What makes an antique tractor awesome?
Similar to vintage cars or wines, an antique tractor's awesomeness comes from its historical importance and its rarity. An alternative-fuel prototype tractor from the 1950s, for example, is going to be more interesting to the enthusiast and collector than a run-of-the-mill, mass-produced farm tractor that can be seen on nearly every farm across the country.
Of course, personal taste factors into any awesome scale, antique tractors included. There are those who vow, "I bleed John Deere green," and then there are the International Harvester aficionados who insist, "If it ain't red, leave it in the shed."
With that in mind, these five antique tractors are presented in no particular order, but if you like tractors at all, there's probably at least one or two listed here that you'll find to your liking.
In the early years of the 20th century, automotive and tractor manufacturers were sometimes a little on the unscrupulous side (some would argue not much has changed in 100 years). Tractor manufacturers in particular would build shoddy equipment and pass it off as a quality product from a better-known builder. One in particular was a "Ford" tractor that had nothing to do with the Detroit-based auto builder.
In response, the State of Nebraska in 1920 began requiring that every tractor sold in the state be tested to assure that it would perform as advertised. The tests were performed -- and still are -- at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where that fraudulent "Ford" tractor still resides. The requirement is still in place, as is the dynamometer that was used for most of the tractor testing in the past century or so.
The Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company was founded in Waterloo, Iowa, after its founder invented the first usable gasoline-powered tractor in 1892. Despite this technological advance, the tractors were not at all popular, and the company was sold in 1895. It puttered along making engines until 1911, when it took another stab at building tractors. The company finally hit pay dirt when it introduced the Waterloo Boy Model R in 1914. Unlike the first model, of which just four were built and only two were sold, more than 8,000 of the Waterloo Boy Model R tractors were sold between its introduction and 1918, when it was discontinued.
The company was purchased by John Deere in 1918, and the Waterloo Boy models became the basis for the green giant's two-cylinder tractors. Examples of the Waterloo Boy tractors can be found today in the John Deere Pavilion, the museum dedicated to the history of the famous green machines.
Put aside your Toyota Prius, cast off your Honda Clarity and say vamoose to the Chevy Volt. One of the pioneers of the alternative fuel movement was a farm tractor built half a century ago.
In 1959, Allis-Chalmers debuted a concept tractor powered by a fuel cell. It had a 20-horsepower (14.9-kilowatt) motor that converted chemical energy from a mixture of gases into electrical power to run without smoke or noise. It had 1,008 cells on board -- the largest operational fuel-cell unit in the world at the time -- and could haul 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms), enough to pull a multiple-bottom plow.
The company demonstrated the futuristic machine at work in an alfalfa field in Wisconsin on Oct. 15, 1959, and then promptly donated it to the Smithsonian Institution, which retains it in its collection. The work Allis-Chalmers did with fuel cells was later used in the Apollo missions to the moon, but funding cuts meant the company's fuel cell program was over by 1970.
If the 1960s were the jet age, International Harvester wanted to be in on the action -- even with its tractors. The company owned a subsidiary, Solar Aircraft Company, which was a major manufacturer of turbine engines in its own right. Someone at the parent company had the brilliant idea to marry the two.
And so was born the HT-341, a concept tractor that debuted in 1961. It was powered by a small turbine engine, the kind used to power auxiliary systems like air conditioning and starter motors on jet-propelled aircraft.
Why didn't it catch on, you may wonder? That little turbine could produce a lot of power -- 85-horsepower (63.4 kilowatts) from a 90-pound (40.8-kilogram) unit, and an unbelievable 57,000 revolutions per minute -- but it took massive amounts of fuel to do so. And it was noisy. Really noisy. Another complication was that the turbine needed a lot of filtered air to operate.
The HT-341 never saw production, and this prototype was also added to the collection at the Smithsonian Institution.
You read that right: a Lamborghini tractor. Before Ferruccio Lamborghini ever trained his sights on his cross-town rival Enzo Ferrari, he owned a company that built tractors. And the first one was the Carioca model he built in 1947 using surplus military parts. After World War II, parts were practically lying on the ground just waiting to be picked up and put to good use.
The tractor now resides at Centro Studi e Ricerche Ferruccio Lamborghini, the family museum in Italy. Lamborghini used the fortune he created in farm equipment as seed money for his luxury sports car business. What you may not know is that while the Murcielago and Gallardo supercars are famous today, the tractor side of the business is still going strong, complete with the Lamborghini name in script along the nose and the rampaging bull logo, too.
So there you have it. Five awesome antique tractors that you may have never heard of otherwise. But if you're still looking for more antique tractor information, follow the links on the next page.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Antique Farming. "Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company." (Feb. 22, 2010) http://www.antiquefarming.com/waterlooboy.html
- AntiqueFarm.org. "International Harvester HT-341 Turbine Tractor." (Feb. 22, 2010) http://www.antiquefarm.org/mainsite/museum/turbine_tractor.html
- ASME Milwaukee. "Prototype Tractor by Allis-Chalmers First Vehicle Powered with Fuel Cells." (Feb. 25, 2010) http://sections.asme.org/milwaukee/history/15-fuelcelltractor.html
- History Wired - The Smithsonian. "Allis-Chalmers Fuel-Cell Tractor." (Feb. 21, 2010) http://historywired.si.edu/object.cfm?ID=223
- Hydrogen Fuel Cars and Vehicles. "Allis-Chalmers Farm Tractor Was the First Fuel Cell Vehicle." (Feb. 22, 2010)http://www.hydrogencarsnow.com/blog2/index.php/fuel- cells/allis-chalmers-farm-tractor-was-first-fuel-cell-vehicle/
- John Deere Pavilion. (Feb. 21, 2010)http://www.deere.com/en_US/attractions/pavilion/exhibits.html
- Larsen Tractor Museum - University of Nebraska-Lincoln. (Feb. 21, 2010)http://tractormuseum.unl.edu/
- Obert, Genevieve. "The Lamborghini Family Museum." European Car Magazine. (Feb. 21, 2010)http://europeancar.automotive.com/17661/0310ec-lamborghini-family-museum/index.html