust back under the buggy rather than up through the butterfly hood.

This is how you make a doodlebug. You just take a pile of parts, add some ingenuity, a little luck and there you have it! They don’t have to be fancy, just fun to build and use.

Gas Engine Magazine
Gas Engine Magazine
Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines