Thursday, March 19, 2015

Streamlined Oliver Tractors at Dacusville

The 1930’s saw most of the developed countries struggling with the worst depression anyone could remember so naturally anything that suggested a brighter future had instant appeal.  Aviation was still new and exciting; airplane design became sleeker and futuristic looking. Streamlining was all the rage so industrial designers figured if it’s good for airplanes why not for whatever they were hired to sell. First came the Zephyr a 100 mph bullet of a locomotive then streamlined cars. Even things that didn’t move like toasters and Greyhound Bus Stations got the treatment, so when the Oliver Corporation introduced its new tractor line in 1935; you guessed it, it was streamlined.

The model 70 really was an advanced tractor design. Powered by a new Continental six cylinder engine that burned 70 octane gas instead of kerosene (where it got its name) it developed 28 hp on the drawbar and 31 hp on the belt.

The model 70 was offered with upgrade options that included an electric starter, a six speed transmission and optional rubber wheels in 1937.

The Row Crop Model 70 like this one on display at the 2014 Dacusville Farm Show owned by Kim & Jeff Jackson was produced from 1937 to 1948. Production numbers vary from 50,941 to 63,000 depending on the source.

Oliver’s streamlined series included the Model 66 like this 1950 Row Crop also owned by the Jacksons, one of 11,472 units made between 1949 – 1954. The 4 cylinder engine produced 22 hp drawbar, 27 hp on the belt according to the info on the show placard.

In 1948 Oliver introduced the Model 77 like this one from the Leon Moody Memorial Tractor Collection.  Production continued until 1954 with 34,447 units sold.

The Model 77 was available as standard or row crop and in LP, gas and diesel versions.

It came with six forward speeds, 2 reverse and a three point hitch. The 194 cubic inch Waukesha - Oliver engine put 32 hp on the drawbar and 37 on the belt.

Sources and Resources:
Dacusville Farm Show exhibit placard
Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors by C.H. Wendel

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sears and Roebuck Handiman Random Thoughts

When was the last time a musical made you think?"  proudly proclaimed the ad in the newspaper I was reading. Hmmmm! at nearly two hundred a pop for tickets one would hope it might stimulate a neuron or two to fire off. By that standard the eight bucks I paid for admission to the WNC Fall Harvest Days Show last October was a fantastic bargain because it triggered a question I'm still trying to answer, Who invented the riding lawn mower? 

I was reviewing photos from that show, trying to decide what to use for this post when I stopped at this 1939 Sears and Roebuck Handiman RT and the question began to form. Shure there were bound to be earlier examples of compact tractors but 1939 was still early and the design was heading in the right direction. When you look at these pictures you might think you're looking at what's left of one of these garden tractors but there really never was much more. An illustration from a period ad posted at tractordata,com shows a sheet metal hood covering the Briggs and Stratton engine and that's it. I also read that the hood created overheating problems and many owners just removed them. With a belt drive power takeoff on the single cylinder 376 cc Briggs motor it could conceivably have had a mower attached although that might have been asking a bit much of the little engine.

The David Bradley Manufacturing Co. which was purchased by Sears in 1912 only produced the riding version of the Handiman from 1939 to 1940 so this one owned by John Baum from Appleton, Wisconsin must be a fairly rare collectible. After the war Bradley produced the 2 wheel walk behind Handiman version which became the firms most popular product. 

So back to the question at hand. Most sources agree that Edwin Budding patented the first lawnmower in 1830, a reel type mower not much different from the push mowers sold today. Before then grass was not considered a problem as it was taken care of by horses, cows and goats. Around 1893 James Sumner of Lancashire England invented a steam powered lawnmower that was wildly unpopular as most people who tried it agreed that it was easier to cut their grass with a sling blade than keep the boiler fired. In the USA a Col. Edwin George designed a gasoline engine powered mower around 1919 but power mowers did not become widespread until after WW 2 and still no definitive mention of riding mowers. Sure, Cyrus McCormick and others patented horse drawn equipment in the early 1830's that provided a seat for the operator but that was for harvesting not lawn mowing. Beyond this point the water becomes murky indeed. Remember, this was a time when every town of any size had a foundry and machine shop and every boy wanted to grow up to be an inventor not a rock star. (Where did we go so horribly wrong?)

Different sources will point you in different directions. Wikipedia for example has this advertisement for a Ransomes motor lawnmower from 1902 and yes that's a seat. If you turn to page 153 of C.H. Wendel's Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors you'll see a photo of a McCormick Auto Mower with it's boat tiller steering and a Deering self propelled mowing machine both from the 1890's neither of which were big sellers. Were these the first riding lawn mowers? I wouldn't want to bet the farm on it. If you have the answer or just want to add your 2 cents worth please feel free to post a comment.

Sources and Resources:
Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors by C.H. Wendel