Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sears and Roebuck Economy Tractors

John Baum is a man on a mission. Actually it has two parts; 1 acquire the world’s largest collection of Sears and Roebuck Economy tractors and 2 spread the good word about this little known brand far and wide. John began collecting Economy Tractors in 1976 and as of 2016 he owns sixteen of them. Sears contracted with the Peru Wheel Company of Peru Illinois to manufacture an affordable tractor in 1937 and tractors were produced for only two years, 1938 to 1939. Peru Wheel made the frame and most of the cast components and used rebuilt Ford Model A engines and transmissions for the drive train. Most sources place the total production run at about 500 tractors. John estimates that perhaps 100 of these have survived so at 16% of the supply he’s well on the way to realizing the first of his goals.

John retired from farming in 2000 and has devoted his leisure time to his second mission ever since. I caught up with him at the Western North Carolina Fall Harvest Days Antique Engine & Tractor Show near Asheville, NC. in 2016. It’s about a fourteen hour drive from his home in Appleton, Wisconsin but according to John it’s one of the more leisurely trips he takes.  He estimates that he logs about 25,000 miles per year on the road to shows, with destinations like Ft. Meade, Florida and Yuma, Arizona. He even attends a show in Alaska and that’s pulling a trailer loaded with tractors. I call that dedication to your hobby.

Information about these tractors is almost as hard to find as the tractors themselves so it’s hard to say why Sears only offered them for two years. Some sources cite design issues like problems with the over the hood steering mechanism on the 1938 model. Others say the gathering storm of a world war caused manufacturers to shift production away from products like farm tractors. It is interesting to note that during this same period the Sears catalog also offered a Graham - Bradley tractor built by the Graham - Paige Motor Company that may have been more appealing to prospective tractor buyers.  Whatever the reason, production ended with the 1939 model.

Ad copy produced by Sears ( not surprisingly ) was effusive with praise for the Economy brand. “The performance of Sears Economy Tractors during the past season has brought enthusiastic response from farmer owners in every section of the country. They like the Economy’s ease of handling - its surplus power - its economical operation. And they smile over the small amount it cost them: less than $500 for a sturdy, powerful, good looking two plow tractor!”

“Powered by a dependable Ford Model A motor and transmission completely rebuilt to Sears exacting specifications, carries regular 90 day guarantee, backed by Sears.”

“ Shipped from a factory near Sterling, ILL. from where you pay freight.”  You could be the proud owner of all the above for $495 cash. The tractor shipped with steel wheels as standard equipment, pneumatic tires were an option as were fenders.

J.B. hasn’t snapped up all the remaining examples yet. This nicely restored ‘39 was on display at the Foothills Antique Power Association of NC Power Show in 2015. At the time it was owned by Floyd Sigmon. Presumably, it still is.

Without doubt the best way to learn more about this obscure brand of tractors will be to visit Gibsonburg, Ohio on Labor Day Weekend 2017. The Sandusky County Restorers of Antique Power will host the 12th annual gathering of Graham Bradley and Sears sold farm tractors at the White Star Park in Gibsonburg on September 1st through the 4th. For more information about this event visit: .  You can bet that John will be there.

Resources:  : Sear’s Mail Order Tractor, the 1930’s Economy Tractor by James N. Boblenz.  :  Standard Catalog of Farm Tractors by C.H. Wendel.  

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