Monday, December 14, 2015

Allis-Chalmers Model L 15-25

They call him "Big Charley". Don't ask me why, only his owner can say for sure. I never have understood how you determine the gender of an inanimate object. Why not "Big Charleen"? Oh well, in this vile era of "celebrity" transformers you can be whatever you want, tractors too.

Allis-Chalmers introduced an all new 3 plow tractor in 1921 that they designated as the Model L 12-20 powered by a 4 cylinder Midwest truck and tractor engine that was state of the art for an automotive engine of it's day. Following test number 82 at Nebraska in September of that year A-C rerated the tractor as the L 15-25. At 1,100 rpm the 280 cubic inch vertical four produced 21.42 hp at the drawbar and 33.18 on the belt. Two forward speeds of 2.3 mph and 3.1 mph and 3.1 mph in reverse were provided.

Slow sales at the time due mainly to a glut of tractors competing for a limited market has made the L tractors highly collectible items today. During the entire production run from 1921 to 1927 only 1705 were produced. Those designated 12 - 20 may be the rarest of all. Beginning at sn. 20001 in 1921 by sn. 20134 the rating had been changed to 15 - 25. In 1924 an orchard and a road maintenance version were added to the line. These models also command a premium today. The L model was discontinued in 1927 at sn. 21705. Charley at sn. 21208 is one of only 374 produced in 1925.


Illustrated Buyers Guide Allis-Chalmers Tractors and Crawlers by Terry Dean

The Allis-Chalmers Story by C.H. Wendel

Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors by C.H. Wendel

And special thanks to Roger Weinhold for bringing Charley to the WNC Fall Harvest Days 29th Antique Engine & Tractor Show. For info. about the 2016 show visit:

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Adams Pull Grader

If you've ever wondered why the wheels on a road grader look like they're broken and might fall off at any moment you need to turn back the clock to a time when a road trip really was an adventure. In the last half of the 19th century roads were little more than muddy ruts that needed constant attention just to keep them passable. Some jurisdictions hired or contracted with individuals to maintain the public roads in a particular area. J.D. Adams was working as one such road inspector about 1885 when he had a better idea. Being well acquainted with the shortcomings of grading equipment of the period he began to look for a way to improve the performance. Just as a workman leans into a load he is trying to push, Adams reasoned that a grader's ability to excavate and move earth could be improved by shifting the weight of the machine onto the blade by adjusting the angle of the wheels. His design for adjustable angled wheels combined with an angled blade is the basis for road graders still produced today.

Although Adams had no formal training as an engineer he designed the first pull grader to employ the leaning wheel principle and was granted a patent for his invention. He started his business as a salesman visiting local governments while contracting the production with established manufacturing firms. By 1897 his business had grown to the point where he owned his own factory located in Indianapolis, Ind. In the years that followed J.D. Adams Co. expanded it's market into Canada and built marketing arrangements with Acme Road Machinery Co., Baker Manufacturing and Smith Trailer Corp. Adams Road Machinery was bought out by Letouneau - Westinghouse in 1953 who continued production using the Adams trade name until 1960.

The grader shown in these photos is owned by the Kissimmee Auction Company, a dealer in heavy construction equipment located near Spartanburg, SC. It's parked along the road front of their business on Wingo Heights Road along with another Adams grader, a Caterpillar pull grader and an Oliver crawler tractor.

Adams Road Machinery eventually produced self propelled graders but the early models lacked any power source being intended to be pulled behind draft animals, steam traction engines or whatever could be put into service.

By the same token the operator riding on the grader made all adjustments to the wheels and blade angle by hand.

The data plate on this unit has been severely damaged, it almost looks as if the model number has been ground off. The serial number is still readable ( 1026 ).

I've not been able to find an online resource that provides information about Adams road grader model and serial numbers. There are a number of photos posted on that closely resemble this grader but no reliable information about the model or date of manufacture. If you can contribute any information please leave a comment.

Sources: The Leaning-Wheel Grader by Tom Berry. J.D. Adams & Company, 1905-1961 and N.D. by Thomas Berry. Adams leaning wheel graders.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

IHC Titan 10-20

Here's a 1921 International 10-20 owned by Fred, Melissa and Nathen Milner at the 2015 WNC Fall Harvest Day Show. Quiz Question: What characteristic of this tractor is apparent in this video clip?


Friday, October 16, 2015

Dacusville 2015

The Farm Show at Dacusville this year proved to be interesting in more ways than one. About a week before the event I received an email from a descendant  of the original owners of Kay-Gee 1640. She had been trying to locate the engine and saw the post on the "Mule" about the 2014 show. It's always gratifying to hear from visitors but it's even better when they contribute information about the subject.

At the show I saw a photocopy of the original bill of sale. Keck-Gonnerman built the engine, a 20 hp with a 9" cylinder and 12" stroke in 1922 on order for William and Charles Schisler who used it to power a sawmill they operated in Mt. Vernon Indiana.  It remained in service at the sawmill until they sold it in 1955. How it found it's way to South Carolina remains unknown. Can anyone out there in webland fill in the missing years?

It seemed to me that the turnout for this year's event was down from 2014 but there was still plenty to see.

Like last year there was a nice assortment of highway tractors on hand. What could be better for hauling your vintage equipment to the show?

Stationary engines were well represented as were highly specialized equipment like this Farmall A that's been outfitted with a night vision device for nocturnal farming.

Another innovative modification was this rumble seat equipped John Deere.

On the other hand there were alterations of questionable utility.

The majority however, were nicely restored classics.

This Allis-Chalmers G model looks like it just rolled off a dealers showroom floor.

The Leon Moody Memorial Collection always provides some interesting exhibits like this 1950 Case Model DCS "High Crop", one of just 1206 units produced between 1939 and 1953.

Window shopping your wish list is a fun part of every show. This 1952 Minneapolis - Moline was offered for a very reasonable $2950.

But the for sale sign on this 1937 Farmal F-12 didn't list a price.

Likewise for this 1959 Massey-Ferguson.

And now for the Editors Pick for Best of Show, and the winner is........Well, no show plackard on this beauty but my guess is that it's a one off prototype produced by the Frankenstein Tractor Company that briefly operated out of Transylvania County, NC. around 1939.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Barber-Greene Ditching Machine

How many of these have you seen? For me not one until the 12th Annual F.A.P.A.N.C. Power Show back in May. Although It immediately grabbed my attention I had no idea how rare this 1951 model Barber-Greene Run About Ditching Machine owned by Max Miller of Conover, NC must be. You can usually find something posted on the web about almost anything but with the exception of a very brief video clip on you tube I've turned up zero about this machine.

There are a number of sites with histories of the company, an assortment of advertisements for used equipment, other types of ditching and excavating machines but nothing about the 51 Run About. If you can add some information about this machine or know of a source please leave a comment.

What I did learn is that the company was founded by Harry Barber and William Greene in 1916. While both were graduated from the University of Illinois with degrees in engineering, it was Barber who designed the equipment while Greene managed the sales and business aspects of their venture. Both men were employed by a company that produced material handling equipment and belt conveyors for factories when they decided to strike out on their own. Their plan was to apply the principles of mechanized production to jobs of a smaller scale. The first sale of the new firm was a belt conveyor for loading coal at a nearby coal yard. The second product they developed was a bucket loader for a cement company.

Since dirt is just another material to be moved it's not surprising that Barber-Greene developed a ditching machine for mounting on the back of a bucket loader in 1922. Hey, it's a conveyor belt mounting a bunch of little shovels.

During the 1930's Barber developed machinery for laying asphalt roads that made the company's fortune and became the foundation for the paving equipment that is in use today. Barber-Greene was well positioned to profit from the huge demand for roads and runways created by WW 2.

Barber's 1930 patent for a "machine for processing and laying roads" continued to serve the company well in the years following the war as America's love for the automobile continued to expand the demand for more roads and the machines to build them. The 50's and 60's proved to be very good years for Barber-Greene. The firm continued under the B-G mark until 1987 when it was acquired by Astec Industries, a major player in the paving industry. Astec sold it's interest in B-G to Caterpillar Inc. in 1991.

Monograph by Dr. Richard E. Hatwick for the American National Business Hall of Fame at

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Russell Engine No. 12563

It's hard to believe that another year has flown by since the last Dacusville Farm Show. I'm hoping there will be more steam power on display in 2015 so this seems like as good a time as any to look back at the other engine that was making smoke last year.

One of the operators at the show that I talked to described this engine as a 10 hp made in 1895 but a visit to the National Russell Collectors Association seems to contradict that statement. The list of serial numbers they have posted on their site ( ) places serial numbers 12359 to 12765 as manufactured in 1905.

Since that was about all that could be gleaned at that site I browsed on over to the website of the Massillon Ohio Museum and found better grazing at . Page 38 of the Russell catalog features an illustration that looks very much like this engine. The description offers that it's a 5" bore by 7" stroke running at 250 rpm to produce a nominal 6 hp with a maximum of 9 hp. Other details include: boiler shell diameter 22", overall length 8' 4 3/4" , width 4' 3" height 7' 7 1/8" weight 4000 pounds. The ad copy states that the " Baby" was first built for the Southern trade and is particuarly designed for hilly country, which certainly fits the Upstate of the Carolinas. Be sure to check out the Russell catalogs the museum has posted on their site, interesting reading.

In 1842 three Russell brothers; Charles, Nathan and and Clement pooled their resources and with $1500 in capital formed the the C.M. Russell Company and opened shop in Massillon, Ohio. Since they were all carpenters by trade they naturally built houses, made furniture and engaged in the usual carpentry business. In 1853 they expanded into the manufacture of railroad cars. This is not as big a leap as it may seem since railroad rolling stock of the time was largly constructed of wood. This proved to be a successful endevor as the company eventually made over a thousand cars for various railroads.

Was this the begining of the move to production of machinery? The sources I've looked at are unclear. How did carpenters aquire the metal working and mechanical expertise to manufacture steam engines? Most likely they simply hired employees who had the necessary experience but who they were isn't reported.

By 1882 C.M. Russell & Co. was fully engaged in the production of steam engines and by all accounts they were very good at it. Russell engines had a reputation for quality, reliability and ease of maintenance. The engine serial numbers posted on the Russell Collectors website run from 1275 in 1882 to 17156 in 1924 for a total of 15,881 engines.

Russell also made stationary and marine engines, road rollers, threshers, sawmills, water tanks and assorted accessories for their steam engines. They even made a brief entry into the overcrowded gasoline tractor market. C.M. Russell & Co. was sold in 1927 but the service branch of the company remained in business until 1942.

Other sources:

Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines by Jack Norbeck

May 4, 2018 
I received an email from Mr. Young from the National Russell Collectors that offered the additional information and corrections about this engine. Your comments and corrections of any misinformation that appears on this blog are always welcome and appreciated. His email follows:
It''s was recently brought to my attention, that your article about Russell engine #12563 was about one that we (The Russell Collectors) did not have on our list of existing engines. 
    It is not a big surprise to me that we frequently run across one that has not been previously noted. There was a time when we requested information about engines and we received quite a large response, but not everyone was willing to have their name put on a list, so we will probably never get every one. Thus one occasionally turns up.
    I would like to clear up some confusion about this engine and the facts supplied by the Russell Collectors. The serial number information comes from actual factory records. It may have been purchased new at a later date, but that is the date the factory says it was built.
    Another factory record reveals that #12563, is a portable, on a standard lap seam boiler, with a six inch bore and an eight inch stroke.
    The factory records that The Russell Collectors have, were given to a local Russell engine owner, by ex-factory employees, way back in the late 30's or early 40's, when the steam hobby was just getting started. At that time the Massillon Museum was not much of a museum and was not much interested in the Russell Company and there was concern that the data would disappear. We do know that some did!
    In addition #12563 is not the model known as "The Baby". A closer examination of your photos show that the engine has a steam dome and the classic Russell cast iron smoke box. A "Baby" has neither of these features. 
    The boiler specs should be for a 6 x 8 engine, not a 5 x 7. It's a little bigger.
            Mehl Young
    The National Russell Collectors

Monday, August 17, 2015

Hit n' Miss Action

Here's some hit n' miss action from the Foothills Antique Power Association of NC's 2015 Show at Hickory, NC.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The David Bradley Tri-Trac

One of the most interesting items exhibited at the 25th Power from the Past Show was this 1953 David Bradley Tri-Trac owned by Iber and Frances Tripp from Simpsonville, SC. Looking like a cross between a scooter and a mechanical scorpion, it's not what comes to mind when you say garden tractor.

The David Bradley Manufacturing Works was purchased by Sears and Roebuck in 1912 and produced house brand proucts for the retail giant from that point forward. After World War 2 Bradley introduced a two wheel walk behind garden tractor that was produced from 1946 until 1966 that proved to be a very popular product and is what most people think of as a David Bradley garden tractor. According to one account Sears management pressured Bradley to produce the Tri-Trac because they wanted a small riding tractor to compete with the International Harvester Cub. Maybe it was the radical design or maybe it just didn't perform to expectation, for whatever reason the Tri-Trac was only produced from 1954 to 1957 with disappointing sales numbers.

It often seems the internet is just an endless circus of depravity peopled by cross dressing freaks and tatoo encrusted performing animals but if you search long enough you occasionally find a nugget. I found one of those rare sites that offer origional source material online while researching the Tri-Trac. Collectors and others with an interest in Bradley and Roper products will surely want to visit the website of the Bradley Historical Society at . Here you can browse a collection of issues of The Pioneer Plowman and The Roper-Bradley Newsletter, both in house published newspapers about the goings on within the Bradley factory.

The December 29, 1953 issue of the Pioneer Plowman featured an article titled Sears unvails Tri-Trac that offered the following insights. The Tri-Trac was targeted at the "sundown farmer" the suburban owner of 1 to 30 acres who wanted to garden after work at the factory or office. Bradley estimated the population of this market at around 2,000,000. The price was to be set at less than $700. The specifications were listed as length 102", height 48", weight 894 pounds. A single cylinder 6.2 hp air cooled Wisconsin motor powered the machine. An eight foot turning radius, a front axle that was adjustable in 2" increments from 48 to 72 inches for row crop widths and a " fingertip control" 0 to 4 mph adjustable clutchless drive were listed as selling points. Twelve attachments were to be available including a lawnmower, a 9" plow, a snow plow and a "bulldozer".

This article also provides a photo of Gabe Kerouac, assembly supervisor, test driving the first Tri-Trac to roll off the assembly line. Unfortunatly the collection of The Pioneer Plowman ends with the March 30, 1954 issue and jumps to the Roper Bradley News of August 1966 so we can't learn more about the Tri-Trac during the rest of its production run. Maybe some day someone will donate the missing issues and the rest of the story will become available.

Sources and Resources:
The Pioneer Plowman Vol.7 No. 1 Dec. 29 1953 available at
David Bradley Tractors by Terry E. Strasser published in the Nov. / Dec. 2001 issue of Gas Engine Magazine available at




Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Allis-Chalmers Story

In the opening sentence of the Foreword C.H. Wendel says that his greatest worry as a writer is omitting some important aspect of the story. He shouldn’t be overly concerned. It isn’t likely that the average reader will notice. If you think that Allis-Chalmers was a manufacturer of tractors you’re about 10% right. Over the course of 372 pages Wendel follows the history of this corporate behemoth from Edward P. Allis’s purchase of Decker and Seville in 1861 to the final mergers and acquisitions by foreign multinationals in 1985. Most of the early tractor companies began in blacksmiths or machine shops but Allis was a businessman first and this shaped the company’s development throughout its history. Just trying to follow the convoluted flow chart of mergers and acquisitions is enough to give the corporately challenged a migraine. From mill stones to the Manhattan Project and beyond it’s all here. Allis-Chalmers seems to have chased every conceivable industrial application and market. It’s a fascinating story accompanied by over 1,500 period photos that average 4 to 5 per page, The Allis-Chalmers Story offers hours of entertainment for anyone with an interest in antique equipment or the history of industrial America in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Oh yea, there’s plenty here for tractor and farm equipment collectors too. My favorite comes on page 300. Did you know that A-C pioneered the use of rubber tires on tractors? Back in April I posted a spoof about tractor racing. Well, seems that in 1933 Allis-Chalmers installed special gearing in a few tractors as a publicity stunt to promote the new rubber tires. There at the top of the page is a photo of Barney Oldfield in his leather football “crash” helmet hunched over the steering wheel of his Model U leaving the competition in his dust as he sets a world speed record of 64.28 mph on a tractor! Just goes to show, anything you can think of, no matter how ridiculous, somebody somewhere has probably already done it.

Classic American Tractors The Allis-Chalmers Story by C.H. Wendel published by Krause Publications 2004 Library of Congress Catalog Number 2004093887. ISBN: 0-87349-927-1. You might find it at your local library under 629.2252. Available online from around $30 new.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A 1844 Griswold Cotton Gin

The prospect of seeing something I’ve never seen before is the main reason I go to these shows and the Foothills Antique Power Association’s (SC.) 25th Power From the Past Show on May 30, 2015 at Greer, SC. didn’t disappoint.

I was taking some photos of his McCormick-Deering engine when Jerry Neely walked up.

We talked about his engine for a while and then he directed my attention to what was sitting behind it on the trailer which up till then had pretty much gone unnoticed. It doesn't exactly jump out at you, it looks more like a piece of furniture than a machine but that's fitting for the period it's from, when the world was transitioning from an agrarian past to an industrial future. Be honest. Did you pick up on it?

What I was looking at was a reconstructed Griswold Cotton Gin that was originally made in 1844 which is pretty unusual in itself but the real story lies in how it came to be there.

Starting with a pile of badly decomposed timbers and rusted metal parts he found behind the barn on the family farm Jerry began a remarkable bit of reconstructive mechanical archeology and reverse engineering.

With little more to work from than an old photo from the 1920's and a few pieces of wood that were still intact enough to dimension from he scaled off the rest of the machine using a CAD program.

It was an amazing story, and since there's no substitute for firsthand knowledge I asked Jerry to work it up and send it for posting on The Mule. 

He said he'd give it his best shot so here's hoping he's burning the midnight oil at the keyboard and one day soon you'll get the skinny straight from the horse's mouth.

His experience is bound to provide valuable insight for anyone who might be considering undertaking a similar project and the photos he took illustrate the reconstruction from debris pile to a working machine.