The Thieman Tractor: Harold’s Hearse

 

Thieman Tractor Hearse

Get the details on this tractor

Every now and then, our auction partners post stuff on Tractor Zoom that might be stretching it a bit. For instance, last month, an auctioneer listed an ancient tug boat. Last year, I remember seeing a few Corvettes, an RV or two, and a couple of restored Chevelles. Heck, I even wrote about a Ford Galaxy that Matt Maring sold way back when Interesting Iron was just an email!

But we’ve never had a hearse listed before.¬†Yep, you read that right.

A hearse.

Made out of a tractor.

By a man called Harold.

Now, I haven’t done a ton of research on topics like this, but I think this could be the world’s only actual hearse constructed from a tractor. Furthermore, Harold didn’t use just any old garden variety Farmall or John Deere. Nope, he built it from a fairly obscure tractor that’s actually pretty interesting in and of itself.

He used a Thieman.

ThiemanHearse
It began life as a big wooden crate full of parts shipped to a farmer assemble. By 2012, when Harold acquired it, it was a basketcase. Now it looks like this! Click the photo to see the Tractor Zoom listing for this one!

What’s a Thieman? (Pronounced “Tee-min”, by the way)

Well, it’s the last name of five industrious brothers from Albert City, IA who started the Thieman Harvester Co. in 1921. They built a variety of things – everything from silage harvesters to tractors, and even burial vaults. The main goal was to build quality products at affordable prices – a welcome relief, given the hardships that farmers faced in the 30s.

The tractor was the brainchild of William B. Thieman, the company’s president, general manager, and inventor. From what I’m told, he was the kind of guy who could see a concept in his head, build it in the shop, and then manage a product rollout. In 1929, he began experimenting with a tractor built around the idea of cheap, economical horsepower. It was pretty rudimentary, but after 3 years of design and testing, they began selling it in 1932. Thieman sourced most of the important parts from salvaged Fords; it used a Model A engine, driveshaft, and rear end. I’m not sure if the transmission came from Ford or not, but I know it had 3 forward speeds and reverse.

Thieman tractor
Most Thieman tractors used Ford Model A engines. Harold decided to pay tribute to that with his hearse.

The Ikea method…before Ikea did it!

Thieman had an interesting model for selling these tractors, too; they were all sold as build it yourself kits (just like Ikea does today with just about everything they sell). For about $500, the kit came in a big wooden crate with everything needed to put the tractor together (including salvaged Model A parts). However, if a farmer wanted to save money and source his own parts, Thieman also sold the kit for $185 without a motor, driveshaft, or rear end. The instructions told the farmer to use a motor from one of the Big Three. That said, I’m sure that somewhere, some farmer probably pulled a Farmall four-banger from an F-20 and made it fit, too.

Because of the way they were sold, and because the engines were all sourced from the scrapyard, each Thieman tractor was somewhat unique. If you find one at a tractor show today, who knows what you’ll find between the frame rails? I’ve heard of flathead V8s being used, and as I’m writing this, I’m sure somebody’s wondering if they could shoehorn an old 5.9 Cummins under the hood…

Most of the $500 Thieman tractors are painted red like the one below. If you see one that’s painted another color, that was one of the $185 kits. As I understand it, those were not painted before leaving the factory.

Thieman tractor
Gary Alan Nelson is an unbelievably talented photographer from MN. Here, he captures a 1936 Thieman tractor in the afternoon sun. Click the photo to see more of his work…it’s utterly gorgeous!

Successful…ish

By 1936, the Thieman tractor had gathered some steam. The factory in Albert City was running around the clock to put these kits together and get ’em out the door. When I say “around the clock”, I’m not kidding; Thieman never turned the lights off in the factory. They employed over 150 people at one point!

Thieman tractors were, for their time, fairly powerful. The Model A motor made about 40 horse, so that put them in a fairly good position – especially given the cost of the competition! Over time, Thieman added a few well-received upgrades; $123 would get you rubber wheels all the way around, $7 would get you an air cleaner, $9 would get you a combination drawbar, and $15 would get you a governor.

That last option – the governor – was money well spent, in my opinion. These are pretty lightweight tractors, and from what I’m told (I’ve never driven one), it was easy to flip the tractor over backwards if your foot slipped off the clutch!

The Thieman tractor also does deserve a spot in the history books for a mechanical innovation they put into production before anybody else. They fitted their tractors with a starter! No more spinning the flywheel to start the motor!

The 40s

Sadly, Thieman Harvester Co. came to an abrupt end in the early 40s. Several of the five Thieman brothers passed away at a relatively young age; in fact, none of the brothers lived to see their 60th birthday. Furthermore, the war effort brought on a steel shortage, making it all but impossible for the small tractor builder to source materials.

At the end of the day, nobody really knows how many Thieman tractor kits were sold; most estimates are in the 4-5000 neighborhood. The company changed hands twice before it shut the doors for good in 1944. At some point, those records must’ve been lost or (more likely) destroyed. Either way, it’s a shame.

Thieman never set out to set the farming world on fire, because that wasn’t really what America’s farmers needed during the 30s. They simply needed to get by, and put food on their tables. Thieman tractors weren’t super-stylish, they were cobbled together using second-hand parts pulled out of junkyards, fencerows, and junk piles. But they helped many farmers through some awfully lean years when providing for a family was a struggle. Furthermore, the Thieman brothers employed hundreds of people around Albert City, and helped keep their town from being wiped off the map during the Great Depression! That’s a pretty noble cause in my book! (Even if the tractors did tip over once in a while!)

Harold and his hearse…

First, some video.

Harold Boquist is the guy behind this neat Thieman tractor hearse creation, and I chatted with him for a few minutes tonight after dinner. He’s a super-nice guy with a great sense of humor, as you’ll find out later on…

The first question I asked him was simply, “Why?” He said, “Y’know, my wife and I have watched old Westerns for years, and you always see the horse-drawn hearse in the funeral scenes. Well, this isn’t much different…just updated a few years!”

Harold went on to tell me that he’d been a Thieman collector for years. At one point, he’d had 10 of ’em! He sold most of them a few years ago at an auction hosted by our friends at Nixon Auctioneers. Over time, he’s whittled the collection down to just a couple projects that he and his wife have really enjoyed – this Thieman, and an Empire tractor (that hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to show you at some point in the future). Empire tractors are pretty interesting, and his is probably the most unique one left!

The Hearse Project

At any rate, Harold’s had a thing for Thieman tractors. The company’s ideology – helping farmers get by when times were really tough – is one that he really believes in. This particular Thieman was rotting away in a boneyard in Sioux City until he and his wife rescued it back in 2012. “It wasn’t much when we got it,” he said, “They put it on my trailer with a big forklift!”

The nuts & bolts of the build…

Over the next year, Harold transformed it from a basketcase to what you see here. “It really wasn’t all that hard,” he told me, “Thiemans are easy to modify, and the driveline is a pretty simple thing to mess with, too.” He lengthened the chassis by about 14-15″ so he could install a second transmission back-to-back with the first one. “I needed a lower set of gears so I could creep it up on to a trailer,” he said, “They’re not much for road gears, so if we were going to put it on display, we had to trailer it there. The extra gears really helped with that.”

He further explained that he swapped out the original tricycle front end to a wide-front axle to make it more stable (I believe that also came from a Model A). Once he’d built the frame, he turned to the cosmetic side, and the wooden/glass chamber. All of that is hand-built, and he even built a coffin and put it in the chamber!

Harold did all the work himself, from welding to fabrication, even the paint and cosmetics. He did a pretty darn nice job too, from where I’m sitting! This is a very well-engineered project! When I asked him what his favorite part of the project was, he said, “I think we enjoyed showing it more than anything. We really got around with this thing!”

Img (7)
When Harold said that they got around in this thing, he wasn’t kidding. This is one of a handful of “Best In Show” honors the hearse took home from gatherings!

In all actuality, though, Harold built this Thieman tractor hearse for his own funeral. Both he and his wife had planned on taking one last ride in it. However, as time went on, they felt that perhaps somebody else should enjoy it. Reading between the lines a little bit, I felt like maybe they didn’t want the next owner to feel weird knowing that it had actually served its intended purpose.

I get that. As a buyer, that might make me feel a little weird, too.

Wrapping Up…

If you told me a year ago that I’d write a column about a tractor turned hearse, I’d have probably laughed at you. Yet…here we are! That said, I’ve learned to never say never. This must be one of the most unique tractors I’ve ever seen, and I’m really glad that I talked to Harold about it.

What’s it worth?

I couldn’t even begin to guess. Hopefully it’s worth a small fortune, and that whomever ends up buying it will appreciate it – and the story of it – as much as I have! Bidding doesn’t open up for another few days, and the auction doesn’t close until July 21, 2021, so there’s plenty of time for it to travel around the internet a little. It’ll be fun to watch it sell, and I know Harold will be excited to see who takes it home!

(I do have somebody in mind for this tractor. I’m not sure if he’ll bite on it or not, but if there’s one guy on this planet that really NEEDS this tractor…it’s a certain super farm puller who lives near Rossville, IL.)

For those of you who follow the NTPA Super Farms, here’s your clue. ūüėĀ

PartingShot Andersen

Auctioneer: Sweeney Auction & Realty – Greeley, NE

Auction Details

A Gold Demo, a hay maker, and two ACs walk into a bar…

Interesting Iron 0610
A demonstrator, a haymaker, and two ACs walk into a bar…(stop me if you’ve heard this one) – Click the photo to check out this week’s Interesting Iron!

Check out this week’s Interesting Iron!

Back when I started this blog a year or two ago, I used to pick three (or more) interesting tractors to write about. Over time, I moved to a one-tractor column. However, if the past few weeks are any indication, I might end up going back to that 3-piece format! Our TZ auctioneers are listing all sorts of neat stuff these days! It’s tough to choose a single tractor lately!

So this week, it’s three (or four, or nine, depending on how you look at it) neat tractors. A Gold Demo 826 from Michigan, a hay maker from Minnesota, and seven weird-lookin’ orange ones from New York and Kentucky! Let’s get to it!

The Michigan Demonstrator: 1970 Farmall 826

Sykora 826 Demo
Back in 1970, when a farmer bought a Farmall Gold Demo, the dealership repainted it before delivery (which is what IH wanted). Such was the case with this little 826! Click the link to see the auction details on this one!

In 1970, Harvester’s marketing department rolled out the Gold Demonstrator promo to help push sales of the 544, 656, 826, 1026, and 1456. A handful of each model were painted with gold paint (IH Truck Gold Metallic 4357, if you’re playing along at home) and shipped to dealers nationwide. During the promo, those tractors worked in fields all across the country, convincing farmers to upgrade machines.

After the promo, dealerships sold the tractors as demo units. The lion’s share of them were repainted after being sold (as was the case with this one). However, if the buyer liked the gold paint, some dealerships would forego the paint job. The folks in Melrose Park frowned on it, but it did happen from time to time.

Sykora 826 Demo Hood
One of the telltale signs that a tractor is a Gold Demo is original IH Truck Gold Metallic 4357 paint on the underside of the hood. When dealerships repainted these tractors, the underside usually didn’t get re-sprayed.

This one lives up near Alpena, MI pretty close to Lake Huron. Our friends at Sykora Auction Services are handling this Saturday’s sale. It’s part of a pretty good-sized red collection!

Original Gold Demos are rare finds these days; they don’t show up very often. If you’re looking at one, make sure it’s the real deal! Look for IH 4357 gold paint on the underside of the hood and a black operator’s console. If you find those, check the serial number and make sure it’s a ’70. If you can check off those boxes, there’s a pretty good chance it’s a Gold Demo. I’ve looked this one over pretty carefully, and based on the photos, I think it’s legit.

Weird-lookin’ ACs in New York & Kentucky

Goodrich Allis G
This parade-ready AC Model G sells at a Goodrich consignment sale this Saturday! Click the photo to see the listing!

The Allis Chalmers G is a neat little tractor in my book. They’re not super-rare, as AC churned out about 30,000 of them between 1948-1955, but they’re quite unique. The G is light (1300 pounds, give or take), so most of the weight was hung over the rear wheels so it wouldn’t lose traction.

Allis sold the G as sort of an all in one system, and offered a whole slew of row crop implements for them – everything from tillage to planters! They were held in place by a couple of wedge pins, so implements could be changed in about five minutes. Handy for small operations!

Gilliam Allis G
This little guy, along with his five brothers and sisters, sell at a Kentucky farm equipment auction on Saturday! They’re still in their working clothes, too! Click the photo to see the sale bill!

These little guys turned out to be REALLY popular on veggie farms back in the day, and you’ll still find farmers using them today! One of the ones on Wally Gilliam’s sale even has a 16′ boom sprayer mounted on the back!

Overall, these are still useful tractors that are easy to work on. Parts are still available for the 10-horse Continental L-head engine, as well as the gearbox (from a Model B). They’re usually fairly cheap to buy, too; I’d be shocked if these sold for more than a couple thousand bucks apiece.

I’ve got a buddy in Louisville who makes the greatest pickles on the planet, and one of these tractors would be PERFECT for his operation! Oddly enough, the auction is being held this Saturday in Louisville…

Jeremy, if you’re reading this…click here and BUY ONE!

The Minnesota Hay Maker: IH 986

Maring 986
This super-clean 986 sells at a Matt Maring auction next Saturday, June 18! Click the photo to take a look at the auction details and see a lot more photos!

The 986 was a bread and butter tractor for IH in the late 70s. They turned out over 20,000 of these workhorses between 1976-1981. It was the biggest of the naturally-aspirated models, squeezing 117 horse out of the 436 inch inline six. They were quite popular in the midwest as do-it-all tractors – especially with hay farmers.

Such is the case with this one. The owner was a die-hard red guy, and it was a big horse on his farm. He took very good care of it, too. I talked to one of Matt Maring’s guys about it yesterday, and while they couldn’t say that the 2458 hours were original, it’s a strong runner, and clean as a whistle inside and out!

I know most of these columns I write focus on rare tractors or oddballs, but that’s not the only criteria I use to find Interesting Iron. Interesting Iron also includes stuff like this 986…a clean farm tractor that’s been treated well. It won’t set any crazy auction price records, but it’ll bring good money when the hammer falls next weekend. There’ll ALWAYS be a strong market for tractors of any age when their owners take good care of them.

So, what’s the takeaway? Always take good care of your stuff. Maintain it properly. Treat it right, and it’ll treat you right when you trade it in or sell it!

The Massey-Harris Pacemaker with the cowbell…

Massey-Harris Pacemaker Vineyard
This Massey-Harris Pacemaker vineyard tractor is extraordinarily rare…but what’s up with the cowbell on the front?

See the auction details on this Oregon Massey-Harris Pacemaker.

The Massey-Harris Pacemaker isn’t super-rare. They’re not super-common, either. There were about 3,000 built over two(ish) years. They were a great little Depression-era farm tractor.

They’ve got an interesting history, though. The Pacemaker was a direct descendent of a pretty ground breaking tractor with ties to the Case family.

Sort of…

Wallis Tractor Co.

The Pacemaker’s bloodline began with a company called Wallis Tractor Co. Henry Wallis was Jerome Increase Case’s son-in-law, and he started the company in 1912. Wallis Tractor Company pioneered the uniframe, a revolutionary concept in tractor-building.

See, before Wallis, companies built tractors like old steam engines. They bolted channel iron together to build a frame, and bolted the motor to that. It worked, but it it wasn’t great. Because the frames were bolted together, they flexed a lot, and that was really hard on driveline parts (which are NOT made to flex).

Wallis made a solid U-shaped steel frame, and bolted all the components to it. It made the resulting tractor a lot stiffer, which was a lot easier on driveline parts!

Massey-Harris Pacemaker frame design
This diagram is a little bit blurry, but it’s a good example of how the unit frame was constructed and how the components bolted into it. It was a game-changing idea!

Massey-Harris was watching. At that point, they were just a harvesting equipment manufacturer; they didn’t really have a tractor line to sell. So, taking a page from Cyrus McCormick’s book, they bought Wallis so they’d have one. It proved to be a smart move, too.

The Pacemaker & Specialty Variants

The Pacemaker was actually an updated Wallis model. It was available as a as a standard, as well as two variants – an orchard and a vineyard model.

Specialty crop tractors like this usually feature similar characteristics. They sit lower than the standards, for one. Additionally, they usually feature swoopy rear fenders covering the wheel. The exhaust is also routed off to the side, or under the tractor. Everything is designed to protect the trees or the vines. The orchard models measured 48″ wide, and the vineyards were 40″ wide. These are definitely small, skinny tractors.

I knew that the variants were far less common, but I could never really find any documented production numbers. So, I made a phone call to my friend Tom up in Fargo. Tom and his granddad have one of the world’s largest Wallis & Massey-Harris collections (over 120 tractors), and I figured he’d know.

Seaberg Collection 2
Part of Tom’s collection. That’s a Wallis orchard model on the far left, and you can see how low it sits!

Oddly enough…he did. He knew quite a bit about these tractors, and he was more than willing to share.

Seaborg Collection
A few more of Tom’s collection…

Apparently they made somewhere in the neighborhood of 170-180 orchard models (mainly gas-powered, but a few kerosene/distillate models too), but only 42 of the vineyard tractors. 42! Tom also told me that as of now, only 7 of the vineyard model are known to have survived!

So, adding the one in the picture at the top to the mix, that makes 8 left out there. Some have been restored, but others are still in use on farms across the planet.

Massey Pacemaker Vineyard
This Pacemaker Vineyard is one of only 8 known to exist! Click the photo to see the auction listing!

The Oregon Pacemaker

I called JB Dimick at J&C Auctions the other day to get the story on this rare tractor. JB told me that this is the second time he’s sold this tractor. One of his regulars, an antique tractor collector, bought it many years ago with the intentions of restoring it to its former glory.¬†Sadly, that collector passed away before he had the opportunity to restore it. He did get it running at some point, but never made progress beyond that.

JB didn’t know the entire history of the tractor, but he’s fairly sure that it was originally sold at a local dealership, so it’s been in Southwest Oregon/Northern California all its life. It’s missing the side panels, swoopy fenders, and the cowling over the steering wheel. It’s not currently running, and the team at J&C hasn’t tried to turn the motor over as far as I’m aware.

There are a number of antique tractors on this auction, and they all belonged to that regular customer. When they came in, JB noticed that this one had a small cowbell attached to the front, and he asked about it. Denise, the wife of that deceased customer, said that the cowbell was what her husband always did when he got one running. I thought that was kind of a neat signature, and I really hope that it goes with the tractor when it sells. A lot of the collectors and restorers that I know appreciate those little connections to the prior owners. Maybe I’m overly sentimental, but I know that if I restored it, that cowbell would stay with the tractor forever.

What’s the tractor worth?

Honestly, I have no idea. Our Iron Comps database has hundreds of thousands of auction values, but no Pacemaker vineyard tractors. Bidding just opened last night, and it’s currently sitting at $3400.

Based on my conversation with Tom, my guess is that the only folks who will be bidding are dedicated Massey-Harris collectors – likely a fairly small group (and they probably all know each other, too). Whomever takes it home will definitely have a rare tractor, but to restore it properly, it’ll cost $10K or more.

Would they be able to turn a profit after restoration? Based on where the bidding sits right now, I’d imagine the answer is no. There’s only been one restored Pacemaker vineyard model that’s crossed the auction block recently (serial number 201031). It sold at a Mecum Gone Farmin’ auction in 2016 for¬† $10K. Two years later, it sold again at another Mecum sale for just over $13K. The tractor on next week’s auction does have an earlier serial number, though, which could push the value a little. This tractor’s serial number is 201008, so it could easily be one of the first Pacemaker vineyards built!

Massey-Harris Pacemaker Vineyard Serial
Nobody’s unearthed a list of vineyard serial numbers, but we know that this one is pretty early!

My guess, though, is that whomever wins this one won’t really care about resale. If they’ve gone far enough down the Massey-Harris rabbit hole to be looking for a Pacemaker vineyard, they’re completing a set or something. Once it’s been restored, it’ll stay in their collection for the foreseeable future.

See the auction details on this Oregon Massey-Harris Pacemaker.

This is definitely one of the rarest tractors we’ve seen on Tractor Zoom in a long time, and it’ll be fun to see where the bidding ends up. If you win the bid, reach out to me! I’d love to follow the progress of the tractor’s restoration!

One more thing…

While I was on the phone with Tom the other day, we got to talking about steam engines and really old gas engine tractors. He mentioned that he’d recently taken a spot on the organizer team for the Divide County Threshing Bee, a tractor show held in Crosby, ND (way up in the northwest corner of the state). The show focuses mainly on these big old steam engines and gas tractors, and if you’re out west, it sounds like a great time! This year’s date is July 16-18. I may try to get out there if I’m not booked for tractor pull that weekend!

Crosby Show 2019
Here’s an aerial view of the Threshing Bee in Crosby, ND. What a great lineup! Click this photo to visit the Threshing Bee’s website for details on the ’21 show!
Crosby Show 2014
A couple of the giants from a few years ago.

He was pretty excited that this year’s featured mark was Massey-Harris, so I’m sure he’ll drag a couple of semi loads of tractors up there for it!

 

Why you should ALWAYS read the fine print…

Leader Tractor Model D
The Leader Model D is one of dozens of different 30(ish) horse farm tractors built in the 40s. This one goes home to a new owner on March 17, 2021!

See the details on this tractor.

Nope, it’s not a Farmall Cub. Looks like one from a distance, but it’s not. This little fella is an Ohio-built tractor called the Leader Model D! I think they’re neat. Maybe not because of the tractor itself (although they were good quality), more because of the lesson they can teach. More on that in a minute…

 

Lewis & Walter Brockway started the Leader Tractor Company in their hometown of Auburn, OH in 1939 building garden tractors and the like. A year or so later they started building “bigger” tractors using Chevy power and driveline components. The response was pretty good. The tractors were well-bult, high-quality machines and they sold well. After a few years, they moved a couple of miles northwest of Auburn to the bustling metropolis of Chagrin Falls. They did this mainly because that town had a post office and Auburn did not. They weren’t getting checks and business inquiry letters; that’s a problem when you’re trying to grow a business!

Eventually (I believe in 1944-45), the supply of Chevy power dwindled – likely because of the war. Consequently, the Brockway brothers changed over to Hercules powerplants because they were a) available and b) fairly similar to the Chevy. The Model D got a 31-horse IXB gas 4-cylinder that did a pretty good job – lots of other tractors of the era used similar motors with predictably good results, so it made good sense.

A lesson learned the hard way…

Unfortunately, Walter & Lewis Brockway made a pretty fatal mistake in 1946 when they entered into a loan contract with Walter Schott, their marketing partner, so they could expand.¬†They didn’t read the fine print. Buried in the contract was a pay on demand clause. Ultimately, this was the company’s downfall; in 1948, Schott exercised that clause in a hostile takeover move, and when the Brockways couldn’t pay up, they had to forfeit the company. What was worse was that Walter Schott’s company sold cars; they had no idea how to run a manufacturing company! They completely shuttered the doors two years later!

What’s the lesson that this little tractor can teach us? ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT. (And don’t start a company in a town where there’s no post office.)?

About this particular Leader Model D…

This 1948 Leader Model D was part of Ron Hayworth’s tractor collection for the better part of two decades. Ron was a farmer for most of his life up in Woodbury County, IA over near Sioux City. He passed away going on about five years ago now, and this Leader tractor is among the last few left in his collection. Austin Popken and the good folks at Brock Auction Co. are handling this auction for Ron’s wife Jerane, and bidding wraps up next Wednesday, March 17, 2021.

Leader Model D
All it needs is a battery and a driver! Sells on March 17, 2021!

Earl Ellsworth, a close family friend for many years, worked on the tractors in Ron’s collection with him. I talked to him for a few minutes this morning and he told me that for many years, the Leader Model D served very faithfully on parade and tractor ride duty. About ten or so years ago, Earl & Ron tore the tractor completely apart and restored to the condition that you see it in today. It was at that point that the tractor was also repainted in that black cherry color – the color of Ron’s favorite shirt at the time! So, while it’s not the traditional tomato-red of other Leader tractors, it’s got a good story behind it! ?

Leader Model D
Here’s what the factory-correct shade of red looks like for the Leader Model D. This particular one is the 2nd Model D built according to the serial number, and it sold for just under $4000 at a Mecum Gone Farmin’ Auction in the fall of 2019! (Click the photo for Mecum’s archived listing.)

Earl told me that the only things the tractor needs to be perfectly functional is a new battery and a driver. It runs great; it doesn’t smoke or leak, and the rubber is nearly brand new!

What’ll it sell for?

Leader tractors are in a pretty unique spot in the collector’s market these days. They’re fairly uncommon, they’re not hard to work on (and many replacement parts are fairly easy to source), yet they remain relatively affordable! When Walter Schott shuttered the company in 1950, they destroyed the production records, so nobody really knows how many Leader tractors were built. This probably contributes to the affordability factor.

I’d imagine that when the bidding wraps up, this one will go for somewhere around $3000. Not bad for a nicely-restored, fairly uncommon tractor that runs like a top! It’d be a great addition to a collection!

See the details on this tractor.

 

 

The John Deere GP: How Deere proved their loyalty to the farmer.

GPWT
The John Deere GP was Deere’s first tricycle front end. The wide-track version is among the most collectible of all the “poppin’ Johnnies”!

See the details on this John Deere GP.

In the mid-20s, John Deere was in desperate need of a tractor to compete with Harvester’s new do-it-all tractor – the Farmall Regular. The Farmall Regular was a highly successful row-crop tractor that was rated for about 13 horse, or enough to pull a two-bottom plow.

Initially, Deere’s answer was the Model C – a tractor that I don’t believe they were ever really happy with. It was pulled from the market and several different changes were made all within about 10 months. The resulting tractor was renamed the John Deere GP (General Purpose) and what you see here is a variant thereof…the Wide Tread.

GPWT2
The GP-WT had a 76″ wide footprint!

Deere built the GP and its variants for roughly 7 years, from 1928-1935. Honestly, the tractors weren’t super-successful. They were heavy and underpowered, and quite frankly, there were some design issues that plagued the early tractors. They did manage to sell around 36,000 of them give or take a few, but the Farmall Regular was the clear winner in this fight.

The Wide Tread model was the first row-crop design for Deere, and it was definitely the most successful of the variants. Although it took a few different design changes for them to feel like they got it right, it did finally come together. CEO Charles Wiman was openly critical of how the Company had handled the design and development of the GP tractors. He considered the GP to be one of his biggest failures as a leader.

Personally, I think he did a terrific job of leading the charge – mainly because the company learned from their mistakes, and kept working tirelessly to fix the issues and make a better machine. That’s what the farmer needed, and Deere was devoted to making the product work!

The GP by the numbers

I’ve heard/found differing numbers as far as GP production goes, but all in all, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 36-37,000 tractors built. It gets tricky because a few tractors ended up being recalled and rebuilt/resold with different options but using the same serial number, etc.

That said, here’s a basic breakdown.

GP: 30, 535
GP-WT: 5,103
GP-P (a modified GPWT specially made for potato farmers): 203
GP-O (Orchard): 717

Additionally, there was a fairly major design change in the GP-WT’s steering system that moved the linkage from the side (like you see on the tractor in the picture) to the top of the hood like you’d find on the Model A. The last 443 GP-WTs were all built this way, and they’re HIGHLY collectible.

So yeah, like I said…tracking production numbers on the John Deere GP is a little tricky.

The GP-WT at auction

I honestly don’t have a lot of information to go on with this tractor. Here’s what I know (or what I think I know). I’m just about positive that this tractor is a 1930 or maybe a 1931 model (I don’t have a serial number for it yet, but I’ve got a phone call in to the auctioneer). It currently lives in southern Illinois, and it sells to the highest bidder next Tuesday, March 2!

As I get more information on it, I’ll update the post. For now, though, there’s not much to go on.

Deere’s leadership during the Great Depression

Ever wonder why so many farmer families have been bleeding green for literally decades? The foundation of that brand loyalty was laid during some of the toughest years in America’s modern history…the 1930s. Deere was devoted to its workers and the farmer, and they showed it in several major ways.

Loyal to their employees

During the early years of the Great Depression, Deere’s sales plummeted over 85% in less than two years (1930-1932), forcing major cuts and a huge layoff. It was a horrible time to be in business. Still, Deere & Co. maintained a tremendous loyalty to their employees. They still paid 5% interest on employee savings accounts and they still maintained the group insurance policies for laid-off workers. But it didn’t stop there…

The People’s Bank of Moline was known to be where Deere & Company kept their accounts, and many of their employees banked there as well. In 1930 or 1931 – I’m not sure which – that bank found itself on the brink of collapse due to an internal embezzlement scheme. Deere’s CEO, Charles Wiman, brought the Board of Directors together on the day the bank was supposed to close. He made a motion to cover the bank’s losses – nearly $1.3 million! He stated, “If we do not do this, the bank closes…As I view it, there are appromixately $7 million of savings deposits in this bank, largely made by the wage earners of our factories, and the effects upon them of closing the bank, and the resulting consequences to this Company, are beyond calculation.”

That very day, Deere cut a check to the bank for $1.29 million to cover the losses, and kept that bank afloat. In turn, they saved the deposits of a great deal of their employees as well. From where I’m sitting, it was a pivotal moment in the world of corporate responsibility.

(Read more about this here.)

Loyal to the American farmer

Still, Deere wasn’t done. In 1931 alone, Deere assumed $12 million in farmer loans for equipment. For some farmers, they were the only institution that would extend credit. That was a tremendous show of faith on Deere’s part towards their customers. They knew that in addition to keeping the Company afloat, they needed to also extend a hand to the American farmer.

In an unprecedented move, Deere extended the terms on ALL of its loans to farmers. For every piece of machinery that cost more than $200, Deere extended terms to a full three years. In doing so, it helped literally thousands of farmers keep their equipment; for many, that economic relief was the difference between keeping the land and losing it!

Why did Deere do all of this? Because they knew that at the end of the day, they were forming a bond with their customers. It was a relationship that was so much more than company/customer. Deere’s actions during the early years of the Great Depression expressed faith in the farmer and helped preserve the farmer’s dignity. Farmers take a lot of pride in their occupation, and Deere’s faith in them was enough to turn red blood into green.

(Read more about how the GP-WT played into Deere’s leadership in the Great Depression here.)

(This is where I go off-script for a bit…)

Nearly every time I spotlight an older Deere on any of our social channels, I’m pretty much guaranteed to get a bevy of comments that range from “that’s the best tractor ever built!” to “the overpriced plastic tractors they make today are hot garbage blah blah blah.”

Opinions get loud and pretty fiesty, and sometimes the snide comments get pretty old, honestly.

The way companies do business has changed a lot over the years, and sometimes it ruffles feathers. That’s what happens when a company grows into a business with a large global footprint. Is any company perfect? Surely not. Deere isn’t. They’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, and they’ve suffered the consequences, too.

I’m not sure that there’s a company¬† in agriculture today that takes more heat for the way they run their business than John Deere. That’s okay, too; we live in a world of very diverse opinions, and everybody is entitled to their own opinion. However…at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s fair to question their devotion to the farmer.

 

 

Personalized Tractors: What do they do to auction values?

CO-OP E-4
Some farmers like to personalize their tractors, like this CO-OP E-4 with a turbo wing kit from a Peterbilt. This tractor goes home with a new owner when the auction ends in February 2021. Click the photo to get the details!

See the details on this tractor.

Every once in a while, a personalized tractor shows up on Tractor Zoom and it’s always good for some social media mileage. Most of the time people have pretty polarizing opinions, and because it’s social media…they aren’t afraid to share them. Sometimes it’ll spark some reasonable discussion, sometimes not.

Obviously, this little CO-OP E-4 is a personalized tractor. More on all that in a minute.

The CO-OP/Cockshutt Connection

First, let’s look at this week’s Interesting Iron. CO-OP tractors (and Cockshutt, the company that built them) are neat tractors and the way they came together is pretty interesting.

Rather than start at the beginning and tell the story of where the CO-OP brand came from, we’re going to pick it up in the late 40s. If you want the full story (that goes back almost to the Civil War), there’s a pretty detailed account of it all here. Basically, the brand was an offshoot of the Farmer’s Union, and organization dedicated to helping farmers get ahead. Among other things, they marketed lines of implements and tractors (from other manufacturers) under the CO-OP brand.

At any rate, they hooked up with a Canadian company (Cockshutt) in 1946. Cockshutt had a good short line at the time and they were in the progress of launching their own tractor line – one that they desperately wanted to sell in the States. Putting the deal together with CO-OP was a win/win for everybody.

The Cockshutt Model 20/30/40/50 & the CO-OP Variants

Cockshutt launched the 30 in 1946. It was a small rowcrop tractor that made about 30 horse from a four-cylinder Buda engine. At the same time, they sent the CO-OP E-3 to the states to launch at the same time. The two tractors were absolutely identical, save for the paint and the decals. They were well-built, and featured an industry first – a live PTO. As a result, they sold really well.

Three years later, they launched the Cockshutt 40 and CO-OP E-4, smaller 20 and E-2, and the bigger 50 and E-5. Just like the first tractor, they sold very well. Production lasted up until about 1957(ish) before an investor’s group bought Cockshutt and took them in a different direction.

The success of those tractors was largely due to the fact that they’re fairly simple in design. Aside from the live PTO, there wasn’t anything massively new or high-tech about these tractors. They were reliable and pretty easy to work on when you had to. Who doesn’t love that combo?

CO-OP E-4
Our friends at CHJ Auctioneers & Appraisers are sending this CO-OP home to somebody new in early February 2021!

The “Personalized” CO-OP from Nebraska

This CO-OP E-4 lives in Winside, NE, about an hour or two north of Omaha, and our friends at CHJ Auctioneers & Appraisers are selling this one at auction on February 5, 2021. Overall, it’s in good shape; it’s not perfect, but fundamentally it’s a great example of a neat piece of history.

Now…let’s address the elephant in the room…

This little orange tractor has a ginormous wing on it. Why? I really don’t know. Everybody’s got their thing. Maybe the owner is a big NHRA top fuel fan or something.

I’m not passing any judgment. To each their own.

How personalizing will effect value

From where I’m sitting, there’s three categories of personalizing, and they’ll all effect value a little differently. Here’s how I break it down.

  1. Bolt-ons: If you wire up a light bar on top of the cab or add an aftermarket autosteer or something to make the tractor more efficient, that’s all completely reversible. That stuff can all be removed fairly easily, in most cases.


    Case in point: Ag Leader’s new SteadySteer product is completely reversible. When this video was finished, everything you see here was unclamped from the 4760’s steering column and it was like nothing was ever there.At the end of the day, even if you were to sell it or trade it in, it really shouldn’t effect the value of the machine in a negative way.

  2. Paint/Decals/Doodads: If you repaint a tractor back to factory spec, this doesn’t really apply to you (even if it’s a collector tractor in most cases). However, if you decide you’re going to re-paint your 1468 and put Case International decals on it, it will hurt the resale value of the tractor.
    1468 Customized
    This 1468 has a pretty non-traditional paint job and Case International decals on it. Unfortunately, buyers didn’t take to it when it sold at auction. Hammering home for only $13K, it sold for a fair bit less than the average 1468.

    Typically, you’d have to pay at least $20K for even a well-used example, and closer to $30K for a nice one or a survivor. If it’s going to take extensive work to return a tractor back to stock-appearing, buyers will reel in their bids. Even for rare collector tractors!

    Ford 8n Green
    Here’s another example of a mod that was too much for buyers to stomach. Our Iron Comps average on 8Ns is just over $1400. This one sold for $830 (and it was mechanically sound).

     

  3. Structural Modifications: If you start cutting sheet metal, there’s a good chance that you’re going to see a pretty sharp decline in the value. Chopping up a tractor means that if a bidder wants to bring it back to stock appearing or stock functionality, he’s going to need to source parts – and there are no guarantees that they’ll be available.
    4010 Forklift
    I tried to find any mention of an aftermarket 4010 conversion kit and I can’t find one anywhere.

    For this 4010 that was flipped around backwards to make a forklift (I don’t think there was a kit for this – if so, reach out to me), it was like pulling teeth to sell it. When the hammer fell, it went home with somebody for $1300. Iron Comps says the average price of a 4010 at auction these days is $5563. Ouch.

At the end of the day, I don’t think this little CO-OP E-4 will suffer too much as far as value goes. Based on comparable sales results in Iron Comps, I’d imagine this tractor will get close to $2000. That giant shopping cart handle is attached using about 8 bolts, so it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to remove it – including stashing it in the shed somewhere!

See the details on this tractor.

 

 

Putting the horses out to pasture: The Allis Chalmers B

Luke Wickett SEW FFA AC B
Luke Wickett (the guy in the photo) has hundreds of hours in restoring this 1946 Allis Chalmers B to the beautiful condition you see today. Click the photo to see the listing and LOTS more photos! Auction wraps up on 10.19.20, and it’s raising money for Luke’s FFA chapter!

This week’s Interesting Iron takes us to Liberty Center, IA, about an hour(ish) south of the Des Moines metro. This beautiful little 1946 Allis Chalmers B lives down there until Monday, October 19, 2020 when the auction wraps up. This auction is a fundraiser for the Southeast Warren County FFA chapter, and some of the proceeds will end up funding their operating budget.

If the bid goes high enough, that is…

The Backstory

This little Allis Chalmers was a tractor that a local farmer picked up at auction some years back, mainly because a) he needed a small tractor on the farm, and b) his wife had a thing for Persian Orange. ?  Over the years, though, it saw less and less use. Eventually, Luke Wickett,  the Southeast Warren County FFA president got his hands on it (I think it was his SAE project).

SEW FFA AC B Copy
Fun fact: The fella who designed this tractor in 1937 later went on to design the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile. (True story!)

The Restoration

When he got it, it was a bit of a basketcase. The sheet metal was in pretty bad shape, and the little four-banger was seized. Over the next 6 months, Luke pretty much tore it down to the frame to restore it. He fixed the sheet metal (I’m pretty sure it’s all original to the tractor), broke the motor free and rebuilt it, converted it to 12V power, fixed the wiring, added a few lights, and even repainted it! He tells me that his stepdad helped out with a few things here and there, but for the most part, this was his deal from start to finish! It’s sporting new rubber and a comfy new seat, too!

SEW FFA AC B Duringrestoration
Humble beginnings. Time had definitely gotten the best of this little Allis. The motor was seized, the sheet metal was rough, and it needed a lot of work!

The Tractor

The Allis Chalmers B was a success for a handful of reasons. One of the biggest ones was because Harry Merritt (AC’s tractor division manager) was a data nerd. While America was stumbling out of the Great Depression, Harry was looking at numbers in the census. Through some data analysis, he reached three conclusions.

      1. The majority of American farmers worked less than 100 acres, and they used horses to do it. Horses are spendy to own and definitely less efficient.
      2. The tractors being sold were bigger units, and working on bigger farms.
      3. There was an emerging market for a small tractor that could replace the horse.

So, armed with this information, AC set out to build the tractor that would meet that need! In 1937, they released the Allis Chalmers B, a 17-horse tractor that got the job done, and did it cheaper than the cost of owning horses. It was sold at a price point that farmers could handle (less than $500 out the door), and eventually it did end up putting the horses out to pasture!

All in all, Allis Chalmers built nearly 121,000 of these handy little tractors over about 20 years! It was a handsome tractor, too! In an era where tractors were typically painted dark/drab colors, the Persian Orange paint really stood out! (One of AC’s goals for the B was that it had to be a good looking tractor and it needed to stand out. Brooks Stevens, the designer, delivered on the promise, too; the lines looked good then, and they still look good now, as far as I’m concerned!)

The Auction

Our good friend Mark Putney (Indianola, IA) is hosting the auction, and it runs until Monday evening (10/19/20). As I’m writing this, the bid sits at just under $2000. But…in order for Luke’s FFA chapter to see any of the proceeds, the hammer price needs to hit $3500. That’s not HUGE money for an Allis Chalmers B, but it’s pretty good money (I did a little digging in our Iron Comps Insights database). If we find the right bidders, we can get there, and hopefully help fund a small school’s ag program and help shape the future of farming here in Iowa!

I typically never solicit bidders, but this is your chance to add one of Allis Chalmers’ finest to your collection. Not only that, you’ll help a small-town FFA program provide a better ag experience for their kids! So…that said, get out your wallets, and get to bidding! (If that’s not your thing, please do me a huge favor and pass this story on to your friends! Thanks!)

Click here to see the details on this little Allis, and lots more photos!

*If you end up winning the bid on this tractor, please send me an email! I’d really like to chat with you about it! interestingiron@tractorzoom.com

 

Empire Tractor: It’s a Jeep thing…

Empire 90.2
Empire Tractors were built for export using surplus WWII Jeep parts!

I need to caveat this week’s story. This tractor sold on a Colorado sale earlier this afternoon, so there’s no way to bid on it. I try not to ever do this, but sometimes these things happen. Furthermore, the story of these little tractors is worth telling. Very few were sold in the US, and who knows when another one will cross the block? As far as I can tell, 2010 was the last time a complete tractor sold at auction.

Now, that said, the Empire 90 is a neat little tractor with an interesting story.

Empire Tractor incorporated in 1946 by a guy named Frank Cohen in New York. During WWII, he owned several companies in Philly that supplied the Allies in the war efforts. However, once the Germans surrendered, those factories had nothing to do! He developed an idea to put his factories back to work, though, and quite frankly, it was brilliant.

The plan was to build tractors specifically for export to Europe to help farmers recover from the devastation. There wasn’t much of anything that was super-special about the tractor; honestly, they were just basic two-bottom light duty farm tractors (click here for detailed specs on the Empire 90). The one unique thing about Empire’s design (and Cohen patented this) was the hitch design; it pulled from directly beneath the center of the tractor, which made it nearly impossible to turn over!

Anyway, back to the brilliant plan and all that. Because these tractors were to be exported, Cohen could buy surplus Jeep motors and drivelines from the government for pennies! Empire built the frames, bolted everything into place, and VOILA! they had a tractor to sell to BACK to the government for the Marshall Plan. Empire piled up a TON of these little 40-horse tractors (6,663 in total) between October ’46 and December ’47!

The Downfall

The government shipped Empires all over the world. For the most part, things went well and the tractors went to work without issue. However, there was a problem with one country. The Argentinian government declared that Empire tractors were unfit for farming, and refused delivery of the remainder of their order. To make matters worse, Time magazine published a story claiming that the tractors were junk and shouldn’t have been sold in the first place. When it rains, it pours!

By mid-1948, the bad publicity left Empire Tractor in a real tough spot. They had 1,200 tractors in their inventory, and not a single buyer for any of ’em. Sadly, the company went bankrupt in pretty short order. By 1950, the bank was in the process of liquidating assets. The bank found distributors who sold the remaining 1,294 tractors for about $700 apiece in North America. The tractor that you see here was one of them.

This Empire tractor has had three owners. The first owner had some overheating issues with it, so he mounted a bigger radiator from a McCormick-Deering. The second owner was a Wyoming rancher, and owned it for most of its life. He built the 3-point and blade setup for cleaning a calving barn. It also raked a little hay, from what I understand. The rubber is good and the little Willys Jeep motor runs like a top!

So that’s the story of how a Time magazine and a corrupt Argentinian government ruined a tractor company that helped rebuild war-torn Europe. Nobody seems to know how those two pieces of bad publicity came about, but the timing sure seems pretty suspect.

Hopefully this one ends up in a collector’s hands and gets a full restoration!

(If you bought it, send me an email! I’d love to hear the plans for it!)

The Silver King: The ultimate road trip…tractor?

R66.2.ii
This neat little Silver King R66 sells at an auction in NE Iowa on September 22, 2020! Click the photo to see the listing and get in on the bidding!

There’s a bunch of different interesting angles on the Fate-Root-Heath Company. They made everything from bricks to locomotives, and honestly I’m surprised nobody’s written a book yet. Their most successful venture was tractors like this Silver King R66. Heck, Henry Ford owned several of ’em, and thought they were the best tractor buy on the market!

Like many smaller tractor companies of the 30s and 40s, they outsourced parts and essentially ordered them as needed. The finished product was a good quality piece, though – a very versatile little 4-banger gas tractor. Because of their gearing, you could put a Silver King into the field, plow 5 acres with it, and hustle home at 45 mph! They became pretty well known for being a fast tractor on the road!

R66.3.ii
It’s not perfect, but it’s got great potential!

The crazy road trip story…

And on that note…I stumbled on an old interview with one of Silver King’s sales guys not too long ago. Apparently, a local customer once bought one of their 3-wheeled tractors; he planned to pull a small camper behind it from Plymouth, OH all the way down to Florida! So the story goes, he got a few miles down the road and stopped for dinner. After a few beers, he got a fair bit more ambitious and decided to go to Florida…but with a pit stop in California first!

That’s exactly what the guy did, too! He drove his trusty Silver King from Ohio to California, then Florida, and all the way back to Ohio!¬† That camper bumping along behind him the whole way! Not only that, but when he returned, he sold the tractor to a local farmer who worked it in the field!

This particular Silver King R66 currently lives in NE Iowa, and I know it’ll need some TLC to get it back into good shape. That said, it’s all there (for the most part), and I suspect that this tractor will sell fairly inexpensively. Parts aren’t tremendously difficult to find, as the components are fairly common. Depending on the serial number, it’ll probably have a Hercules or a Continental gas 4-banger in it and a 4-speed transmission. If you buy it and decide to drive across the country with it, plan an overnight stop in Des Moines! I’d really love to see it!