Case VA-series developed for small farmer

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Pre-war Case VC
Initially, the J.I. Case Company President Leon Clausen was opposed to small tractors. Here's a pre-war Case VC once owned by the late Ernie Aegerter of nearby Newgarden, Ohio. (Sam Moore photo)

As late as the early 1930s, small acreage farmers with only two or three horses and wanting to go to power farming were left with few options. Tractors were typically three- or four-plow size and meant more for heavy draft work than the lighter jobs of planting, cultivating and haying.

Then, in 1933, International Harvester introduced the Farmall F-12 and it quickly caught on, not only among small farmers but as an adjunct to heavier tractors on larger operations. Other manufacturers followed suit and by the late ‘30s Deere had their L and H models, Allis-Chalmers had introduced the popular Model B, and the Ford with its revolutionary Ferguson System was just on the market.

The J.I. Case Company, whose president, Leon Clausen, was opposed to small tractors and who personally thought Harry Ferguson’s draft control hydraulic system was a fraud, had made a half-hearted attempt with their Model RC, but it was mostly looked down on by everyone at Case, including the sales force, and sales were slow.

Case buys Rock Island

When Case bought the Rock Island Plow Co. in 1937 all manufacture of Rock Island tractors was stopped, but the plant manager and his chief engineer bought a Deere H and a B Allis, unbeknownst to Clausen and others at Racine, tore them down, noted their good and bad points, and even built a prototype using some of their parts.

Case dealers were begging Racine for a small, inexpensive tractor to counter the A-C B, especially, but Clausen nixed the idea. He was finally forced to give in and, when informed of the work already done at Rock Island, charged them with developing the new tractor on a very short budget.

The tractors don’t start

Rock Island had no engine building facilities or sheet metal shop, so the new Case V was essentially an assembled tractor, with L-head engines from Continental, Clark transmissions and rear axles, tinwork from a Bettendorf firm, and wheels, seats, radiators and magnetos from others.

By the time all these parts were bought and assembled, there was precious little profit left for Case, even though the V-series tractors were quite good — except for one thing, they wouldn’t start.

Although battery ignition and electric starting and lighting were optional, few V-series machines were so equipped prior to the war. The cheapest magneto on the market, the Edison Splitdorf, was used on the V, even though Case made a very reliable magneto of their own and used it on their other tractors. Clausen had decreed that the cheapest components be used on the V, so the cheapie mag continued to be used and farmers had to deal with hard starting V-series tractors until battery ignition tractors became popular after the war.

Redesign

During early 1941, it was decided to redesign the tractor and use a Case built transmission and a Case-designed OHV engine. The blocks and cylinder heads for the new engines were poured at Rock Island, trucked to Continental at Muskegon, Michigan where they were finished, and then trucked back to Rock Island for installation in tractors.

The new torque tube design for the VA infringed on the original Allis-Chalmers Model B patent and Case had to pay A-C a 50-cent royalty on every VA built (Joe Kulhavy, a tractor engineer for Case during this time, wrote that besides Case, IH had to pay the royalty to A-C for its Farmall A and B models, along with several other tractor makers who adopted the torque tube design).

New VA-series

After much bickering between Rock Island and Racine, as well as micromanagement by Leon Clausen, the first VAC models rolled off the Rock Island line on Nov. 8, 1941, just one month before Pearl Harbor. By February, 300 VA-series tractors per week were being produced, but in July 1942, civilian production was halted by the government. During the next two years, only military VAIW tractors were made in addition to war materials. VA production resumed on a limited basis in late 1944 and work went forward on improving the VA series for after the war.

A new engine plant opened at Rock Island in 1946 and for the first time VA engines were truly “Case-Built,” although advertising had always claimed they were. Before the war, only VA standard tread and VAC row crop models had been built, although the VAIW military models were made during the war and design work for VAO orchard, VAI industrial, and VAH high crop versions had been done, with these models appearing in the mid-‘40s.

The VA-series Case tractors were two-plow machines, although they were meant to compete with single plow competitors such as the Allis-Chalmers B and C and the Farmall A and B, and were really over-engineered for the task, as was most Case machinery. The tractors were quite popular with small farmers and while a bitter strike shut down tractor production at the Racine plant for 15 months right after the war, Rock Island was busy pumping out 100 VA-series machines each day, effectively keeping Case afloat during this trying period.

Hitches

The only fly in the honey was the lack of a 3-point hitch and, although Case dealers and customers clamored for the feature, Clausen remained adamantly opposed. By 1948 however, the pressure was too great and Clausen agreed to a 3-point hitch although he decreed it would have no draft control, a particular peeve of his with the Ferguson System. Unknown to him, Rock Island had already done some work on such a hitch and quickly came up with what Case called the Eagle Hitch.

Leon Clausen retired as Case president shortly after this, although he remained a chairman of the board, and before long many VA-series tractors, as well as those of the S- and D-series were being sold with the Eagle Hitch.

The popular VA-series tractors were built until the fall of 1955 when they were replaced by the completely redesigned three-plow Model 300-series.

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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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