Allis Chalmers’ roots stretch to 1847

Allis-Chalmers Model 6-12
Allis Chalmers has a long history of building tractors. One that gained popularity was the Allis Chalmers Model 6-12, pictured here at the Mount Pleasant, Iowa, 2005 show. (Sam Moore photo)

Allis-Chalmers is a longtime tractor builder that we don’t hear a great deal about; tractor collectors seem to predominately bleed red or green, but it’s not quite so often that Persian orange results when a wrench slips and a knuckle is skinned [although the air is usually blue].

Buhr mills

Allis-Chalmers (the name wasn’t adopted until 1901) was an old company when tractors came along, having begun in 1847 as Decker & Seville to manufacture buhr mills in Milwaukee.


After Edward Allis bought the bankrupt firm in 1861, it expanded to make sawmills, big flour mills, large electric transformers, generators and motors, Buda diesel engines, air compressors, mineral and ore handling machinery, heavy hydraulic machinery, huge gas and steam engines, motor graders and scrapers, pumps and steam turbines.

A retired National Guard brigadier general named Otto H. Falk became A-C president in 1913 and recognized that farm tractors were the coming thing, although he floundered for a while. A-C engineer Max Patitz was sent to look at a motorized rotary tiller being made by a Basel, Switzerland, firm named Motoculture. Patitz had one of the Swiss machines shipped home to West Allis and brought back a Swiss engineer to run it.

Selling rotary tillers

At the end of 1913 A-C agreed to make and sell the contraption in the States, paying Motoculture $10,000, plus six percent royalty on each machine sold.

The view

As made by A-C, the tiller had two large, steel-lugged rear drive wheels, a single front wheel, and a 30 HP, 4-cylinder A-C engine over the rear wheels. The driver’s seat was over the single front wheel, which gave him an unexcelled view of the ground ahead, while the rear engine hood and the curved shroud over the tiller pretty much completely blocked his view of the work being done.

The 5-foot tiller had several rows of curved tines made of hardened steel and was able to work up to 12 inches deep. The tiller could be removed so other implements could be used, and there was a pulley for belt work.

Not popular in United States

Unfortunately, although rotary tillers were popular in Europe they weren’t well received over here and only a few were made. Another ill-fated venture that went on at the same time as the tiller was the Allis-Chalmers tractor-truck.

Heavy truck

This was a heavy, long-wheelbase five-ton truck with tracks instead of drive wheels at the rear, in other words, a half-track. Falk and his Works Manager, C. Edwin Search, believed there was a big market among farmers, loggers, and construction men for such a vehicle.

The tracks were based on the patents of Charles L. Tolles, as were those of the similar Centipede tractor built by Phoenix Manufacturing in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Carrying The A-C truck was very flexible and capable of carrying or pulling heavy loads over rough, hilly ground, but it was expensive ($5,000) and only a few were sold. Records indicate that the Czarist Russian Army actually bought ten of the A-C half-tracks for use in World War I, and another was used around the A-C factory for some years.

Farm tractor

A-C badly needed a real farm tractor! In 1914 the Bull tractor was hugely popular and Falk’s first thought was to market it, but no deal could be made with the Bull people, fortunately for A-C as it turned out, as the Bull soon fell by the wayside.

In November, 1914, the first Allis-Chalmers tractor, the 10-18, was introduced. The 10-18 had two large drive wheels at the rear and a single front wheel offset to the right to run in the furrow. The 4,800-pound machine was powered by an A-C horizontally-opposed 2-cylinder engine of 5 1/4-inch bore and 7-inch stroke, had a transmission with a single speed of 2 1/4 MPH forward and reverse, and was priced at $1,950.

Disappointing tractor

Although by all accounts a well-built tractor, the 10-18 was a disappointment, although it remained in the lineup until about 1920. The price was high, farmers didn’t like the offset front wheel which made steering difficult under load, and A-C didn’t have much of a dealer network for agricultural products.

A-C’s final, less than satisfactory attempt at a farm tractor was the 6-12, built on the popular at the time “Universal” style, with two front drive wheels between which was the engine, while the operator sat on a 2-wheeled sulky or a horse drawn implement. The design made it unnecessary for a farmer to buy new implements especially made for a tractor as existing horsedrawn implements could be readily attached by merely shortening the tongue and hitching to where the double tree had formerly attached.

One speed

The 6-12 weighed 2,500 pounds, had one forward and one reverse speed, and was powered by a LeRoi 4-cylinder, 3 1/8 by 4 1/2 inch engine. The initial price of the tractor was set at $850.

Production of the A-C 6-12 seems to have begun in 1918 and Norm Swinford states in his 1994 book, Allis-Chalmers Farm Equipment 1914-1985, that 1,426 were made from 1919 through 1926, although another source (Peterson, 1978) claims just half that number.

Horse machinery

Even with the advantage of being able to use horse machinery the 6-12 wasn’t a big seller, as farmers soon learned that those implements weren’t designed for the higher speeds and increased power of a tractor, while the universal design was difficult to back since the hitch tended to buckle upwards. By the end, the 6-12 was being sold at the fire sale price of $250.

Special hitch

Max Patitz even had the idea of building a special hitch to allow two 6-12 tractors to be hitched in tandem, rear end to rear end with the driver sitting in the middle. This would theoretically double the power for heavy tillage work, but it seems to have never gotten off the ground.

One wag said it didn’t work ‘because the operator couldn’t get both engines running at the same time, or if he did, he didn’t know which way the tractor would go (Swinford, 1994).”

Someday I’ll write about the conventional, 4-wheeled Allis-Chalmers 15-30 which was introduced at the end of 1918 and which launched a long line of successful A-C tractors (although at first they were painted green).


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Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules.



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