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In the July, 1990 issue of GEM, I asked for information on a Bradley tractor that my father purchased and we used on our farm south of Valparaiso, Indiana. The tractor was sold by Sears, Roebuck. Although I remembered the mechanical details of that tractor, I did not know where it was built.
In answer to my request, Mr. Edsel Pierce, 6133 East - 300 North, Craigville, Indiana 46731, sent me copies of the items in his Bradley tractor file. He sent some very interesting information on this little-known tractor and has given me permission to share it with GEM readers.
The September 11, 1930 issue of Farm Implement News carried a report that Sears Roebuck & Company were testing and demonstrating a tractor called the Bradley. They were not then offering it for sale. The tractor had been designed by Dent Parrett and a few had been built by W. M. Blair Mfg. Co. of Chicago, at their Benton Harbor, Michigan plant.
Despite the deepening depression, Sears did decide to market the Bradley. It received Nebraska Test 192, June 10-18, 1931. There was a note in the July 16, 1931 Farm Implement News that the Bradley Tractor Company, Chicago, was increasing its capital from 10,000 to 20,000 shares. The proceeds would be used for expansion.
The tractor was sold by Sears for approximately three years, starting in 1933. It was being sold at 31 Sears farm equipment stores in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Kentucky. One of the stores was in Valparaiso. The full-page ad at right is from the spring, 1933 Sears Farm Equipment Catalog. Note that Sears also sold planters and cultivators to mount on the Bradley.
The tractor was manufactured by the Bradley Tractor Company, which probably was W. M. Blair Mfg. Co., renamed. Its address was given as 919 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, in some publications, and as Benton Harbor, Michigan, in others. It appears that the company had an office in Chicago close to the Sears headquarters, but the factory was in Benton Harbor. The factory was reported to be the old Ross-Carrier Works. The tractor was not manufactured in the David Bradley factory in Bradley, Illinois.
I will give some mechanical details of the Bradley, which come partly from my own knowledge, and partly from the Nebraska test report.
The most unusual feature was telescoping housings between the differential and the final drives so that tread could be varied from 56 to 74 inches (and to 86 inches by reversing the wheels). I found the narrow tread was much better for plowing. There were hand brakes to aid turning. Four speeds were obtained by two 2-speed transmissions in one housing and there were two
shift levers. One result of this odd arrangement was that there were two reverse speeds and two pulley speeds, neither of much practical use. The engine was a 4-cylinder L-head Waukesha, 3? x 4?, governed at 1250 RPM. The fuel was gasoline only. Borg & Beck clutch, Vortox air cleaner, and Young radiator. The Nebraska test reported 15.89 drawbar and 22.93 belt HP. The color was a medium green.
My father told me that only 300 Bradley tractors were built. That figure has not been confirmed. It has become a rare tractor, but a few still exist. A collector in Richmond, Indiana owns one, and I noted one for sale in the Earl Marhanka auction advertised in the August 1991 issue of GEM.
In 1937, Sears came out with the Graham-Bradley tractor, built by the Graham-Paige Motors Corp., Detroit. It is not part of this article, but I will mention that it was highly styled, had a 6-cylinder L-head engine, electric starting, and was on rubber. The last one was sold in 1940.
Dent Parrett, who designed the Bradley, was a well-known designer of tractors. He had built the Parrett 12-25 tractor approximately 1918-1923. It had a four-cylinder cross-mounted engine, two speeds, and unusually high front wheels. In 1934 and 1935, he had a new Parrett on the market, a small tractor with a Hercules engine and pneumatic tires. It was built in Benton Harbor, probably in the same factory that built the Bradley. There is a Parrett tractor listed in the Earl Marhanka auction.