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Oliver 1900: Loud and heavy

The Oliver 1900 was a barnyard bully. It was loud, obnoxious, heavy, and made no apologies for itself. It should've been sold with a case of shooter's earmuffs — enough for the operator and his family, as well as the families of his two closest neighbors! For all the noise those tractors made, they sure could put in some work.

There are a couple of them in an auction happening on June 29, just southwest of Fort Dodge, Iowa. You can shop for other Oliver tractors at auctions and dealerships across the country by clicking here.

First, the sale details — then we'll take a closer look.

Now let's talk big ol' Olivers. (Well, for 1962, at any rate.)

The Backstory: No stranger to big power

Oliver has never been shy on horsepower. They were building tractors using inline sixes for a solid 25 years before Deere did it, so being a front-runner in that game wasn't new to them. The leadership at Oliver believed they were dollars ahead if they built what made sense to build and bought the rest. That's why they used engines from Continental and Waukesha for decades.

Honestly, it's a pretty smart strategy. It gives you the ability to buy the right pieces from the companies on the forefront in that business, while your company's resources go into the stuff your company does best. We've seen it play out pretty frequently in the history of farm equipment. It made sense then, and it makes sense now.

However, when farmers asked for more horsepower and more capability in the early 50s, Continental and Waukesha didn't make what Oliver needed. So they turned to Detroit Diesel.

Super 99 Comes Out Swingin'

A green Detroit Diesel Super 99 tractor with a yellow grill and red wheels.
Photo Credit: Tractor Zoom

Oliver's relationship with Detroit Diesel began in 1954 with this tractor, the Super 99 GM. It was more expensive than the gas or six-cylinder diesel Super 99s, but it made a lot more power. Incidentally, this one is on the same sale as the industrial Oliver 1900 FWA. Hit the photo to get to the Tractor Zoom listing for this one!

Detroit Diesel, an arm of General Motors, had been building modular two-stroke engines since the late 30s, and they had a lot of success. They were tough as nails, and they definitely made horsepower. Oliver spec'd the Super 99 with a well-respected engine, the 3-71 (3 cylinders, 71 cubic inches each).

When it was released in 1954, the tractor made over 58 hp at the drawbar! Not bad for a 3-cylinder, huh? At 8,200 pounds, it was a heavy sucker, too! The Super 99 was rated for a 5- or 6-bottom plow. The rest of the competition couldn't hack that!

The 990: Twistin' The Tail a Little Harder

A dark green Oliver 990 tractor with white wheels and grill.
Photo Credit: Tractor Zoom

Oliver's 990, released in 1958, was just like the Super 99... except more. (Ryan Welton, one of Tractor Zoom's auctioneer partners, sold this big fella back in August of 2020. Final sale price was $11,025.)

But that's not where Oliver stopped. When they updated their Super Series tractors to the 3-Digit tractors for 1958, the Super 99 became the 990. The styling was updated a bit, the frame got beefier, and Oliver turned up the power a little. The result was pretty stout, too – 11,000 pounds and over 61 hp at the drawbar! I don't believe the plow rating was changed, but with a little more power, I'd imagine farmers could run a bit faster through the field. Either way, it was a nice little improvement over the earlier tractors and still miles ahead of the competition.

The 3-Digit series were sort of a stop-gap measure, because the engineers at Oliver were working on a new lineup for 1960: the Hundred Series, a thoroughly modern tractor for the modern farmer.

The 1900: Horsepower replaces the hired man

A yellow Oliver 1900 tractor with a white grill.
Photo Credit: Tractor Zoom

The Oliver 1900 was a thoroughly modern tractor, both the row-crop and industrial versions. This industrial FWA model is a pretty rare one!

Oliver believed in listening to its customers. When customers told the company hired men were becoming harder to find, and more expensive to keep, Oliver did what it could. The company gave customers more power, figuring that with added power, it could help offset the lack of labor.

...it became obvious that by 1960, farmers would need extra power to farm the land that previously was farmed with the help of hired workers." - T. Herbert Morrell (Oliver Tractors: A Chief Engineer's Account ~ 1940-1970)

The Oliver 1900 was the biggest of the two tractors launched in 1960. The 1800 was a smaller, 80 hp row-crop tractor. The 1900 served as the Wheatland model, and it was a beast, tipping the scale at 12,000 pounds (and over 18,000 when fully ballasted)! The engine was a 4-53 Detroit, and while it was a hair smaller in displacement than the previous 990 (213 cubes from the 3-71 vs. 212 from the 4-53), it was designed to be run a little faster. (More on that in a second.)

Series A/B/C

A green Oliver 1900 tractor with white text overlayed saying "Series A Checkerboard" pointing at the tractor's logo.
Photo Credit: Tractor Zoom

Series A tractors (the first ones released) are pretty easy to distinguish from the later B & C series. Just look for the checkerboard on the side panels!

The Hundred Series released with the Series A tractors is known today as the "Checkerboard" series because of the way the badging was designed. In 1962-1963, the Series B tractors saw a few enhancements, the most important of which were the introductions of the 1600 (a smaller row-crop/utility tractor), new engines for the 1800, and front-wheel assist for all three models.

The Series B tractors are also where the "spear" badging appeared for the first time – an idea Oliver picked up when it started building tractors for Cockshutt, a Canadian tractor company that had recently been acquired by Oliver's parent company, White Motor Corp. Oliver's top brass liked the way the spears looked on Cockshutt's tractors, so they used a similar one for their tractors!

The Series C tractors, released in 1964, didn't change much from a visual perspective, but the steering rack was improved, as were a few things in the platform.

A close up of a yellow Oliver 1900's logo, with overlaid text saying "Series B/C spear" pointing at the tractor logo.
Photo Credit: Tractor Zoom

Here's the spear badging on the Oliver 1900 Industrial FWA that is selling on June 29. Hit the photo to see the Tractor Zoom listing for more photos and bidding information!

More power, baby!

When the Nebraska Labs tested the Oliver 1900 Series A in October of 1960, the 4-53 Detroit under the hood made great power; over 89 hp at the PTO and almost 83 at the drawbar. But oh, how things changed in two years. In September of 1962, the 2WD Series B made almost 99 hp at the PTO and over 84 at the drawbar. A year or so later, when the front wheel assist model was tested, it cranked out close to 101 hp at the PTO and over 88 on the drawbar! These may not sound like massive jumps, but they definitely made a difference in the field!

Let's break out for a quick second and talk about Detroit Diesel 2-strokes, because there are three things you really need to know about operating machines with these motors.

Detroit Diesel rules of the road

  1. These things are seriously earsplitting. On a quiet Spring night, if that tractor was hooked up to an 8-bottom plow working the back 40, I'll bet every neighbor in a 5-mile radius could hear it. Maybe further out than that! If you're going to be close to one for more than about 30 seconds, you'd best have some earplugs. (Before you tough guy farmers all decide I'm a snowflake, have you replaced the batteries in your hearing aids lately?)
  2. They're thirsty. These tractors would outwork nearly everything in the field as far as brute strength was concerned, but they're not exactly fuel sippers. Be prepared.
  3. There's a specific way you have to drive them. If you're in an open station tractor, grab a crescent wrench or a hammer out of the toolbox, and bash your hand with it a couple of times, so you're good and mad. If you're in a semi or a cabbed tractor, you could also smash your hand in the door; that'll work too. Then, get in/on the machine, fire it up, and drive it like you're mad at it. Detroit Diesels don't like to be coddled. Either go hard, or go home.

An instructional poster showing the three steps to operate anything with a two stroke Detroit Diesel engine in it.
Photo Credit: Tractor Zoom

Okay, that last one was a joke. Sort of. They don't like to be coddled, that part is true. The fact is, because of the way they're designed, these motors fire twice as often as a four-stroke. By their very nature, they sound angry. When they're turning 2200 RPM, they sound like they're running at more like 4400 RPM. Even though they sound like they're about to come apart, they actually aren't.

Industrials

A yellow Oliver FWA tractor
Photo Credit: Tractor Zoom

Among other small changes, the industrial 1900 FWA sported smaller, squatier rears and taller fronts.

Generally speaking, when companies build industrial versions of tractors, they don't make many major changes — just some tweaks here and there. Such is the case with the Oliver 1900. The industrials had a hair more power, a little bit faster gears in the transmission, and a heavier front axle. One other change you usually see on front wheel assisted tractors is shorter, squatier rear tires (23.1x26) and taller fronts (11.2x24). That's what this tractor is equipped with, and I believe that's the setup it shipped with when it was built in 1962.

Oliver produced the 1900 Industrials from 1960 to 1964, although I don't believe I've ever seen a Series A tractor before. Industrial tractors don't have an overly huge market, so production numbers were a lot lower than the ag models. In fact, I don't think anybody's ever gone up to Charles City and put in the time to figure out how many 1900 Industrials were actually built. I asked around a little, but nobody I spoke with had ever heard or seen the numbers. I'd be surprised if they made more than 200 of them, though.

Sales

Oliver decided to introduce the Hundred Series to their dealers the week before Thanksgiving in 1959. They flew their dealers into Waterloo, Iowa for a two-day expo where the sales team really pulled out the stops. It wasn't quite as big as the way Deere would do it with the launch of the next generation tractors, but it was close. The big entertainment for the show were the Oliverettes. eight Charles City housewives (and a couple of alternates) hand-selected by the company, paraded around the Hippodrome in Waterloo on Oliver 770s in a square-dance routine they'd been practicing for months. It was also a subtle reminder to the dealers that the tractors they still had on the lot were agile and easy to drive.

(As a side note, my friend Sherry Schaefer devotes nearly a full page to the Oliverettes in her book, Classic Oliver Tractors. It's an excellent read and a terrific account of the complex history of the company. Well worth adding to your bookshelf, as far as I'm concerned!)

From the Oliverettes to the introduction of the tractors, the launch was a big success. It created buzz amongst the dealers immediately and probably gave them something extra to be thankful for a week later! Based on what I've read about the late 50s, almost every brand's dealer channel felt like the lineups were getting really stale. They were all itching for something fresh and modern to sell!

When the tractors rolled out to the dealer lots in the spring of 1960, sales were brisk. Farmers liked the new look and loved the power!

The Oliver 1900 Industrial FWA you can buy next week

A yellow Oliver 1900 tractor with a white grill.
Photo Credit: Tractor Zoom

This big fella currently lives in Lohrville, Iowa just southwest of Fort Dodge, but you can take it home Wednesday, June 29! Hit the photo to get the details!

This tractor is part of a pretty large tractor collection owned by Paul Vogel of Lohrville, Iowa. Including the non-runners, I believe there are 60 tractors on the sale! He's got some pretty rare ones, too — that beautiful Super 99 up above, a 990 in the barn, a FWA 1855 (that I believe is one of 191 built), a nice 2150, a 2655, and the list goes on. There's a lot of neat stuff at this sale. If I can, I'm going to get up there for photos and video!

What's it worth?

Absolutely no idea. They come up on auction so rarely it's awful tough to get an idea of what it might sell for. I talked briefly to Chris Losey (He's got a terrific YouTube channel called That Oliver Guy.), and he suspects it could be the bargain buy of the day. In his experience, Oliver 1900 Industrials tend to go for a little less than their green counterparts. See, typically, the industrials don't have hydraulics, which is a turnoff to some collectors. This one, however, does have them, but it doesn't have a 3-point hitch.

Honestly, I'm not sure where to ballpark this tractor – $20,000 to $23,000, maybe?

Either way, it'll be fun to watch this one sell, and I'm looking forward to getting out of the office and heading up there! (I've got a buddy who's adamant he's bringing that 2655 home with him come heck or high water. He's been wanting one for years, and I think he's pretty serious about this one! If he gets it, you can bet I'll put him on camera to talk about it! 

Here are the auction details one more time.

If you're at the sale, look for the big fella in a blue Tractor Zoom hat!

Ryan Roossinck
Hi! I’m Ryan, and I love tractors. It doesn’t matter if it’s a showpiece, an oddball, or seen its share of life ... if it’s unique and it’s listed by one of our auctioneer partners at Tractor Zoom, I’m going to show it off a little bit! This equipment is all up for auction RIGHT NOW so you can bid on it. I think it’s cool, and I hope you will too! This is Interesting Iron!

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