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Model B: The Small Farm Champion

Tractor development grew by leaps and bounds in the 1920s and 1930s as droves of draft animals were herded off to the glue factory by engine-hungry farmers. Left in the dust of this stampede were small farms that couldn’t afford the large tractors of this time.

Ever the entrepreneur, Allis-Chalmers tractor division manager Harry Merritt saw an opportunity in small farms. Research he ordered confirmed that fact. Allis marketers estimated that approximately 4 million small operators wanted affordable horsepower. 

Allis-Chalmers made its dreams come true by creating a tractor that was not only modern but also affordable. Selling for just under $500 when introduced in 1937, the Model B was anything but bare bones. The 13-hp. machine (it would later be upgraded to 20 hp.) was fully modern, featuring a highly stylized wasp-waist torque-tube chassis. It offered outstanding visibility, which had high appeal for truck farmers and nursery growers.

The B’s arched front axle and high rear-axle clearance were unlike anything on the market. 

The tractor could be ordered with a host of modern advances such as an optional hydraulic lift – a first for Allis-Chalmers.

Famed industrial designer, Brookes Stevens, also gave the Model B an appealing look with a stylized rounded hood, fuel tank, and fenders that helped promote the tractor as state of the art. Those looks plus a four-cylinder engine, three-speed transmission, and a wide array of implements didn’t just catch the eye of small farms. The tractor caught on in huge fashion. 

By the time production ended in 1957, over 125,000 Model B’s had been built, making it the second most popular tractor made by Allis-Chalmers (second only to the Model WC) and one of the top 10 most popular tractors of all time.

High-clearance opportunity

Allis-Chalmers knew what it was doing engineering-wise with the Model B. The B had to be narrow (to run one-row equipment) and offer high clearance. Concerning width, the tractor’s front axle could be set for a 43- or 50-inch tread. For $20 extra, farmers could get an adjustable front axle with 10 spacing increments, ranging from 38 to 60 inches. The rear wheel tread was changed with adjusting rims or clamps and reversing rear wheels.

To gain height, Allis engineers designed an arched front axle and a high rear-axle clearance that made the Model B popular with truck farmers. That feature attracted foreign sales as well. Since the B was shipped to Europe, Africa, Australia, and South America, it was one of the first truly international tractor models made.

High power-to-weight ratio

To back up these structural advantages, the B was given a high-torque, 113-cubic-inch Waukesha engine that turned out 15½ belt hp. That power plant was later replaced with an Allis-Chalmers-built 116- and then 125-cubic-inch power plant. The latter engine turned out 22¼ hp. at the Nebraska Tractor Test in 1943.

That power output was certainly competitive to larger tractors that weighed much more than the B’s 2,000 pounds. And for a little extra cash (just $52) farmers could order the B with a muffler, radiator shutter, starter, lights, and hydraulic lift. Another $35 got them a rear-mounted belt pulley and PTO. All added up, small farmers could get a thoroughly modern tractor for $600 to keep up with big operators. u

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