A Showcase of Rare Classic Tractors

The Tractor Factor (Voyageur Press, 2015) is a richly illustrated book that reveals what makes a tractor collectible, showcases the rarest models, gives a history of the marque, and details specific finds. Robert N. Pripps, a leading tractor historian, covers models from the United States, the UK, Germany, Holland, France, and other countries. Pripps’ expertise, paired with the stunning photography of Ralph W. Sanders and Andrew Morland, makes The Tractor Factor a book no fan of these paradigm-changing machines will want to miss. The following excerpt is from Chapter 6, “Cream of the Crops.”

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The following are tractors that would rate very high on the desirability lists of most every serious tractor person. In some cases, there were a lot of these manufactured, but time has taken a toll on their availability. For other models, fewer than 100 are out there, and very few ever become available for purchase. The hope of acquiring any one of these usually goes beyond the luck of the hunt. You might find a collector with two who is willing to sell one, or you might have to take the least desirable option: wait for an estate sale.

1918 Waterloo Boy R

The tractor that got John Deere into the tractor business took shape back in 1915 under the auspices of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company of Waterloo, Iowa. The name “Waterloo Boy” is thought to be both a reference to the name of the town and to the welcome “water boy,” whose job it was to carry cool, refreshing water to the thirsty members of threshing crews.

The Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company had made tractors in several styles prior to 1915 when the R was settled upon. It was produced through 1919, overlapping its successor, the N, which came out in 1917. Deere and Company bought the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company in 1918. Production of the N continued through 1924, overlapping its successor, the John Deere D.

There were more than 10,000 Waterloo Boy Rs made, of which some 4,000 were sent to Britain during World War I. Imported to alleviate the food shortage resulting from the German submarine threat, these were renamed “Overtime” by their importer.

The Waterloo Boy R was a four wheel, rear-wheel- drive machine with one speed forward and one in reverse. The engine was a horizontal side-by-side two-cylinder of 395 cid; this type of engine would characterize Deere tractors for the next 42 years. Displacement was increased to 465 ci in 1917. Steering was by swing axle, chain, and bolster. The steering wheel was on the right, the gas tank in the front. The cooling radiator was generally on the right. A belt-driven fan induced the cooling. The R weighed in at about 5,900 pounds. Only the N was tested at the University of Nebraska but was generally in the 20- to 25-belt-horsepower class.

1925 John Deere D (Spoker)

When John Deere took over the Waterloo Boy outfit in 1918, work was already underway on a new, more modern tractor design to replace the Waterloo Boy. John Deere engineers continued the development through four prototypes, each given a letter designator A through D. The D version became the John Deere D. It would be one of the longest- produced US tractor models, running from 1923 to 1953 with around 160,000 manufactured. However, not many were made with spoked versus solid flywheels, which makes the “Spoker” rare and valuable.

Serial numbers 30401 through 31279, made in 1923–24, were furnished with 26-inch spoked flywheels. Serial numbers 31280 through 36248 had 24-inch spoked flywheels. This means that there were about 5,800 made (Model D serial numbering became confused when continued Waterloo Boy production serial numbers began to overlap those of the D).

The two-cylinder side-by-side horizontal engine of the D was largely the same as that of the Waterloo Boy but larger in displacement at 465 ci. A two-speed transmission was provided a top speed of 3.25 mph. During University of Nebraska Test No. 102, performed in 1924, the D recorded 30.4 belt horsepower. Weight was 4,100 pounds.

1930 Massey-Harris GP 15/22

Massey-Harris was somewhat slow getting into the tractor business, first taking on lines developed by others. After World War I, Massey-Harris acquired the Case Plow Works and its Racine, Wisconsin, manufacturing facility. Also with the deal, Massey-Harris got the rights to Case’s Wallis tractor line. Its engineering department directly undertook the development of Massey’s first in-house tractor design: the GP 15/22.

The GP (General Purpose) was an all-new, radical four-wheel-drive machine powered by an L-head

226-ci Hercules four-cylinder inline vertical engine that could be configured for either gasoline or kerosene fuel. It had four equal-size wheels powered through a three-speed transmission, a transfer case, differentials on each axle, and lastly, through final drive meshes with small gears on the ends of each axle that mated with large diameter gears on each wheel. Since this final mesh was at the top of the wheel, ample crop clearance was provided under the axles for cultivation of taller crops.

The GP’s front wheels were steerable through universal joints on the drive shafts, and there were individual brakes on each front wheel to aid in steering. The rear axle was free to swivel around the differential input so that all four wheels could remain in contact with the ground on uneven surfaces.

The GP was available with an electrical system, starter, and lights. Also offered was an implement-lift system. It came in four different tread widths for row-spacing, though these were fixed and not adjustable. Orchard fenders were available for the narrowest version. Railroad, golf course, and industrial versions were offered.

Production of the GP 15/22 began in 1930. In 1936, an improved version was introduced, identified by a down-sloping hood. The engine, now with overhead valves, was the same displacement and power. The GP name was dropped, and it was simply called the 4-WD. Production seems to have ended in 1936 with only some 3,000 of all types having been built.

1936 John Deere BW-40

John Deere, ever willing to please customers, started making variations to its B tractor line almost as soon as production started in 1935. The first modification to the conventional GP (General Purpose) B was the BN, with a single front wheel but otherwise the same. It was made for California vegetable growers and also became known as the B Garden Tractor. The next variation was the BW with an adjustable-width front end (rear-wheel spacing was adjustable on all B GPs).

An odd variation of the BW was the superrare BW-40 or “Special Narrow” BW. Special axles were used front and rear, to allow tread widths as narrow as 40 inches. Maximum tread width was 72 inches, but that required extensions for the front axles. It seems that only six of these were manufactured in 1935 and 1936.

Power for the BW-40 came from the standard two-cylinder engine of 149 ci. A four-speed transmission was provided. Shipping weight was 2,700 pounds.

1938 Minneapolis-Moline UDLX Comfortractor

The “Holy Grail” of tractor collecting, the UDLX is one of the most sought-after tractors of all time. The best estimates are that 150 were made between 1938 and 1941. Very few were delivered to farmers, who worked them in their fields by day and then drove them to town in the evening. Most were driven by custom threshermen able to scoot between jobs towing the thresher at 40 mph. Stories recount Minneapolis-Moline salesmen driving Comfortractors to visit dealerships; that, however, seems to have been rare indeed.

The UDLX (or U-Deluxe) Comfortractor was a version of the M-M U Series tractors. The UDLX featured items like a shift-on-the-fly five-speed transmission, tip-out windshields, windshield wipers, high- and low-beam headlights, taillights, heater, speedometer, and even a cigar lighter. There was somewhat cramped seating for three.

The fully enclosed cab was comfortable for road trips, but since there were no hydraulics, the back door had to be open for access to trailed implements. Also, there were no provisions for a belt pulley or PTO shaft, so the tractor was only useful for pulling jobs. Since there were no springs on either axle, the UDLX tended to waddle down the road.

Power for the UDLX came from an overheadvalve four-cylinder gasoline engine of 284 ci. It produced about 42 horsepower. The tractor weighed 4,500 pounds.

While most of these have already undergone extensive restoration, those who have done so will say that it was not an inexpensive job. One of the main difficulties is that the cab structure was made of wood. The years have taken their toll, producing dry rot in these structure members, which now have to be carefully copied and remade.

1938 Graham-Bradley 503-103

Possibly the most stylish tractor of all time, the Graham-Bradley was particularly striking in 1938. Graham-Paige Motors Corporation of Detroit, Michigan, produced this nifty tractor exclusively for the giant mail-order firm of Sears, Roebuck & Company of Chicago. The tractor was called the Graham-Bradley as the Bradley name had been used by Sears for farm items for some time.

Graham-Paige, an automobile manufacturer, had its heritage in the Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company, founded in 1908. In 1928, the Graham brothers acquired the company, renaming it Graham-Paige Motors Corporation, and it continued producing stylish automobiles until World War II.

The 503-103 tricycle version was offered through Sears from 1938 to 1941. A wide-front version, the 503-104, was introduced in 1939 and was carried to 1941, as well. Both were otherwise the same, using Graham-Page’s 218-ci L-head six-cylinder engine from its car but governed to 1,500 rpm. As such it produced a maximum belt horsepower of 30. The belt pulley was downstream of the four-speed transmission and therefore had four belt-pulley speeds. Top speed of the Graham-Bradley was a racy (for 1938) 20 mph.

A clear picture of how many Graham-Bradley tractors were made is not apparent, but Graham car production in those days only amounted to 10,000 to 12,000 automobiles. Drawing a parallel to the tractors means the Graham-Bradleys are likely quite rare.

At the end of World War II, Graham-Paige president Joseph Frazer merged his company with that of Henry J. Kaiser, the ship-building magnate. The resulting Kaiser-Frazer automobile company never revived tractor production.

1950 Funk-Ford 8N V-8

Tractor people familiar with aircraft know that the Stearman biplane with the 450-horsepower

Pratt & Whitney engine in place of the original 225-horsepower Continental is known as the “Bull Stearman.” Well, the Funk-Ford with the 239-ci V-8 engine conversion could be known as the “Bull Ford.” Even governed to 2,400 rpm, the Ford industrial V-8 more than tripled the horsepower of the 8N.

Most Funk-Fords were converted by Ford tractor dealers from new 8Ns, but kits were also available for 9Ns, 2Ns, and later Jubilees. Besides the V-8s, Ford industrial six-cylinder L-head engines were more commonly used for conversions. In 1953, Jubilee Fords were converted to the overhead-valve six. With any of these engines, the Funk-Fords became the most powerful wheel tractors available at that time.

Just before World War II started, the Funk brothers’ Akron, Ohio, airplane-manufacturing company went into receivership. They had built a two-seat lightplane powered by a Ford four- cylinder Model B car engine. By 1940, the availability of those engines had completely dried up. The brothers switched to a Lycoming engine but nevertheless went bankrupt. Their receivership was picked up by a foundryman in Coffeeville, Kansas, and airplane production continued along with the foundry business. While traveling on sales calls, one of the Funk brothers happened to stop at a Ford dealership where he found a 9N Ford tractor that had a Ford six crudely installed. He offered to make proper adapter castings and other necessary parts for conversion kits. The rest, as they say, is history.

The V-8 powered 8N with dual vertical exhausts gives unbeatable stereo music while going where no other 8Ns can go. There is some risk of overtorquing the powertrain, but unless you get stuck, that is generally not a problem. Where Funk-Fords really shine is when a lot of torque is taken out through the PTO, such as in mowing jobs. For best results, a high/low auxiliary gearbox is used, which was an option of later 8Ns.

After only about 100 V-8 conversions were made, the Funk factory burned. The factory was rebuilt, but the production of aircraft and tractor conversions never resumed. Deere & Company eventually bought the factory, and it is now producing castings for Big Green.

L-head six-cylinder conversions are interesting but much more common than the V-8. Overhead valve sixes are about as rare as the V-8.

1960 Massey-Ferguson 98/Oliver Super 99 GM

The Oliver Super 99 GM was built between 1955 and 1959. For 1959 and 1960, some 500 of them were sold to Massey-Ferguson to be rebadged and resold as Massey-Ferguson 98s (along with a Massey grille in place of the Oliver grille). Updated Oliver versions, labeled 990 and 995, continued in production through 1961; some of these, and later Super 99GMs, were equipped with torque converters. All of these were truly awesome machines, but the Massey-Ferguson version, with only 500 being sold, is truly rare.

Probably the most interesting thing about this tractor is its three-cylinder, two-cycle diesel, made by General Motors. This engine, designated by GM as the 3-71 (for 3 cylinders of 71 cubic inches each), had a total displacement of only 213 ci, but because each cylinder had a power-stroke on each revolution, it had power as if it was twice as big, and at its rated speed of 1,675 rpm, it sounded like it was going twice as fast. In addition, the GM engine was blower-scavenged, which meant it used a Rootes-type blower to purge exhaust gases and to supercharge the compression. No intake valves were used, but the pistons uncovered intake ports when at the bottom of their strokes. When these ports were uncovered, conventional exhaust valves opened, and the blower swept exhaust gases out. The blower also added to the sound, so that one of these in full flight howled like a banshee. A characteristic of the engine was that it lost power quickly if the rpm dropped. Therefore, unlike other diesels, it was best to keep it howling at all times.

Most of these were built in the South Bend, Indiana, plant, but production after 1958 was transferred to the Charles City, Iowa, plant. At 85 horsepower, these were the most powerful wheel tractors of their day. Fully ballasted, they would weigh in at more than 15,000 pounds.

This excerpt has been republished with permission from The Tractor Factor by Robert N. Pripps and published by Voyageur Press, 2015.

  • Published on Dec 16, 2015
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