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Certainly Allis-Chalmer’s purchase of Advance-Rumely in 1931 put that company on the map as a major manufacturer of farm equipment.
But Allis lacked a modern tractor to match the times. IHC had introduced their revolutionary Farmall in 1924 establishing the row-crop tractor as the future of horsepower.
The fixed front axle fleet Allis was sending to their dealers was losing ground to the Farmall. Management in Milwaukee – home base for Allis-Chalmers – was demanding a machine to put them back into the market.
Enter corporate wonderkind Harry Merritt. Busting at the seams with creative concepts and bound-and-determined to make Allis-Chalmers a major player in farm equipment, Merritt energized the engineering abilities of Walter Strehlow, commissioning him to create a Persian Orange row-crop. Possibly borrowing from the design of Rumely’s unique DoAll tractor, Strehlow fashioned a machine that would not only become the most popular Allis ever built but which established Allis as a competitor to the likes of Ford, IHC, Deere, Minneapolis-Moline and Oliver.
However, Strehlow’s brainchild, the Model WC, faced enormous competition when it was introduced in 1933. Agriculture was struggling with the Great Depression. And the market was quickly filling with other row-crop competition. This is when Merritt’s energies came into play. He had been fascinated with the potential of tires in agriculture. Three years before the WC’s debut, Merritt had commissioned Allis engineers to test the concept on a Model U. To dispell skepticism about tire performance in the field, Merritt took the concept on the road in plowing competitions.
To lure farmers’ attention toward rubber, Merritt employed the high-speed antics of race car legend Barney Oldfield speeding a rubber-clad Model U around a dirt track at state fairs.
Price leader by far
But times were tough. Affording a tractor, let alone one with new fangled tires, was a challenging proposition. So Merritt and his team figured out a way to sell the WC at the low price of just $825 equipped with “Hydromatic” tires.
That was only $150 more than a WC on steel...and certainly as cheap as any row crop tractor on the market at the time.
The WC was not a cheap tractor when it came to innovations, however. For example, it offered a four-speed transmission with a blazing 9 mph road speed – available only on rubber-tire models.
The WC also came with a unique clutch-type mechanical power lift which ran off the transmission’s input shaft. Plus that lift was live when the clutch was engaged. Farmers, tired by pulling on stubborn lift levers or frustrated with undependable mechanical trip clutches, quickly recognized the advantages of the WC’s lift.
Other state-of-the-art advances on the WC included removable cylinder sleeves, inserted valve seats, extensive use of anti-friction bearings, and cut steel hardened gears.
The fact that the WC was the first tractor to offer pneumatic tires as standard equipment would become the model’s claim to fame. No less important, however, was the extensive use of high-tensile strength steel hroughout the tractor.
Strong steel pioneer
Allis-Chalmers was a pioneer in high test steel through its work with steam turbines. This innovative metal was stronger, more durable and weighed less than cast iron. This latter point explains the WC’s surprising light weight. At 3,200 pounds, it was noticably lighter than competing tractors with the same horsepower.
This proved to be a detriment for WC popularity at first. Besides convincing farmers that tires were surprior, Merritt had to put all his marketing ability to work to belay fears that the WC was too light to work in the field.
This was when Merritt’s genius shone its brightest, however. He promoted the concept of “high-speed farming,” another first in agriculture. A WC could covers more acres, not compact the soil and get you home to supper before the neighbors, Allis advertisements proclaimed.
Farmers listened. WC sales took off. And by the end of its 15-year production run over 178,000 WCs were built, making it one of the top ten tractors ever sold.
And during the WC’s heyday, Allis-Chalmers’ Tractor Division sales grew thirteen times that of 1933, establishing the firm as a farm equipment giant.