The first engine-powered farm tractors used steam and were introduced in 1868. These engines were built as small road locomotives and were operated by one man if the engine weighed less than 5 tons. They were used for general road haulage and in particular by the timber trade. The most popular steam tractor was the Garrett 4CD.
Gasoline Powered Tractors
According to Vintage Farm Tractors by Ralph W. Sanders (ISBN1-55192-031-X) “Credit goes to the Charter Gasoline Engine Company of Sterling, Illinois, for first successfully using gasoline as fuel. Charter’s creation of a gasoline fueled engine in 1887 soon led to early gasoline traction engines before the term “tractor” was coined by others. Charter adapted its engine to a Rumley steam-traction-engine chassis, and in 1889 produced six of the machines to become one of the first working gasoline traction engines.”
Vintage Farm Tractors discusses several other early gas-powered tractors, “John Froelich, a custom thresherman from Iowa,decided to try gasoline power for threshing. He mounted a Van Duzen gasoline engine on a Robinson chassis and rigged his own gearing for propulsion. Froelich used the machine successfully to power a threshing machine by belt during his fifty-two day harvest season of 1892 in South Dakota. The Froelich tractor, forerunner of the later Waterloo Boy tractor, is considered by many to be the first successful gasoline tractor known. Froelich’s machine fathered a long line of stationary gasoline engines and, eventually, the famous John Deere two cylinder tractor.
J.I. Case’s first pioneering efforts at producing a gas tracion engine date to 1894, or maybe earlier, when William Paterson of Stockton, California, came to Racine to make an experimental engine for Case. Case ads in the 1940s, harking back to the firm’s history in the gas tractor field, claimed 1892 as the date for Paterson’s gas traction engine: patent dates suggest 1894. The early machine ran, but not well enough to be produced.
Charles Hart and Charles Parr
Charles W. Hart and Charles H. Parr began their pioneering work on gas engines in the late 1800s while studying mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In 1897, the two men formed the Hart-Parr Gasoline Engine Company of Madison. In 1900, they moved their operation to Hart’s hometown of Charles City, Iowa, where they found financing to make gas traction engines based on their innovative ideas.
Their efforts led them to erect the first factory in the United States dedicated to the production of gas traction engines. Hart-Parr is also credited with coining the word “tractor” for machines that had previously been called gas traction engines. The firm’s first tractor effort, Hart-Parr No.1, was made in 1901.”
Henry Ford produced his first experimental gasoline powered tractor in 1907, under the direction of chief engineer Joseph Galamb. It was referred to as an “automobile plow” and the name tractor was not used. After 1910, gasoline powered tractors were used extensively in farming.
The Frick Company was located in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. George Frick started his business in 1853 and built steam engines into the 1940’s. The Frick Company was also well known for sawmills and refrigeration units.