In this month's Tractor Talk a reader recalls the early days of gas tractors and why they were ineffective as threshers.
I saw your notice in the last Iron-Men Album that you are starting a new magazine devoted to gas engines only.
First, I want to wish you success with it. If it is as good as the Album, everyone will be more than pleased.
Second, tractor talk. I like steam engines better than gas tractors for threshing and sawing and can remember hearing people say when tractors first came out: "He can't thresh, he has a tractor." There was a lot of truth in those words, mainly because in nearly every case when the salesman sold tractors, they would sell the customer too small a tractor to pull his thresher. Most of them were terribly overloaded nearly all the time and no gasoline engine will stand logging, so the results were disappointing. There were break-downs, green stacks because some thresherman took out some concaves to make their machines pull easier and also running under speed caused green straw stacks. Lots of the threshermen did not know much about their tractors and that caused alot of headaches and shutdowns. The few men that insisted on getting a tractor one or two sizes bigger than the salesman said they needed had good luck nearly every time. They had the extra power so that wet or rough straw did not stall the tractor in the belt. Of course, there were always 3 or 4 in each threshing ring that took special delight in pluging up the thresher. If you had plenty of power in the other end of the belt you could just give it a little more speed and laugh at them.
In 1931, our barn burned and we lost everything, including a 32 x 50 thresher and #4 clover huller, both Aultman & Taylor. We still had the 20 H.P. Aultman & Taylor steamer left.
My father and I saw an ad in the American Thresherman for a 30-60 tractor and a 36 x 56 thresher, both Aultman & Taylor, owned by D. H. King's widow at Virginia, Illinois. Mr. King had been the president of the Illinois Brotherhood of Thresherman, so we were told. We bought the rig and threshed one season in Illinois. We got along fine and the tractor had plenty of power. After we learned how to operate it, it was as dependable as a steam engine and we threshed 1500 to 1900 bushels of wheat a day in Illinois. There were 17 combines sold in Virginia, Illinois that summer so at the end of the season, we shipped the rig back to Fredericktown and threshed 12 more jobs in Ohio that fall. Eight of them were jobs that another thresherman could not thresh with his little coffee grinder. The grain was wet and growing and in very bad condition. He had a little tractor and could not pull his machine as it just filled up with wet straw. His thresher had the flat slapping straw racks.
The Aultman & Taylor had rotary straw racks or straw walker as some called them, and would take most anything through but it took a man at the tailings elevator to push them down in the cylinder and a man at the blower to push the straw in to the fan housing. And in some cases we had to take a section out of the blower fan housing outlet and let the straw shoot straight out the rear end of the machine, not the blower pipe. On one job that the straw got dry, the fellows decided to stall the tractor. Four men were pitching bundles in the feeder and doing their best to stop the 30-60, but they did not make it. They gave it all it could handle. If the feeder stopped they never stopped pitching bundles, so we set the volume governor so it would not stop and we opened the tractor wide open. The thresher must have been running 250 to 300 R.P.M. over speed. The A.T. will stand over speed as they are almost perfectly balanced. We threshed 150 bushels of wheat in 29 minutes before they ran out of wheat. That evening at supper they got to talking and said they never saw straw go through a machine so fast. They admitted some tractors were as good as steam engines.
I always said, and still think I am right, that if the threshermen would have gotten tractors big enough to pull their threshers in all conditions like the steam engines did, that they would have taken over years sooner than they did.
I still have this rig and also another 30-60 A.T., 32 x 50 A.T. thresher, 30 x 50 Huber thresher, 28 x 50 Keck Gonnerman thresher, 20 H.P. A.T. steamer, 30 H.P. Case, 10 H.P. Frick and a 12 H.P. Frick steamer. Our two 30-60 A.T.'s were the only tractors around here that were never stalled in the belt, and they used less gasoline than the small tractors did because they were very seldom worked to their maximum horsepower. If they got in a big hurry, they ran out of bundles and then we had to wait on bundle wagons.
The tractor was much cooler than the steam engine and was easy to handle even if it was bigger than most 20 H.P. steamers. I ran one of those for 15 years and it never failed to start but once, and that was caused by the impulse starter spring breaking in the magneto.
The 20 H.P. A. & T. steamer would out-pull the 30-60 in the belt. It pulled 100 H.P. on the prony brake and the 30-60 pulled 80 H.P., but the 30-50 will out-pull the steamer on the draw bar. I drug 29,000 lbs. on a stone boat at the county fair in 1956.
The 30-60 was first sold about 1912 and was a success from the very first one. It was the first tractor A. & T. put on the market. There were other good tractors, but none were better than the A. & T. Some of the others were over-rated if I remember right.
Aultman & Taylor pulled 80 B.H.P. in one test on gasoline. Avery 40-80 pulled 75 B.H.P. Oil Pull 30-60 pulled 75 B.H.P. Baker 25-50 pulled 67 B.H.P. 35-70 Minneapolis pulled 70 B.H.P. 40-62 Huber pulled 67 or 68 B.H.P. This was in about 1917 except Huber and Baker. They were later.
I have threshed many days on 30 gallons of gas and the most I ever used was 40 gallons. About 35 gallons a day would be a good average and threshed 800 to 1200 bushels a day and about 3 to 4 gallons of oil as the 14 feed oil pump puts fresh oil on every moving part in the engine. It could not be run without a drop of oil laying on the bottom of the crankcase. We always kept enough oil in the bottom of the crankcase for connecting rods to dip in it.
One ranch in Montana had 50 of these 30-60 A. & T.'s and worked them 25 in a group. Only two of them ever gave any trouble. On one of them their main mechanic ground the valves on it and he left all the grinding compound on the valves and when he put it together the other one caught fire and they smothered it with dust and sand while it was still running. That would fix any engine without an air cleaner.
I think the old tractors were just as dependable as the modern ones if they had a competent operator, but you had to learn how to take care of them. The 30-60 A. & T. has 7 in. bore, 9 in. stroke and 4 cylinders. The engine runs 550 R.P.M. and the radiator holds 120 gallons. The rear wheels are 7 1/2 ft in diameter by 24 in. wide. The weight of the tractor is 23,520 lbs., just under 11 3/4 tons. It will pull a 5/8 chain on a steady pull.