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3. Enter the Farm Tractor…Exit horses, 1910 – 1945

First Came Monster Steam Tractors

thumbnailIt took the advent of the steam engine adapted to power a tractor that revolutionized farm power to pull implements. The tractor was a power plant on wheels, the earliest ones were stationary steam engines mounted on a bed that was dragged out to the fields by horses or oxen, with a flywheel that provided the power needed for threshing machines or grain separators. They used long belts driven by a flywheel on the tractor. They burned wood and straw, and hissed, wheezed and gave off flying cinders. This was the era of the steam plow, the binder and the threshing machine, bought largely from American companies, but the Canadian industrial entrepreneurs of Massey and Harris were also producing mowers and binders of world renown.

Farmer Plough
Who invented modern steam engine?
James Who?
Farmer Specs
James Watt! In 1769!
136 years before Saskatchewan
became a province.

Pros and Cons of the
Great Steam Machines:
  • - needed a source of water
  • - no parts supply
  • - broke down easily
  • - big and cumbersome
  • - so heavy they could break bridges
    when being taken across
  • + interesting machines, did the job
  • + look great in old pictures!

Internal Combustion Engine: Hey man, we got gas!

thumbnailThe internal combustion engine had to come first before we got the “modern tractor.” In 1901 the Charlie Hart and Charlie Parr got together and cooked up the first gas traction engine, the Hart-Parr Gas Traction Engine No. 1 (a name we might have expected). It weighed ten tons and was rated 45 horse power on the belt and 22 horse power on the draw bar.

thumbnailThe name “tractor” was coined in 1907. Types and sales mushroomed. The prairies were about to be revolutionized by a machine that required a new fuel source, and made for a whole bunch of industries, from gas suppliers to tractor dealerships and garages that would join the grain elevator, post office, general store and other businesses in prairie towns.

thumbnailThe earliest tractors were monsters with barrel-size cylinders, 8 foot drive wheels and giant steel wheels! Tractors with names like Waterloo Boy, Holt, Rumely Oil Pull, McCormick-Deering. Twin City Gas and Titan crawled across the prairies. They were queer looking creatures with finicky motors that you had to understand in a special way, some with four cylinders and four carburetors.

thumbnailA good example of the unusual type is the Gray Drum Drive. The one and only rear driving wheel is almost five feet across. It was supposed to not pack the ground, leaving an imprint less than the weight of a man's foot… Another unusual machine is the Bates Steel Mule. This strange looking machine is a 3 plow tractor costing $1375, new in 1917. If it ran over a dead leaf it would roll over on its side. Field equipment for this track type machine was a team of horses with spare gas, water and oil. The team was used for pulling the tractor upright again after a turn over.

thumbnailthumbnailOne of the early large I.H.C. Moguls was equipped with a one horse power engine bolted on to the frame. If you were able to start the small engine it was used to start the big one. The only hitch in this arrangement was that you had to master the vagaries of starting two engines instead of one. Anyone who has helped to swing over two tons of fly wheel and cylinders on a cold and frosty fall morning will believe that any help in starting was appreciated.

thumbnail“Many of these early gas tractors were difficult to start, hard to keep going and brutes to ride, but the farm boy of the 1920s took them in his stride. It was said in those days that when a steamer gave trouble it took ten minutes to find out the trouble and a half a day to fix it. When a gas engine balked it took half a day to find out the difficulty and ten minutes to fix it. Very often it was just a loose wire or an empty gas tank.” 

George Shepherd, “Gas Engines at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada,” Gas Engine Magazine,

A Variety of Brutes

thumbnailEventually tractors from A to Z, well from Allis-Chalmers to Wallis anyway, were found across Saskatchewan. Open gear tractors gave way to closed gears. World War I, with a shortage of farm labour and rising prices for farm products was incentive for tractor expansion, but the Great Depression of the 1930s, set it back.

thumbnailSome strange performers were being passed off as the real McCoy. So the Nebraska Tractor Test Law was passed in 1919 to establish a regulating agency for tractor efficiency as many tractors did not live up to their expectations. (The University of Nebraska continues to test tractors for 25 countries around the world, and offers high school students and 4-H a chance to sign up and participate in a tractor pull, informing them of a non-exhaustive list of possible risks…sprains, strains, abrasions, burns, fractures, concussions, dislocations and blisters…but it's great fun and there’s lots to learn.)

thumbnailIt was not until 1939 that twenty strong years of pretty much straight-up sales of tractors happened in the West, at the same time that thousands of horses disappeared from Saskatchewan. These early tractors burned all kinds of fuel, kerosene, gasoline, distillate and eventually, diesel fuel as they combined with plows, cultivators, land-breaking equipment, binders and early combines to handle crops.

thumbnailThe term gas tractor covers a very broad field since such tractors would burn anything from gunpowder, turpentine, water, whiskey, powdered coal, distillate, coal oil and of course gasoline. I personally knew an early gas tractor man who claimed he had operated a Rumely Oil Pull on a quart of whiskey. This may have been a sinful waste of good "likker" but it at least proved a point.

George Shepherd, “Gas Engines at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada,”
Gas Engine Magazine,

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Other website:
Tractor Test Lab

Rubber Tires, PTOs

Farmer Plough
What is pneumatic?
Farmer Specs
Sounds like pneumonia.
Farmer Plough
I think it means “air” !

thumbnailIn 1931 Allis-Chalmers came out with the pneumatic rubber tire for tractors. Rubber tires meant more speed. The rubber tire lengthened the life of the tractor and the life of the operator, to quote George Shepherd, again.

A new development in tractor production was PTO, or power takeoff, during the 1930s. PTO gives an external drive shaft for powering implements which are pulled behind the tractor. It was important in the development of binders, swathers and eventually to one of the most important developments of all – the pull-type combine.

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