Despite its reputation of being able to deliver high-torque horsepower at considerably less fuel consumption than a gasoline engine, it took an act of humiliation to finally launch the diesel in America.
The catalyst was a plowing competition pitting a Caterpillar gas-power Sixty against a crawler equipped with a Benz (of Mercedes-Benz fame) diesel in a Sudanese cotton field.
The Sixty lost.
Few farmers – and only a handful of antique tractor collectors – even recognize the Parrett name. Yet during the formative period of tractor development – from the early 1900s stretching into the early 1940s – engineer Dent Parrett’s innovative designs would have a huge impact on horsepower.
Dent Parrett began building tractors as early as 1911 (although there are indications he was involved even earlier than that) out of a shop located in Ottawa, Illinois. Soon the inventor would move to Chicago which would, more of less, remain his headquarters for the next decade.
Powered front steering wheels are now so popular that it’s rare for a tractor over 120 horsepower to be manufactured without the feature. The popularity of the concept has grown to the point that you even order some large sizes of garden tractors with front-wheel-drive (FWD) axles.
However, prior to the 1980s, U.S.-built tractors offering FWD were a rarity. The feature was commonplace on European farms. So is this one of those examples of an advance in tractors coming from overseas?
At the height of steam popularity in the early 1900s, J.I. Case had grown to become the industry leader in agricultural power. So varied was the company’s line that it spanned dozens of models of stationary and steam tractor engines ranging in size from 6 to 150 horsepower, which employed both simple and compound operating cylinders.
The Ivel tractor lacks the design finesse found in other general-purpose, tricycle-type machines like the Farmall Regular or Case CC, which were so popular in the late 1920s and early 1930s. At 18 horsepower, the Ivel was a lightweight compared to other tractors of its time. But consider the era when the Ivel was built, and you come to appreciate the genius of this tractor’s design.
Rather than hold back and wait for the Great Depression to draw to a close, Massey-Harris boldly staked its claim to the future of horsepower on the farm by introducing a highly styled tractor in 1938 which also delivered market-leading horsepower.
Early in the 1950s, the top brass at Deere & Company knew they faced a huge challenge.
Considered one of the first successful four-wheel-drive tractors, the Fitch Four-Drive remains very much a mystery with collectors. And for good reason, too, as there may be four Fitch Four-Drives in existence today.
Moline Plow’s Universal D appears an ungainly anachronism. The motor cultivator design – which was all the rage in the 1910s but quickly faded in popularity – appears clunky compared to tractors from nearly any other era.
At best, the Universal earns points as a historical oddity.
But look beyond its outward appearance and you’ll discover a tractor that was decades, not just years, ahead of its time.
Allis-Chalmers’ Model U was not a particularly advanced tractor. Nor did the U make such a huge impact for Allis-Chalmers or on agriculture that it was considered great.
Instead, it was a component of the U – the pneumatic tires – that helped the tractor make history.