Model AA was a small, sleek tractor in 1918

Model AA tractor

From my 100 years ago file comes this introduction to a mostly forgotten tractor, although there are a few in the hands of collectors.

The Emerson-Brantingham Co. was founded in Stephenson County, Illinois, in 1852 as the J.H. Manney Co. to build reapers. In 1854, Manney took several partners, including Ralph Emerson, cousin of the famous poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Over the next 60 years, the company underwent several name changes and, in 1909, became the Emerson-Brantingham Co. Also during this period, the firm enjoyed great success and growth through wise acquisitions, as well as innovative inventions.


E-B got into the tractor business in 1912 when they bought two companies, Reeves & Co. of Columbus, Indiana, who were building the Reeves 40, a heavy (23,000 pounds) tractor with a 7 1/4 by 9 inch engine, and the Gas Traction Co. of Minneapolis and its equally large “Big 4” tractor.

E-B made both of these huge machines for a few years, but in 1916, E-B began to make its own smaller tractors.

Model AA

The 12-20 Model AA was introduced in July 1918, and was a sleek, modern-looking design, with a fully enclosed, automotive hood and radiator and full fenders over the rear wheels.

Also, in those days of mostly gray tractors, the wheels and undercarriage were painted a medium green while the hood and fenders were bright red.

A feature article in the December, 1918, issue of Tractor World magazine tells us that “The demand of those who operate the smallest farms on which tractors can be profitably worked led to the development of the 12-20 Model AA.”

The 12-20 was a three-plow machine, but by the mid-1920s farmers who needed only two or even single-plow tractors were becoming convinced that they needed even smaller machines.

The engine was an in-house design, a four-cylinder, water-cooled, L-head meant to burn kerosene, with a 4 3/4-inch bore and a 5-inch stroke and governed at 900RPM.

The cylinders and integral heads were cast in pairs and the crankcase was cast in two sections as well.

The upper section contained the main bearings and at the front, the timing gears. The lower section made up the oil sump and was fitted with two large hand-holes through which the main bearings could be adjusted or a piston removed. Ease of maintenance was one of the big advantages stressed in E-B advertising for the Model AA. The engine was cooled by a water pump, fan and radiator, and lubrication was by a combined force-feed and splash system.

The two-speed, sliding-gear transmission provided a low of 1.81 mph while high was a speedy 2.33. Reverse was 1.81 mph as well.

A belt pulley was mounted at the rear of the tractor, beneath the operator’s platform, which E-B touted as, “The most convenient way of belting a tractor to a machine.”

A 1918 sales brochure for the 12-20 Model AA tractor assures its readers that it “… is the most practical tractor ever designed and is better adapted for conditions as they exist today than any other machine.”

It goes on to say that the 12-20 “… is a small tractor with big power and was designed for operation by women and boys. The control mechanism is exactly the same as many automobiles and is just as easy to handle. The auto-type steering column is equipped with the customary spark and throttle levers. The gear shift lever is ball and socket type and only one foot pedal is used a combined clutch and brake pedal.”

The dash had the oil gauge, along with valves for gasoline, kerosene, water and a hot air damper, while the steel pan seat was mounted on a spring-steel bracket and was high to allow an unobstructed view to the front and rear.

A large, lockable toolbox was mounted on the platform beneath the seat.

The brochure went on, “(The tractor) is nicely painted and is striped and varnished with a red body and green running gear. You need never be ashamed of your E-B tractor. We take great pains in the finish and it is all you could desire.”

The 12-20 was tested at Nebraska in the late summer of 1920 but somehow a too small fan had been fitted to the test tractor and it overheated and the cylinder heads cracked. After repairs were made, and the correct fan was installed, the tractor was retested and did much better, with 27 brake horsepower when burning gasoline and 25.9 on kerosene, while drawbar HP was 17.55, well within the advertised 12-20 rating.

No record of how many E-B 12-20 tractors were made but it was still in the line up until the end of machinery production in 1926.


Although E-B was in a strong financial position in 1918, the firm was badly crippled by the 1921 recession, the depth of which is believed to have been exceeded only by the Great Depression of the 1930s.

After struggling through the middle ’20s, E-B ceased manufacture of its farm equipment line sometime in 1926, and in 1928, the business was sold to the J.I. Case Co. who had its own successful line of tractors and discontinued the Model AA.

Although I don’t recall ever seeing an E-B 12-20 during my show travels over the last 30 years, there are several in the hands of collectors and some have been nicely restored.


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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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