Saturday, October 1, 2016

Huber Maintainer

Have you ever seen one of these before?  I hadn’t until Tom Furman brought his 1965 Huber M-500 Maintainer to the Dacusville Farm Show. It’s the prospect of finding something that I didn’t even know existed that keeps me wandering around in the hot sun at these shows.

The Huber Manufacturing Company of Marion, Ohio was founded by Edward Huber in 1854. Born on a farm in Indiana in 1837, he apprenticed to a blacksmith in his teens and later became a machinist and a wagon maker. He invented a revolving hay rake and moved to Marion to produce it. Huber was a prolific inventor and would eventually be granted 100 patents. By 1875 the company had added threshers to it’s catalog and by 1898 it was producing a line of portable and traction steam engines. By the turn of the century Huber had become a major producer eventually manufacturing 11,568 steam engines.

There were no flies on Ed. In addition to Huber Manufacturing, in 1884 he joined Henry Barnhart and George W. King to form the Marion Steam Shovel Company, a major producer of construction, mining and dredging equipment. He also operated a foundry and even found time to serve as the president of the Marion National Bank.

Huber Manufacturing produced a full line of portable and traction steam engines in a variety of sizes. They also manufactured steam rollers for road construction and maintenance. Around 1898 Huber ventured into the internal combustion engine tractor business with the production of 30 prototype tractors. The results were so disappointing
That they would not return until 1911. Huber manufactured a number of models of tractors for the next 31 years, but they were never big sellers. In 1936 they introduced a 3 plow tractor powered by a 4 cylinder engine that they called the model B. It later morphed into the model BG ( as in grader ). This was the genesis of the Maintainer.

The Maintainer was destined to outlive the company that developed it. Production of the agricultural tractor line it evolved from ended in 1942 when the War Department decided that the company should concentrate all its efforts on producing construction equipment. This was probably OK with Huber since they had never managed to run with the big dogs of the tractor biz. Even after wartime restrictions ended Huber never resumed tractor production. The Maintainer however, survived mergers and acquisitions to remain in production until 1984.

Although Edward Huber was born on a farm and his company was started to produce agricultural equipment, construction and industrial equipment was where he would make his mark on history. Between 1902 and 1911 the Marion Steam Shovel Co. provided 112 steam shovels to the Army Corp of Engineers for use in the construction of the Panama Canal. Marion products played an important role in the construction of railroads and highways, dredging harbors and waterways and mining operations throughout the 20th Century. They even made the launch pad crawler that was used for the moon missions and the Space Shuttle Program.

Somewhat more prosaic, the Maintainer none the less filled a useful niche. Lighter and less expensive than a full power motor grader it served well in applications where heavy excavation was not required. A number of accessory attachments were available that greatly increased its versatility. In addition to serving as a motor grader it could function as a front end loader, bulldozer, side dozer, scarifier, road sweeper and sickle bar roadside mower. The first Maintainer rolled off the assembly line in 1943. It was followed by the M-52 and later the M-500 introduced in 1963. The M-500 was succeeded by the model M-600 in 1967.

As is often the case, information about specific models is hard to find on the internet. According to wikipedia the Huber corporate archives were donated to the Marion County Historical Society and Bowling Green Ohio’s Historical Construction Equipment Association. You can visit their websites, but you won’t find much about Huber Manufacturing Co.

An interesting synchronism: In the letters to the editor in the Sept. /  Oct. 2016 issue of Antique Power there is a Huber Maintainer  in serious need of restoration that is looking for a new home. It presently resides in Yuba City, California.  

Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors by C.H. Wendel
Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines by Jack Norbeck The Earthmover Encyclopedia by Keith Haddock p. 152  Huber Tractors: A Proud Tradition by James N. Boblenz  

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