1947 Empire 88: “It’s more fun to do this together…”

Highly modified red Empire tractor

See the details on this unique Empire 88!

Back in July, I featured a pretty unique tractor rescued from a bone yard in Sioux City and turned into a hearse! It began life as a Thieman tractor, and Harold Boquist, a tractor collector from Nebraska, turned it into a hearse. (You can read about that tractor here.)

When I talked to Harold about the Thieman, I remembered him telling me that he also had another oddball tractor that he would sell later this year. It is an Empire 88, and he said that it is likely the most customized one on the planet.

This week, that tractor showed up on Tractor Zoom, and I knew I had to write about it. This truly is one of the nicest Empires on the planet, and it’s definitely the most unique!

The Cliff Notes version of Empire Tractors and their history…

I’ve written about Empires before. They were fairly run-of-the-mill light duty farm tractors built in the mid-late 40s. Empire built the frames in-house, and used surplus Jeep motors and drivelines to make ’em go. Upon completion, they sold them back to the US government under the Marshall Plan. The US government sent these little 40-horse tractors all over the place to help with WWII reconstruction!

empire tractor badge
The badge of an empire-builder!

Ultimately, their downfall came when the Argentinian government suddenly declared them unfit for farming. Oddly enough, Time magazine printed a story right about the same time that claimed that the tractors were junk as well. Within months, the company was bankrupt. The remainder of the tractors sold here in North America for about $700 apiece.

I’m not one to put on the tinfoil hat very often, but the timing sure seems suspect on this deal. I sort of feel like maybe somebody who was pretty well-connected had beef with Frank Cohen (the guy who started the company) and organized this.

But that’s not really what this story is about. This story is about what Harold did to this tractor when he restored it…and why.

Empire 88 tractor
This is what an Empire looks like in normal form (without the blade). What Harold did with it is truly remarkable! (Click the photo to see the listing!)

Making an Empire fit for a King and a Queen

Harold and his wife Wilma are in the tractor hobby together. Always have been. They’ve really enjoyed putting their unique collection of tractors on display over the years. From the Nebraska State Fair to tractor rides all over the midwest, they’ve had a blast making new friends and using their tractors!

With this one, though, the restoration was a little different. Wilma needs a scooter to get around comfortably. On a tractor ride, space is at a premium, so Harold found a unique solution to let let both of them ride along, and carry the scooter too! “If I ride, she rides,” Harold told me on the phone today!

The Cab

The Empire 88 never came with a cab, so Harold solved that problem first. He was at a sale in Iowa when he stumbled upon this cab in the photo below. It was rough, but it was exactly what he wanted.

tokheim tractor cab laying on the ground
This tractor cab came from a rather unlikely source…a gas pump manufacturer!

The cab was built by Tokheim Tank & Pump Co. out of Fort Wayne, IN. Their main business was gas pumps and tanks and such. However, they did also make a line of all-steel cabs for a few tractors like the Farmall H, M, and Cockshutt 40.

He took it home and then made it wider and taller (kind of the opposite of chopping & channeling a hot rod). When finished, he adapted it to fit on the platform of the Empire – which he had also made wider and longer. “If it was going to work, it needed to seat both of us,” he told me, “so I made it wide enough to put the two of us up there comfortably!”

A place to park a scooter!

The next challenge was to give the Empire 88 a trunk (or a flatbed, I guess), and a ramp so that Wilma could access the cab. The ramp setup unfolds by a winch. Once unfolded, Harold uses a second winch to pull the scooter up onto the platform. The winches both tie in to the tractor’s electrical system. All in all, it’s pretty slick!

red empire tractor at auction with a handicapped-accessible ramp on the operator's platform
The winch on the right unfolds the ramp. The one on the left pulls the heavy scooter up on to the platform. Neat!

When Harold finished the fabricating, the tractor was treated to a snazzy paint job (which to my eye looks a lot like Massey red and gold, but I’m not positive of it). It’s been their parade and tractor-ride tractor ever since!

What’s it worth?

Honestly, I have no idea. We’ve seen a couple of Empires come through Tractor Zoom over the past few years, but none of them have had this level of restoration or customization. There weren’t a lot of these tractors sold here in North America after the company went bankrupt in the late 40s, so they are somewhat rare. Of all of them (about 1300), this one is surely the nicest one left. That said, it is customized, and that tends to depreciate the value of rare tractors a little bit. Still, Harold did a terrific job with the workmanship, and it does serve a purpose. It’ll take a special buyer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it brings $3-4000.

At the end of the day, Harold built this Empire 88 because he loves his wife, and because the idea of doing a tractor ride without Wilma just didn’t sound like much fun. What resulted is a very well-built, very unique tractor that solves a challenge faced by more tractor folks than we probably realize. I’ll just about guarantee that somewhere, one of you reading this column has already thought of a husband and wife who this tractor would be PERFECT for – and I really hope you’ll share this article with them!

The antique tractor hobby is lots of fun, and very family-oriented. Still, due to the nature of the design, it’s not for everybody. People who love tractors but aren’t able to climb up on to them for one reason or another are sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place. This little Empire 88 would fix that challenge for somebody!

Auction Details
Bidding opens: Thursday, September 2, 2021 at 5PM Central
Bidding closes: Thursday, September 9, 2021 at 11:29AM Central
Location: Saint Paul, NE (about 45 minutes or so north of Grand Island)
Auctioneer: Sweeney Auction & Realty
Contact: 308.223.0145

Tractor Zoom auction listing & a link to place your bid!

 

 

 

The RAV4 of tractors: The White 4-150 Field Boss

White 4-150
This 4-150 Field Boss lives just northeast of Madison, WI for now, but goes home to a new owner tomorrow! Maybe that new owner should be you! Click the photo to see the description, more photos, and a link to get in on the bidding!

The story of how White Farm Equipment was born is a long one, and you’ll get bored hearing it. Suffice it to say that in 1969, WFE was born. At the time, they were still maintaining three different legacy brands underneath their umbrella – Oliver, Minneapolis-Moline, and Cockshutt. When 1974 rolled around, though, they decided to phase them out and start fresh with White.

WFE knew that it needed to make a big splash on the market in order to establish itself quickly. They saw a hole in the market for sort of an in-between tractor. Something that was a step up from a row-crop but not something real big like a Steiger. What they really wanted to do was create the “crossover” of tractors. One that could do it all…like a Field Boss. ?

In a nutshell, WFE wanted to build a tractor that checked off all of these boxes.

  • 4WD traction
  • Row-crop versatility
  • Utility-model stability
  • Articulated maneuverability
  • Reasonable power

If you think about it, that’s pretty much the same thing that Toyota did when they built the RAV4 in 1995 (sans the hinge in the middle).

Overall, they did a good job of executing on it, too. The White 4-150 Field Boss ticked off nearly every one of those boxes above. Very sleek, stylish and quiet, it sat lower to the ground than its 4WD competitors, turned sharper, and didn’t lose traction either! Occasionally, you’ll hear farmers complain that these are lightweight tractors that aren’t up to the job. No…that’s not true. The 4-150 wasn’t a deep tillage tractor. It was built as a beefed-up rowcrop tractor that would handle a little bit of everything. And at the end of the day, it did the job just fine! Can the 4-180 handle more? Yep, you bet. White built it that way…on purpose!

Frankly, this particular tractor has aged better than most early Field Bosses. The body panels are nice and straight, there’s very little rust on the cab, and the best part? 3300 original hours! And, assuming it hasn’t been beaten like a red-headed stepchild, the 3208 Cat should have some life left in it. It needs new rubber (or will soon), and the seat is torn up a bit, too. But, other than those items, this is a pretty solid example of the Field Boss! It sells on Thursday, September 10 at an auction up near Madison, WI!

Now, that said, these motors are a little finicky. They don’t all run like the Lustik family’s Silver Bullet alky superstock pulling tractor. They don’t like to be lugged down real low, nor do they like real high RPMs for extended periods of time. Some of ’em tend to use quite a bit of oil, too, so make sure you’ve got plenty of that around. They DO sound pretty darn good with straight pipes, though. There’s a really good video from a knowledgeable Oliver guy on YouTube out there from a few years ago where he takes his for a drive (after he’d just bought it). Watch it here.

Here’s a little bit of the advertising that WFE put out when they released the 4-150. Interesting stuff!

White 4 150 Brochure
WFE was selling pretty hard against the high-horsepower row-crop competitors here. They took a swipe at a couple of the more popular 4WD options, too.
Field Boss 4-150 Brochure 2
Power with a purpose. Good slogan. (Still not sure about using the word ‘efficiently’ in the same context as a 3208 Cat, though…)
White 4 150 Brochure 4
I thought the tagline at the bottom was pretty interesting.

White 4 150 Brochure.3 Copy

Big Blue: The Ford 9600

Ford 9600
Big power from small cubes! This beautiful Ford 9600 sells on August 24, 2020. Click the photo to learn more about this one-owner gem!

The 9600 is probably my favorite Ford tractor of all time. There’s something about these things that just looks right. A 9600 open station with a narrow front on a set of 20.8 Firestone Deep Treads, the white fenders with the lights in ’em, and a ROPS bar? That just screams muscle tractor to me.

The 9600 was the top dog in Ford’s lineup in 1975. It made just over 135 PTO horse from a turbocharged 401, which was one of the smallest motors of the era (I think the only one to make similar horsepower with a smaller motor was Massey Ferguson). This particular tractor also features Dual-Power, Ford’s version of a torque amplifier, which effectively allowed the operator to split the dual-range 4-speed into a 16-speed transmission. This one works, too!

The 9600 had a reputation for being a really torque-y tractor with lots of low-end grunt. It’s also known to be pretty fuel-efficient, too. I know a guy from Missouri who still farms with one today; even though he’s turned it up a little, he swears it only burns about 6.5 gallons/hour!

This particular 9600 is in BEAUTIFUL shape! It’s a one-owner tractor with good rubber all the way around, straight tin, and it’s absurdly clean both inside and out! Here’s the best part, though…it’s only got 3033 hours on it! It’s barely broken in! It lives in Minnesota until next week when our friends at Zielsdorf Auction & Real Estate send it home with a new owner!

If you want to see some video of a nicely-restored Ford 9600, our friends at Successful Farming interviewed a farmer in Grinnell, IA not too long ago for their Ageless Iron segment. Watch it here!

Useless Trivia:

How do you tell the difference between an 8000-series and a 9000-series Ford without looking under the hood? Look at the grill. On the 8000-series tractors, the rectangles are vertical. On the 9000-series, they’re horizontal!

Movin’ Mountains: The Steiger Tiger III ST450

Steiger Tiger III ST450
Big jobs require big muscle. Fortunately, this big Steiger Tiger III ST450 has plenty of it! If you need a monster Steiger for your operation, click here for the details on this one!

In the late 70s, Steiger built some pretty unbelievable machines. This Tiger III was one of them.

Steiger built the Tiger III ST450 from 1977-1982, but actually encompassed two different models. They built the first 173 tractors with a Cummins KTA-1150 rated at 470 horse (this tractor is number 158). For the 1980 model year, they changed motors on the ST450 to a 450-horse Cat 3408. The Cummins-powered version remained at 470 horse and was rebadged as the ST470. At the end of the day, I suspect it was a sales move, but it’s historically notable.

Any way you slice it, they’re big honkin’ tractors and they’re probably perfect for nearly any big job you would want to undertake. Want to move a mountain? Hook it to one of these. Need to flatten a dozen cars in about five minutes? The ST450 can do it (especially this one – dual 30.5s all the way around).

This particular ST450 probably never crushed cars or moved mountains, but it did do something very important. It laid miles and miles of drainage tile across thousands of acres of wet fields, and helped many farmers become a lot more productive. It’ll sell with a ZOR double-link tile plow that’s set up for 6″ tile, and there are several other boots available at this auction (I think 8- and 10-inch?).

I’ve heard rumors that Steiger built tractors specifically for tiling in the late 70s; and honestly I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that this was one of them. This tractor is definitely built for it; it sells with 4900 pounds of extra weight on the nose, as well as dual 30.5×32 Firestone Forestry Specials all the way around. It’s got to tip the scales at close to 60,000 pounds as-is!

The last time we saw a Tiger III like this one sell at an auction, it went for just under $44K, but it didn’t have a tile plow setup with it, and the tires weren’t quite as new. This one should bring a fair bit more. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t come close to $50K by the time the hammer drops. The market for tractors like this is fairly small, but the right buyer will love it!

If you need more Steiger-y goodness in your life, check out this video that our friends at BigTractorPower did featuring some classic pistachio-green Steigers. There’s a sweet ST470 running an air seeder in it!

If you’re looking for Steigers on auction, check here.

The Hillside Hero: Case 2670

Case 2670
This Case 2670 Traction King lives in Missouri for now…will you be the one to bring it home? Click the photo for the details and a link to bid!

This one is for my buddy Nellson. He likes Case’s crab-walking tractors because they had the oomph for heavy tillage, but didn’t sacrifice the maneuverability of a smaller tractor. He also thinks the 2670 stretched the 504 a little too far even with the intercooler, but that’s a discussion for another beer. ?

In the mid-70s, J.I. Case was a pretty well-established player in the game with their rigid-frame 4WD tractors. Farmers loved the 2470 for its ability to handle like a 2WD but with the grunt to run heavy implements…but they needed¬†more capability. Farming was growing at unprecedented levels, and farmers were planting more ground than ever before.

So…Case turned up the wick on the 2470, and brought out the 2670. It was everything that the 2470 was, but with about 50 extra horse. It took a lot more than simply turning the pump screw to get there, though. To make all that extra power, it took a different injector design, a bigger pump, and an intercooler!

By far, though, the thing that made the big Traction King popular was its ingenious method of steering. If you’ve never seen a Case 4-wheel-steer tractor make a wicked tight turn before, it’s a thing of beauty, let me tell you! You can turn one of these tractors around in under 16 feet! Furthermore, on steep hills (think wheat fields in Eastern WA), the crab-steer function almost eliminated implement side draft!

This particular 2670 Traction King lives about 45 minutes north of Sedalia, MO until the end of August. It’s got just under 8000 hours on it, and it’s in surprisingly good shape for its age. It’s not a museum piece per se – the new owner is going to need to address some hydraulic issues. Still, the tin work is fairly clean, it’s got reasonably good rubber, and it’s in good running condition as far as I can tell!

The Freight Train: Allis Chalmers 7080

Allis Chalmers 7080
This big AC 7080 sold on August 26, 2020. Click the photo to see orange tractors selling at auction soon!

Wait…what??? Allis made tractors and stuff…not trains!

I’ll get to it. There’s a tie-in here. Stick with me, please.

The Allis Chalmers 7080 was the flagship of the 7000 series line, and the biggest 2WD tractor they’d ever built. It was a big orange boss, and everything on it was built for business. The engineers installed an intercooler on the turbocharged 426 and cranked the horsepower up to 210. In fact, I think the 7080 was the first 2WD tractor to break the 200-horsepower mark.

Now, that said, most of the guys I know with 426 experience say that the motor is a little sketchy when you run it hard for extended periods of time. One guy I know even goes as far as recommending that owners detune them a bit for longevity. Still…even detuned, a 7080 will make a heck of a hay baling tractor!

This particular Allis Chalmers 7080 lives in Kansas for now. Personally, I think this would make a nice 4H/FFA/YF project for some high school kid to restore. Evidently, it’s spent a few nights under the stars, and it has some pump issues. Whomever picks this one up will have some work to do, but when finished it’ll be a pretty solid workhorse!

Finally, the reference to a freight train in the title is a throwback to some of the marketing surrounding this tractor’s release. Back in the mid-70s, Allis hooked one of these to a string of Union Pacific 30 rail cars and a caboose, weighing in at over 900 tons! Nobody knew whether the 7080 could yank ’em down the tracks, but sure enough, it did! Carl Stevens drove the big orange locomotive and even got the tractor into 3rd gear! (He also told an Allis dealer, “The seat of that tractor developed a permanent pucker when we tried to stop that string of rail cars!”)??

Want to see the TV commercial that Allis Chalmers released with the train? Watch it here.

Looking for more Allis Chalmers? Start your search here.

The Loudest John Deere…in the world.

John Deere 435
The 435 was one of the loudest tractors that John Deere ever made! It sells at an online auction near Philadelphia on July 16. Click the photo to see the listing and lots more photos!

Before we talk about the John Deere 435 in the photo above, let me set the stage for you.

1959 was a hectic year for John Deere. They were six years into their biggest project ever – the New Generation tractors. These tractors were radically different, and nothing (not even the green and yellow paint) was sacred. Nearly every single operating system needed redesigned, and that meant that it was an all hands on deck kind of deal.

Still, Deere needed to keep selling equipment, and farmers were still looking for improvements in the two-cylinder lineup. When Deere needed to buy itself some development time on the New Generation series, they chose to “redesign” the 430 for the 1959 model year. They reworked a few things on the tractor, but when it came to the powerplant, they couldn’t pull engineers away from the New Gen motor development to tweak the two-cylinder just as a stop gap. They needed a creative solution and they wanted a small diesel motor (the 430 didn’t have one); so, Deere called GM in Detroit and worked a deal to use their supercharged two-stroke 2-53 motor. Presto! Now they had a “new” (ish) tractor called the 435 AND one with a small diesel motor! Two birds – one stone!

The 2-53 Detroits are reliable little motors that make somewhere in the neighborhood of 33 horse on the PTO shaft. They’re also INSANELY loud, especially if they’re straight-piped. Fortunately, this one isn’t, so it might be a little more manageable. Still, if I ever meet the buyer, I’ll give them a fresh set of earplugs and a big bottle of Excedrin!

This 435 lives just north of Philly, and our friends at Alderfer Auction are handling the auction. The owner recently restored it, and it’s in great shape! The spin-out wheels don’t appear to have any wear on them, either! They should work about as slick as advertised! The 435 was among the last two cylinder Deeres ever built; and with only about 4600 of ’em out there, they’re not all that common! I’d imagine this one probably gets close to the $10K mark!

The Roadless 95

The Roadless 95: Ford 5000 MFWD
This rare little Ford 5000 conversion packs a lot of MFWD power for its size! It’s selling at an auction in NY on July 10, 2020! Click the photo to see the listing and more photos!

It seems like there are more unique and interesting Ford conversions out there than with any other tractor brand. Most of them never made it over to American soil, though, which makes this one, a Roadless 95, all the more interesting! Goodrich Auction Service in Newark Valley, NY, sends this fairly rare tractor home to a new owner on Friday, July 10. I’m really interested to see what it this odd little tractor sells for!

The Roadless 95 started as a Ford 5000; however, before selling it, the Roadless Traction Company made some “minor” modifications to it. The British company stretched the frame about 6″ so they could stuff a 95-horse 6-cylinder Ford diesel motor into it. Roadless also turned it into a 4WD using a transfer case (built in-house) and the axle from a military 6×6. They’re pretty beefy!

I think this is a 1966-68 model. If it is, that make this one VERY rare. Roadless only made 210-215 of these, and I don’t think many of them made it over here. They’re still quite popular with English and Dutch tractor collectors as I understand it.

Admittedly, this one is rough. At some point in its life, an aftermarket turbo kit has been added to it (possibly an M&W?), so this tractor definitely makes more power than your average Roadless 95. Evan Goodrich, the auctioneer, says that it runs well and that the 4WD works too. This would be a fun one to bring to a plow day!

I have no idea what this tractor is worth, but to the right collector, it might be just what they’re looking for! I’d imagine that if a collector does pick it up, that turbo might be the first thing to go in the restoration process.

If you’re that buyer, I’d love to hear from you! Shoot me an email!

The Corner-Carving Deere

John Deere 4455 Copy
This beautiful John Deere 4455 MFWD only has 2743 original hours on it, and it sells on July 13, 2020. Click the photo to see the listing and lots more photos of this beauty!

It’s getting hard to find a low-houred John Deere 4455 like this one these days; every now and then, however, one sneaks out of the barn and heads to auction. Like this one! This beautiful tractor only has 2743 original hours on it, and it sells at an auction hosted by Wears Auctioneering in Iowa City, IA. Sells with duals, full rack of front weights, new interior, and sales and service records.

The 4455 MFWD was a hot seller, because among other improvements, this tractor could turn sharper than the competition. Deere built a push-button system for the 50-series called Caster Action that tightened the turning radius. However, on the 55-series, it engaged automatically. By tilting the kingpin on the front axle a few degrees, the front wheels could lean over while turning; therefore tightening your turning radius. In fact, the stat nerds at Deere figured that if you dragged a 6-row 30″ cultivator through a square 100-acre field, you’d turn around 139 times! With Caster Action, the John Deere 4455 could cut about 18 feet off of each loop! When you do the math, that saves about a half mile per field! It doesn’t sound like much, but if you did the math all the way through the year, it’d add up to some decent fuel savings!

(That said…many owners turned their 4455s up a little, so the fuel savings went straight out the stack. Still, it was nice idea, right?)

This particular tractor is a 3-owner with 2743 hours (verified – service records and sale history comes with the tractor). The tractor has never left the state of Iowa all of its life, and each owner has maintained it very well. A Deere technician replaced the dash at 2727.9 hours in 2014; he engraved the original hours on the underside of the new dash to document the change. Since then, the owner has only it used a few hours per year mowing set-aside land. The new meter currently reads 14.9 hours.

Bidding on this one is pretty hot right now; I’ll be surprised if this tractor doesn’t hit close to $50K when the bidding is finished!

Final hammer price: $54,150.

John Deere’s Game-Changing 4430

John Deere 4430
Matt Maring Auction Co, Inc. will auction this John Deere 4430 off on July 24, 2020. Click the photo to see the listing on Tractor Zoom!

Click here to see the auction listing for this beautiful 4430!

It seems to me that cabs from the fifties and sixties were an afterthought. They’re pretty crude, cramped, and usually drafty. Yes, it kept you out of the elements, so they were better than nothing, but still…not all that great. Surely you can hear a conversation about tractor cabs in the engineering office, right? It probably went like this. “Y’know, we should build that tractor with a cab! Hey Harv, do we have anything in back that we can throw on this thing so it’s got a cab?”

Deere changed the game when they launched the 30-series in late 1972. Their engineers designed the tractor around the SoundGard cab using seals and bushings to isolate vibrations and engine noise. This really was a big deal! Nobody had ever built a tractor like that before! Was it a gamble? Maybe…but as bigger farms emerged, so did the need for more modern equipment. Farmers were spending more hours in the field than ever. They wanted to be more comfortable.

The gamble paid off, too. John Deere’s game changing 4430 established them as not only a front runner in the horsepower game, but also as a pioneer in the “modern” era of farm tractor. They built them with a cab in mind from the start, and that decision has changed the agricultural landscape. Talk to any farmer who’s run an open station and then bought a SoundGard. Spoiler alert: They won’t give the SoundGard back.

Here’s how well that gamble paid off, in sales terms.

Deere sold a 4430 every 36 minutes of every day for 5 years!

Let that marinate for a few seconds.

This one lives at a farm in Wisconsin for the next few weeks until Matt Maring and his team send it home with the highest bidder on July 24. It’s a one-owner ’77 model quad range with 7700 hours, and it’s loaded! Duals, a front-mount fuel tank, rear wheel weights, and a super-clean interior! All things considered, I think it’s an $18-20K tractor all day long. What do you think?

2020 NFMS 4430
Don Cummings, a farmer from Seymour, IN, owns this beautiful 4430 (that’s NOT up for auction on July 24). It was a HUGE hit at John Deere’s booth at the 2020 National Farm Machinery Show!

Matt Maring Auction Co, Inc.