The concept of a four-wheel drive tractor, even one that was articulated, was certainly not new. Olmstead and Nelson introduced the first four wheel drives in 1912 followed by Morton (1920), Wilson (1922), Wizard (1929), Fitch Four Drive (1929) and Massey-Harris (1930).
In the mid-1930’s Albert Bonham started building four-wheel-drive tractors in Clinton, Utah. Later the tractor was built in Ogden and then in 1939, by the Eimco Corporation out of Salt Lake City. The tractor used an Allis-Chalmers engine, Allis-Chalmers took an interest in Bonham’s development and by agreement carried on experimental works for almost two years.
The Bonham Company continued to build tractors until the war restricted materials. Prior to that about 1,000 Bonham – Eimco four wheel drives were built. The unique thing about these tractors is that they were steering using reins.
In 1949 Harris Manufacturing obtained the rights to build the tractor. Harris, which built sidehill combines, had been founded in 1902 and operated out of Stockton, California. The first Harris Power Horse to be tested was in 1954.
The Power Horse steered like a crawler tractor skidding to the side. Two control levers pulled back about halfway would stop the tractor. Pulling the levers further back cause the tractor to reverse. If one lever was used the tractor could be turned by releasing the power on that side.
Production of the Harris Power Horse discontinued shortly after 1964.
But the four-wheel-drive age truly began with some experimental work conducted by the Wagner Brothers of Portland, Oregon. After 16 years of development they announced their first four-wheel drive tractor in 1953.
By 1956 Wagner Tractor had revived the interest in four-wheel-drive tractors in the West Coast and Great Plains. The company offered three models – the Wagner TR6 with 57 horsepower, the Wagner TR9 with 73 horsepower and Wagner TR14 with 73 horsepower.
That same year engineers at the Nebraska Tractor Test saw something truly revolutionary show up at Lincoln, Nebraska. Wagner Tractor of Portland, Oregon, had shipped out their model TR-9 for evaluation. Here was the revival of the four-wheel design with serious umph. The TR-9 turned out 871⁄2 drawbar hp. in tests and the race was on to see who could build the biggest 4WD.
While the Wagner was being evaluated, two farm brothers in Northwest Minnesota decided they could build a four-wheel-drive. Using available parts from various sources, Douglass and Maurice Steiger fashioned the Model 1, a 15,000-pound machine that turned out a whopping 238 horsepower!
Major tractor manufacturers took note of the Steiger development. By 1959 John Deere responded with the 8010 Diesel, a four-wheel-drive tractor built for them by Wagner Tractor with an estimated 215 horsepower.