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.
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! ?
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!