PIONEERING THE FARM TRACTOR

By Staff
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1902 Hart-Parr No. 1
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1912 Hart-Parr 40

1021 F Street, Schuyler, Nebraska 68661

I’m enclosing an article written by W. H. Williams in 1927,
which may be of interest to G.E.M. readers.

In going through the article, it seems that Mr. Williams guessed
at the weights of the parts he mentions. I looked up the parts he
mentions. In my book, the 220 pound crankshaft is listed at 368
pounds for the early number and 350 pounds for the later number.
Next he mentions a 500 pound flywheel. The flywheel of the 45 and
60 horse engines, of which Mr. Williams writes, is listed at 1124
pounds. The belt pulley isn’t mentioned. The pulley had a
40′ diameter and a 12′ face. Within this pulley was
contained a planetary gear set to provide a reverse gear plus the
belt and traction clutch. This conglomeration weighed nearly as
much as the flywheel and had to be removed when the crankshaft had
to be replaced. No doubt, the service man erected a tripod from
which to suspend a block and tackle for this heavy lifting. I was
looking at a Hart Parr ’60’ in Saskatchewan, noticing that
the key had split a piece out of the hub and an iron band had been
shrunk on to the hub to hold the broken out piece in place. I said
it would be a calamity if that flywheel came off while the engine
was running. The owner said it did while they were threshing. It
rolled past the rack and the wagons and into the ‘bush.’
They had an awful time getting it out of the bush and then it took
16 men to get it back on the crankshaft. Those 16 men must have
been crowded like ants on an ant hill.

Twenty-five years ago there was no such thing as the farm
tractor. For the past ten years it has been a commonplace in
agriculture. Mechanical inventions develop very rapidly in the
twentieth century, whose first years saw many experiments in the
tractor building. Several of the large builders of gasoline engines
took part in these experiments, but all these designs consisted
simply of a stationary gas engine mounted on a truck and when put
to field tests failed because they lacked special features to adapt
them to this different class of service.

In 1902 the Hart-Parr Company of Charles City, Iowa, put its
first farm tractor in the field. The results were valuable chiefly
in showing what features their design lacked, and some of the
features it should contain. The next twelve months were spent in an
entire re-designing of the first model; in the spring of 1903, the
first successful model of a gasoline tractor was put in the field.
They were purely threshing engines, but could propel themselves and
pull a separator around the country. Fifteen of these were sold
that first fall, and so well were they designed and built that all
of them remained in the field from five to twenty-five years, and
six were still in operation as late as 1925. The year 1903,
therefore, marked the successful beginning of what is now known as
the farm tractor. But the real farm tractor was not to come until
after many moons of trials had passed over the heads of the early
designers.

In 1905 the Hart-Parr Company re-designed the transmission gears
of their 1903 model, making them much heavier, and using an
enclosed ‘spur differential.’ This enabled them to pull
plows as well as threshing machines, and marked another step in the
right direction. In 1906 they abandoned the old pushrod type of
valve gear, and used a rotary valve gear, with removable valve
cages and high-tension ignition. These changes did away with most
of their ignition troubles. During the next four years most of the
weak spots in this 1906 model were worked out through field
experience and showed the world that the farm tractor had come to
stay, although still far from perfect.

In the summer of 1905, I joined the Hart-Parr Company as sales
manager, which position I held for nine years. But these machines
were not then known by that name ‘tractor.’ They were
called gasoline traction engines. In 1907 I began using the word
‘tractor’ in our advertising. In 1912 I began to use the
term ‘farm tractor,’ and the term seemed so appropriate
that it has stuck with us ever since.

Those nine years I spent as sales manager were the most
strenuous in my life. In the beginning we had all the old,
established, powerful steam traction engine builders to fight. They
ridiculed the ‘gasoline contraption’ as they usually called
it and unanimously declared it was a failure. Still its sales
increased by leaps and bounds. But the worst of our troubles were
the weak spots which kept bobbing up in the open field. They seemed
to exemplify that old saying, ‘Life is just one damned thing
after another.’ No sooner had we located one weakness and
corrected it than another one came up-before we barely had time to
catch our breath.

When tractors began to be commonly used for plowing, a new crop
of troubles arose. Parts which had never given any trouble for
threshing work began breaking with alarming frequency. For example:
In 1907  some rear axles broke. They were of four-inch
cold-rolled steel. So an axle of five-inch stock turned down at
both ends to the bore of the driving wheel hubs was designed. We
thought this would cure the trouble, but they broke oftener than
the previous design. The designing engineer had overlooked the fact
that these axles were subjected to a large and unknown twisting
strain, as the drive was through the axle. Making the axle five
inches from end to end remedied this difficulty. In 1908 the
large differential gear began to break altogether too frequently.
Close analysis showed that improper heat treatment in the foundry
was the cause, so this was easily remedied. In 1909 driving wheels
began to give away. The power of the motor had been increased at
least 25% through various refinements in design, so that the
driving wheels which had stood up well in 1907 were now too weak
for the strain. Increasing the size of the spokes and the thickness
of the tire remedied this. In 1910 we began using a drop-forged
crankshaft, which, theoretically, was better than a hammered
forging. But these broke more frequently than the old design. The
cause was traced to improper heat treatment by the makers of the
forgings, and this was corrected, but not until it had cost the
company at least $100,000 in free repairs and expert service; for
by this time we were turning out about twenty tractors per
week.

Believe me it was no joke to replace those 220-pound
crankshafts. Three times out of four the tractor was located out on
the prairies twenty miles from nowhere, and the first thing the
field expert had to do was to remove a 500-pound flywheel. He
therefore had to carry a formidable kit of tools right to the job
with him.

We had other field troubles, but our worst troubles came from
the ignorance of the purchasers. Back in those early years, not one
farmer in a hundred knew very much about a gas engine. What little
experience farmers had came from the use of a small stationary
pumping engine. Automobiles were then in about the same stage of
development as tractors and even good automobile mechanics were not
plentiful. So we had to sell a man a tractor and then teach him how
to operate it. But first we had to train a large force of field
experts. From 1907-1908 I think we employed about one field expert
for every dozen tractors we sold. In the winter of 1909-1910 we
began to conduct schools at the various prospective owners of our
tractors. These helped very materially. The next year we not only
held these schools, but had compiled and had printed a
‘Correspondence School’ course of lessons in Gas Tractor
Operation. We carried on these winter training schools for four or
five years, with gratifying results. They helped more than any
other factor in training competent operators. Other companies which
had come into the field followed our lead and began to hold winter
schools of instruction in 1912 and 1913 and by 1914a limited number
of good tractor operators could be hired by tractor owners.

The original Hart-Parr models all used two-cylinder, horizontal,
slow- speed motors. In 1908 the first crop of tractors having
vertical, four- cylinder, high-speed motors appeared in the field.
The first of this design was called the ‘Transit Thresher.’
Through various faults in design and construction, every one of the
first year’s output, I believe, came back on the hands of the
makers, who spent the year 1909 mostly in revising their design and
correcting faults, so that when their new model known as the
‘Big Four’ came out in 1910, it made a creditable showing,
and eventually had some fine records. In 1909 the Kinnard-Haines
Company (which had sold one or two-cylinder tractors since 1903)
entered the field with a tractor equipped with a vertical,
four-cylinder, high-speed motor.

The advent of these two tractors, equipped with heavy-duty
automobile-type motors, started a controversy which still exists
over the question: Which is the best farm tractor motor, the
two-cylinder, moderate speed motor or the four-cylinder, high-speed
motor?’ Both sides have their advocates and good points; the
majority of builders are now making the four-cylinder type. In
1910, the M. Rumely Co., one of the large builders of steam
traction engines and threshing machines, entered the field with a
tractor of the same general design as the Hart-Parr. This was the
first of the old-line companies to acknowledge the supremacy of the
gas engine as the motive power for the farm tractor. By 1914 almost
every builder of threshing machinery was building a farm tractor
operated by a gas engine; and several other firms has gasoline
tractors on the market.

The first gas tractors were large, heavy machines, equipped with
motors of 45 to 60 brake horsepower capacity. They were admirably
adapted to the pulling of five to eight plow-bottoms and operating
large threshing machines. In the years from 1907 to 1914, they
played a conspicious part in breaking up and bringing under
cultivation millions of acres of raw prairie sod in the Great
Northwest of the United States and Canada. I have received hundreds
of reports of tractors which broke up from one to two sections of
raw sod in a single season. They were the greatest single factor in
the unparalleled development of this great grain-growing section.
These millions of acres of new grain land were a tremendous factor
in the winning of the Great War which broke out in 1914. And it has
always been a matter of deep personal satisfaction that I had quite
a part in the development of these labor-saving machines.

But in 1912 and 1913 the farmers of the Middle West began to
call for smaller tractors suited to their needs; the plowing and
harrowing of cultivated fields of modrate size. This called for a
smaller tractor in which light weight was the most important
factor. As early as 1912, I advocated the design of a light tractor
capable of operating three plows, but could not persuade the
management to build such a tractor. They declared it would be an
economic failure. But in the fall of 1913, the first model of what
was known as the ‘Bull tractor’ was exhibited at several
fairs and created much favorable comment. In 1914 several hundred
Bull tractors were sold. They were designed to operate two stubble
plow-bottoms.

Unfortunately, Bull tractors were so lightly and cheaply
constructed that they did not last very long, yet they sold like
‘hot cakes’ and were the immediate forerunners of the
present-day small tractor. In 1915 at least a dozen tractor models
of two-plow to four-plow capacity were offered to the farmers. The
light farm tractor, designed for a multiplicity of uses, required
many new features in design, and brought a host of new troubles and
surprises to the designers, so that the years 1915 to 1920 were
full of disappointments and failures; but American inventive genius
finally triumphed. Thoroughly enclosed construction was probably
the largest single factor in ‘putting over’ the light
tractor as it is today. But it seems to me that these later
designers and builders had an easy time of it compared to the
pioneers who from 1903 to 1914 blazed the trail. When they began
they were literally ‘sailing on an uncharted sea,’ but they
finally landed, as did Columbus, on firm ground, and gave the world
a new and invaluable labor-saving tool, while Columbus gave it a
new continent.

I cannot close this brief narrative without paying a tribute to
the field experts of those pioneer days. The majority of them were
capable, conscientious, loyal men. They frequently worked sixteen
to eighteen hours a day in order to get things running again, and
often times they endured considerable hardship. Many warm personal
friendships sprang from these associations, and have lasted up to
the present time.

Some of these field men had remarkable sight-seeing tours in
connection with their work. We sent a number of them to Russia,
Austria, Hungary, and Romania, and one of them to British East
Africa. When the Great War broke out in 1914, six of them were in
Hungary, and they had some trying experiences getting out of the
war zone.

Note. The World War stimulated the domestic side of the
tractor industry but retarded its foreign growth and hampered it
abroad, as the Central Powers and Russia were unable to import
tractors such as they undoubtedly would have bought in peace times.
The war left several nations, normally tractor buyers, too poor to
invest in American farm machinery of this nature. Even so,
America’s tractor exports have grown to great
proportions.-Editors.

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