Antique Tractors Aren't Just For Show

Town and Country

Early tractors mark significant points in history through new technology and fuel types.

Published on: August 6, 2013

Last week I had the opportunity to tour the northwest Missouri countryside on the 2013 Northwest Missouri Young Farmer and Young Farm Wives Tour. The tour kicked off at College Park Pavilion at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville with an antique tractor show, complete with Allis-Chalmers, Farmalls, John Deeres, and Olivers.

These restored antiques are more than just eye candy for farmers, especially those who grew up with them. Farmers love their iron, but these antique tractors also have a lot of history on the development of technology. I discussed with members of the Heart of America Tractor Club how tractors have not only been influenced by their region, but also by the time period.

A while back I wrote about the use of LP, or propane fuel in tractors starting in the 1940s, although it isn't feasible to mass produce these tractors anymore. Similarly, in the early 1900s, gasoline wasn't as cheap to use as kerosene. So, some tractors were made to start with gasoline and run on kerosene after the engine warmed up – although kerosene didn't have as much horsepower.

As Randy Leffingwell, a renowned author on tractor history, writes in Tractors: Icons of the American Landscape, at the turn of the century, gasoline was expensive, and kerosene was plentiful, although it was more difficult to burn.

The first tractor with a kerosene-burning engine was the Rumely OilPull "Kerosene Annie" in the 1910s. The company was, and still is highly-regarded for quality, but it didn't survive the Great Depression. It was bought by Allis-Chalmers, which used its LaPorte, Indiana plant to manufacture all-crop combines, which Leffingwell calls, "a harvesting machine milestone in itself."

One of the most well-known (and ironic) kerosene tractors was Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company's Waterloo Boy, first produced in 1914, according to Leffingwell's The American Farm Tractor. A Waterloo Boy advertisement from the time period showcased the fuel economy with the Waterloo Boy's daily fuel savings at $1.80, with 18 gallons of gasoline costing $3.24 and 18 gallons of kerosene costing $1.80 at the time, and an 18-gallon tank last for 10 hours.

Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company was purchased by Deere and Company in 1918, which continued to sell tractors under the Waterloo Boy name until 1923. Although kerosene isn't a viable tractor fuel source anymore, its use marked a time when tractors were replacing horses – which is apparent with John Deere's transition into the tractor business.