The tractor that bailed out Steiger
The IH 4366 kept a company afloat... but it’s not the company you might think it is. This one goes to a new owner on April 6, 2021!
If you’ve followed this blog for more than a couple of posts, you realize that the only tractors I typically write about are ones currently on auction. I’ve been wanting to tell the story of the IH 4366 for a long time, but I needed to wait for one of our TZ auctioneer partners to list one first!
The story of the IH 4366 is unlike almost any other tractor story: It’s more like every underdog movie pretty much rolled into one. It’s a good story about determination when your back is to the wall.
Get the popcorn ready!
Except that this wasn’t on a movie set. This was real life. A company hung in the balance, and the script played out in Fargo.
Wait... where? Harvester wasn’t headquartered in North Dakota!
The company that hung in the balance wasn’t Harvester.
It was Steiger.
Steiger’s growing pains...
Douglass & Maurice Steiger built a successful business by grit – and healthy doses of torches and welders. By 1969, the growing company had moved into a rented plant in Fargo, and employed more than 20 workers. They had a good thing going and a solid reputation for building tough 4WD tractors.
However, it wasn’t all perfect. Steiger had worked itself into a tough spot. By the early ’70s, the company had grown very quickly, but they didn’t have the capital to keep the doors open. They were building tractors for Allis Chalmers and a Canadian company called Co-Op, but between development costs and salaries, the company was strapped for cash. They’d exhausted pretty much every credit line they had. At one point in 1972, one of their creditors told Steiger’s board that they needed to cut bait and sell the company before the debt swallowed them completely. Furthermore, it got so bad that on his first day on the job, Board Chairman Gene Dahl had to pay for a load of Cat motors out of his own pocket!
All things considered, Steiger needed a miracle to stay in business.
Steiger’s miracle came in the form of a phone call from Harvester in May of 1972. They wanted tractors, and they wanted them quickly. They wanted an articulated tractor that was stout like Steiger was known for, but with IH axles, wheels, and motor. Together, they agreed on a prototype by the end of summer. If the prototype worked, Harvester would commit to buying 225 the first year, 325 the second, and 375 the third.
The timeline was aggressive. Most tractors take years to develop. Harvester had worked on the 66 series for at least five years before it launched them in 1971.
Steiger had agreed to build the 4366 from the ground up in 110 days.
The 4366 marked a turning point in IH four-wheel-drive (4WD) design. While the 4166 (IH’s existing 4WD model) reflected IH’s approach to 4WD using a rigid frame and wheel steering, the 4366 was an articulated tractor.
The Dream Team
So how do you meet an impossible goal? Assemble a dream team. You hire a farm kid and pair him with a couple of shop guys. Then you lock ’em in a secret off-site workshop and tell them not to come out until they had a tractor. Sounds insane, right? Believe it or not, it’s a true story. The IH 4366 was literally designed and executed by three fellas – all Steiger employees – one of whom hadn’t started his senior year at NDSU yet!
Now, if we’re being totally honest, that description really short-sells these guys. This was no ordinary team. Steiger knew what they were doing.
The farm kid was Paul Nystuen, a really sharp mechanical engineering student who’d worked for Steiger in the summers while he pursued his degree at North Dakota State. And, while he was young, this wasn’t exactly his first rodeo. He’d spent the summer of 1969 drafting the Series One Wildcat.
The other two shop guys weren’t your average shop guys, either. Jerry Joubert and Al Lieberg were probably the two best machinists and metal fab guys in the company – if not some of the best in the industry. In the Red 4WD Tractors book, Steiger’s Marketing guy said that Jerry Joubert was a guy who didn’t need drawings to visualize what could be done with a piece of metal. Guys like that just don’t exist today!
So, like I said... Steiger knew what they were doing.
Keeping the lights on, and expanding into the future...
The dream team delivered, too. Paul Nystuen laid out the IH 4366 with Al and Jerry in the summer of 1972 and, true to their word, they had a prototype ready when they said they would. It wasn’t perfect, but it was soundly engineered and built and, with a couple of tweaks here and there, it was exactly what Harvester wanted.
This is the prototype IH 4366 as it sat in January 1973. I believe there may have been one or two more minor changes, but basically, this was the production-ready tractor.
The IH 4366 was the tractor that kept the lights on at Steiger. In fact, it did more than that. It gave them enough capital to build a 420,000-square-foot factory capable of turning out one tractor every 18 minutes, too. Furthermore, it began a longstanding partnership that culminated with Case IH purchasing Steiger in 1986.
The moral of the story? Never underestimate a farm kid.
Now, I know that at least a few of you reading this are thinking, “Wait...yeah, that’s a great story and all, but the 4366 was a hot mess when it came out!” And you’d have a point.
The 4366 wasn’t a perfect tractor. In reality, it really was a hot mess. It was well-engineered on Steiger’s side, but there were multiple issues that hurt its sales. A PTO was cost-prohibitive, so it wasn’t included. A tire shortage delayed some of the production. Rim failures were rampant. Axles failed. Furthermore – and this REALLY hurt – there was a fatal flaw in the DT466 engine, which caused about one in four of them to fail!
At the end of the day, though, none of these issues really had much to do with Steiger. Paul, Jerry, and Al had built a pretty impressive product. The failures, ironically enough, were all rooted in components that IH supplied!
The IH 4366 that’s up for auction...
This 4366 lives in Minnesota until next Tuesday, when it goes to a new owner!
The IH 4366 you see in these photos currently lives up in Minnesota. I had a brief conversation with the folks at Tony Montgomery Real Estate & Auction about it today, in fact. The hour meter doesn’t work anymore, but the seller estimates that it’s got about 3,000 hours on it, and his father was the second owner. I’m relatively sure it’s had a cab kit put in it, and perhaps a little bit of touchup paint here and there. Otherwise, this looks fairly original to me.
Now, I know plenty of guys who farm 3 to 500 acres with equipment like this, and for what they’re doing, they work very well. The key to keeping these tractors alive is remembering that they’re 225-hp. tractors. A 32-foot field cultivator? Probably OK. A nine-shank ripper? Maybe not.
One thing that’s nice about these tractors is that they’re generally fairly easy to work on. Parts are also pretty readily available. In the event that you had to swap out a motor, 466s are pretty easy to find. Heck, you can even buy parts for the motor and driveline at a NAPA if you had to. Clutch and transmission parts are readily available at just about any decent-size truck shop. I’m pretty sure the clutch assembly is a Spicer, and the transmission is a Fuller 10-speed (RT4510).
What’ll it bring?
I checked our Iron Comps database, and we’ve got 10 records from the past three or four years. (They don’t change hands all that frequently these days.) The average sale price is about $5,300, but most of those tractors looked like they’d just been pulled out of the fencerow. This one is a lot nicer than that, so I’m guessing we might see a sale price a little closer to $7,500 to $8,000.
Of all of the 4000-series 4WD tractors that Harvester ever sold, the 4366 and the 4386 are among the best of ’em. For a farmer who’s looking for an older tillage tractor, this may be a perfect choice! Don’t overwork them, keep up on the maintenance, and these things will last for a long time!
What happened to the farm kid?
Paul Nystuen worked for Steiger for many years after he got his degree and was involved in some of Steiger’s wildest experimental tractors! Check out the articles about Big Jack and the Twin-Panther PT650 on the Octane Press blog! These tractors were utterly bonkers, and super-cool!
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 them! I think they’re cool, and I hope you will, too. This is Interesting Iron!