Dear I.H., ‘we can’t be without our tractor’

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A 1919 International Harvester Company booklet shared letters from satisfied IH tractor owners, including one 1912 International 12-25 owner who plowed 3,000 acres and powered a separator for 150 days of threshing that included a one-day record of 1,500 bushels of wheat. This illustration of a 1917 International Mogul 10-20 tractor came from a sales brochure. (Image courtesy of Tractor & Construction Plant Wiki)

In 1919, the International Harvester Company published a 48-page booklet titled, A Collection of Real Life Sketches from Here and There. In it were 48 letters from satisfied tractor users describing how they used their tractors and how reliable they were.

Some of the machines described had been sold or traded by previous owners as worn-out junk, and had been fixed up at a nominal cost and were still giving good service.

The point, of course, was that with good care a tractor would last a lot longer than the conventional wisdom of the day had it.

Workhorse

While not the oldest machine mentioned, probably the hardest used was a 1912 International 12-25 tractor belonging to George Laird, Webster, N.D. The tractor had plowed 3,000 acres, plus breaking 200 acres of new ground, and discing some 1,000 acres.

The article points out that to plow this much ground with a team and a 14-inch walking plow, the horses and the plowman would have needed to tramp 23,345 weary miles.

Besides all the plowing, the 12-25 had powered a separator for 150 days of threshing, during which was set a one day record of 1,500 bushels of wheat.

A Duluth, Minnesota, man bought an IH tractor seven years earlier that had, besides doing all his own work, earned him about $700 a year threshing for others. In October 1918, a forest fire burned up the machine, but it was repaired because, “we can’t be without it,” and it was still in use.

Few repairs

Rost Brothers of Truman, Minnesota, bought a 40 HP tractor in 1910 and every year since then had plowed 250 acres, driven a thresher for two months of each year, filled innumerable silos, moved buildings, pulled stones weighing up to 30 tons and graded roads, all with a total repair bill of about $30.

Jim Owen from Chemung, N.Y., bought an IH tractor in 1911 and used it each year to plow 60 acres, cut 30 to 40 acres of ensilage, threshed, husked corn and did other work with the total repair expense for the seven years not more than $25. Last year he sold the tractor to a man who was now using it to power a sawmill.

Ohio report

The 10-20 tractor bought in 1910 by Harold Cooke of Lebanon, Ohio, has since threshed 13,400 bushels of wheat, baled 5,420 tons of hay, filled silos with 12,630 tons of ensilage, husked 82,800 bushels of corn, crushed 1,560 yards of stone, ground 2,600 bushels of corn, plowed and disced 225 acres of land and graded 4,800 miles of highway.

Mr. Cooke says that he overhauled the tractor himself at least once each year and sometimes twice, but his meticulously kept records claim but $197 total repairs.

Parts were definitely cheaper then, although it isn’t known just what he meant by “overhauled.”

Big load

Quinn Rose, of Astoria, Illinois, reported that he bought a 10-20 tractor in October 1911, and it was used a great deal. During the plowing season, Rose said the little 10-20 hauled four plows, a big load for a 10 drawbar HP tractor that was ordinarily rated at two bottoms.

He also said the machine drove a 28-by-48 Racine separator, a 32-inch clover huller, a six-roll McCormick husker-shredder, a 52-inch lumber saw, cutting 3,500 feet of oak timber a day; a feed grinder grinding 70 bushels of corn and cob an hour.

He states that he had plowed 1,000 acres, threshed 125,000 bushels of grain, hulled 2,000 bushels of clover seed, sawed 40,000 feet of lumber and husked and shredded corn for 210 days.

His cost for repairs was about $50 and “the machine is in excellent condition, showing little evidence of wear.”

Saved from junk

In 1913, A.J. Prince of Grass Lake, Michigan, saw a 10-20 tractor in a pile of junk because the owner thought it no longer serviceable. He bought it cheap, took it home and tinkered a little with it and had been using it ever since to run a large silo filler, a buzz saw, shingle mill and sawmill, and a six-roll corn husker.

He wrote that in 1914, he and one man husked 12,000 bushels of corn in 37 days. To date, the cylinder had been rebored once and the total repair cost had been $260.

A Colorado farmer bought a new tractor and plowed about 300 acres before, for some reason, leaving the machine sit in the field for a year.

R.B. White of Denver bought it and drove the thing 75 miles to his place where he used it for six years plowing and threshing. White said the tractor “paid for itself several times over” before he sold it “and the machine is still in use.”

A Maryland farmer reported that he bought, fourth-hand, a 12-25 tractor nine years previously and it had hard usage ever since in general farm work, threshing some 5,000 bushels of grain each year, baling many tons of hay, and sawing about 200,000 feet of lumber, along with sawing cord wood.

The latter three stories illustrated that even though one person may think a tractor is worn out and unserviceable, “it has substantial value in practical hands.”

Take-home message. International Harvester meant the booklet to help convince skeptical farmers that the investment they made in a tractor would be worthwhile because the machines would, with careful use and good maintenance, last a lot longer than was generally believed.

And this is still as true today as it was 100 years ago.

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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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