The Bull With the Pull

By Staff
article image
A circa 1917 Big Bull 12-24, serial number 13092. Note the large, protruding spine on the front wheel, designed to keep it running in the furrow. This Big Bull is in the possession of the Reynolds Museum, Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada.

Introduced to Great Fanfare, the Bull Tractor Was Eagerly Met,
But Ultimately Failed to Hold a Market

A victim of time, rusted and scarred by years of exposure to the
elements, the Big Bull slumps silently in the shade of a warehouse
lean-to. At first glance it resembles a machine assembled from an
odd assortment of orphaned parts. The label ‘clunker’ seems
somehow appropriate.

But in 1915 the Bull Tractor Company proudly decreed the Big
Bull was the ultimate in tractors. Advertisements for the tractor
were over zealous, it would seem, perhaps even somewhat misleading.
Or were they? Not surprisingly, this tractor of ungainly appearance
has an interesting story.

Origins

Around the time of the WW I, farmers in Canada and the U.S. were
accustomed to the huge, powerful tractors being used for threshing
on large acreages. Tractors like the Rumely OilPull, the
Sawyer-Massey, the Twin City and others were popular. But they were
expensive units to own and operate, and farmers operating on a
smaller land base were demanding a smaller tractor to meet their
needs. World War I placed many demands on society, including the
need for more efficient food production, and this in turn spurred
the demand for small, general-purpose farm tractors, which were
almost non-existent prior to this time.

In a hurried attempt to be one of the first companies to meet
market demand for a smaller tractor, the Bull Tractor Company of
Minneapolis, Minn., was formed in 1914, introducing its first
tractor that same year. For a short time the Bull tractor designed
by D.M. Hartsough did seem to meet the need.

The Bull was an awkward-looking three-wheeled tractor. It had
one large driving wheel with steel lugs that ran in the furrow, and
a smaller ‘land wheel’ opposite the driving wheel that was
smooth-faced and free wheeling, providing balance to the machine.
The land wheel also could be adjusted to level the tractor when
plowing. The single, steel front wheel was uniquely designed with a
large, central spine on the rim and positioned to follow the
furrow.

The 1914 model, known as the Little Bull, had a two-cylinder
opposed engine rated at 5-12 HP. Unfortunately, the Little Bull was
not the tractor sensation it was claimed to be. Underpowered and
unproven in the field, it soon fell into disfavor.

The Big Bull owned by the Reynolds Museum. Close inspection of
these photos shows this Big Bull to have been built sometime from
1917 onwards, evidenced by the addition of a driven ‘land
wheel,’ the smaller wheel on the unit’s left side.
Initially, this wheel was simply pulled along with the tractor,
drive going solely to the large wheel on the right. These later
units, rated at 12 HP on the drawbar and 24 HP on the belt,
featured a drilled crankshaft and positive lubrication.
Unfortunately, it all came too late and the company folded in
1920.

The Big Bull owned by the Reynolds Museum. Close inspection of
these photos shows this Big Bull to have been built sometime from
1917 onwards, evidenced by the addition of a driven ‘land
wheel,’ the smaller wheel on the unit’s left side.
Initially, this wheel was simply pulled along with the tractor,
drive going solely to the large wheel on the right. These later
units, rated at 12 HP on the drawbar and 24 HP on the belt,
featured a drilled crankshaft and positive lubrication.
Unfortunately, it all came too late and the company folded in
1920.

The Big Bull

In a desperate effort to regain the confidence of the farming
community, the company brought out the Big Bull in 1915. Criticized
earlier for its lack of field-testing the Little Bull, the Bull
Tractor Company asserted that, ‘The Big Bull has gone into the
field and plowed, under the most trying and severe conditions. At
the Thresherman’s Convention at Wichita, Kan., in 1915, it was
the only tractor of any make or size, which actually worked.’
The Big Bull was rated 7 HP at the drawbar and 20 HP at the belt,
guaranteed. It was promoted as ‘The Bull with the Pull’ and
initially sold for $585 U.S., f.o.b., Minneapolis. In 1917, further
improvements included a larger engine and drive to the land wheel
for extra traction.

The Bull Tractor Company published a monthly bulletin, The
Bull Tractor Bulletin
, which included suggestions, special
information and letters of testimonial and appreciation from
satisfied owners. The Bull Tractor Bulletin of Jan. 15,
1916, exhorted the exclusive features of the Big Bull. Some of
those patented features included:

A bull wheel that runs in the furrow and does not pack the
land.

A steer wheel that also runs in the furrow, in line with the
bull wheel, which makes the tractor positively and automatically
self-steering.

A leveling device to quickly and easily adjust the tractor to
side hills or deep furrows.

Testimonials from satisfied owners were readily accepted in the
monthly bulletins. In the June 15, 1915 issue, M.A. Pool of
Memphis, Tenn., reported that with his Big Bull he could
double-disc land at the rate of about 10 acres per day on an
average of one gallon of gasoline per hour. He found that it would
plow about five acres per day using a 28-inch double-disc plow. It
used three gallons of gasoline to plow and narrow one acre of land.
John Yost wrote in Nov. 29, 1915, claiming that his Big Bull
(serial number 5862) pulled two 14-inch plows and a section of
five-foot harrow behind, claiming it did more work than eight head
of horses.

Some of the personal accounts were less serious, in fact
hilarious. The Bull Tractor Bulletin of Jan. 15, 1916,
carried this report from the Minonk (Ill.) News: ‘Mr.
Kriedner, a successful farmer living southwest of El Paso, Texas,
owned one of the Big Bull tractors that guides itself in the
furrow. He found that as he plowed in a circle it was not necessary
to give the tractor much attention.

‘On the third day that he had the machine working, it grew
so monotonous to be doing nothing but watch, that Mr. Kriedner went
to the house for an hour. When he returned to the field the tractor
was gone. Investigation showed that the tractor had struck a post
and deviated from its circuitous course. It stumbled through one
hedge taking the three-bottom plow behind it. At the next hedge the
plow stuck and the tractor broke the connecting chains. Thus freed
from its burden the tractor traveled at a faster gait and tore
through a barbed wire fence and then into a neighbor’s
cornfield.

‘Mr. Kriedner, by fast sprinting, finally overtook the
runaway machine. Neighbors are now taking out life insurance and
most of them have purchased periscopes which they keep trained on
the Kriedner farm, fearing another rampage by the iron
beast.’

These ‘facts’ likely would not have surfaced except that
Mr. Kriedner told the story on himself.

Other praises were equally humorous, as in H. O. Bennett’s
version of the 23rd Psalm:

The Bull is my tractor, I shall not want.
It make the me sit up and take notice.
It lead the me in the paths of praises for its namsake.
It comfort the my soul.
Yea, verily I coast down valleys, I am dragged over hills.
1 fear no evil when thou art with me.
Thy gearing and thy engine comfort me
I prepare for no accident in the presence of mine enemies.
I anoint thy bearings with oil.
My radiator is always full.
Surely, shall the Bull stay with me all the days of my life,
I shall dwell on the farm forever.

Even so, successful field trials, glowing advertisements,
testimonials from satisfied owners and humorous anecdotes could not
change the fact that the longevity of the Bull Tractor Company was
to be brief. One of the company’s most serious problems was its
failure to secure lasting contractual arrangements to manufacture
the tractor. The result was a limited supply of new tractors for
the distributors. In addition, other tractor manufacturers saw the
potential market opportunities for smaller tractors, and before
long new designs and models displaced the ‘Bull with the
Pull.’

A copy of an old promotional piece for the Big Bull tractor,
circa 1915-1916. Although a great many changes were made to the
machine, including increases in power and overall capability, the
company failed to establish a strong foothold in the growing market
for farm tractors, finally closing its doors in 1920.

Massey-Harris imported the Big Bull tractor into Canada in 1917
in an attempt to enter the gasoline tractor market, and the Big
Bull may have been a popular tractor in Canada, too, if a supply of
tractors had been readily available. The success of this venture
was described as disappointing, at best.

A last-ditch merger with the Madison Motors Corporation in April
of 1919 failed and by 1920 the Bull Tractor Company was
history.

Big Bull serial number 13092 is a reminder of those days long
gone. It is part of the collection of early tractors at the
world-class Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada.
The Reynolds-Alberta Museum celebrates what it calls the
‘Spirit of the Machine’ and is home to more than 5,000
artifacts. The museum is located 45 minutes south of the provincial
capital, Edmonton, and a minute west of Wetaskiwin on Highway
13.

Contact engine enthusiast David J. Domes at: 4018-55 St.,
Wetaskiwin, ALB, Canada T9A 1T4; (780) 352-5179.

Sources:

Reynolds-Alberta Museum. Massey Tractors, Farm Tractor Color
History, C.H. Wendel, 1992.

Massey-Harris Data Book No. 6 (1850-1960). Bull Tractor
Bulletin; July 15, 1915; Jan. 15, 1916.

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