Many years ago, Nancy and I attended a tractor show at Malabar Farm, probably put on by the Richland County Steam Threshers. Established by conservationist and author Louis Bromfield in 1939, and his home until he died in 1956, Malabar Farm is now an Ohio State Park.
Finally! Anyway, in those days I had only been smitten by the fascination of Rusty Iron for a few years and many things were new to me. I saw some interesting stuff at the show, including a Thieman tractor, which maybe I’ll write about some day, as well as an unusual little 4-wheeled riding tractor called a Utilitor. I’ve finally accumulated enough information about these rare Utilitors to tell you something about them, although there are still many unanswered questions.
The Midwest Engine Company of Indianapolis, Ind., began making a walk behind tractor prior to 1920, which they called the Midwest Utilitor. That Utilitor was powered by a one-cylinder, 4-cycle, water cooled engine of their own design, with a 3 5/8 inch bore and a 5 inch stroke.
Equipped with two steel lugged driving wheels and a pair of rear dolly wheels, the little tractor was narrow, 30 inches for working between rows, weighed 750 pounds, and had steering clutches to aid in turning.
Plows and harrows. Midwest made (or had made for them) 6, 7, 8 and 11 inch plows that mounted directly on the rear of the tractor between the dolly wheels. Also available was a two-gang disc harrow, with four disc blades on each gang, an Acme blade-type pulverizing harrow, a 3-row garden seeder, a spring tine cultivator, and an adapter for hitching a 3 1/2 foot one-horse mower.
The firm seems to have gotten into financial difficulty, possibly due to the severe depression that plagued U.S. agriculture during the early 1920s. By 1929, the tractor was being manufactured by a Utilitor company that was located in Dayton, Ohio.
During the Great Depression, the Utilitor tractor disappeared from the product guides, but apparently the idea merely lay dormant during those difficult years, ready to again sprout with an infusion of money.
Struggles. While I’ve so far been unable to find out anything about its origins, sometime during the late 1930s a new firm appeared on the farm equipment scene. The General Implement Company of America, Inc., with the main office in Cleveland, Ohio, drew together a number of scattered, short line implement manufacturers that undoubtedly were struggling due to the prevailing hard times.
The cornerstone of the new company, whose implements were painted yellow and went by the name “Soilfitter,” was the old Rude Brothers factory in Liberty, Ind. Established about 1864, Rude Bros. made grain drills, cultivators, manure spreaders and hay rakes, but disappeared during the 1920s.
According to a 1940 Soilfitters catalog in my collection, the firm had a foundry in VanWert, Ohio, and a lumber mill in Alexandria, Iowa, along with factories in Charles City, Iowa; Rochelle, Ill.; Liberty, Ind.; Oneida, N.Y.; Mountville, Pa., and Miamisburg and Millersburg in Ohio.
The tractors made by the new firm were called the “Soilfitter”-Utilitor, and were made at the Miamisburg factory. They were the Model “4”, a ride-on version, and three walk-behind models; the 6HP Model 26, 5HP model 25, and 4HP Model 24.
Gear driven. All Utilitor tractors are gear driven and are equipped with automotive-type transmissions with 3 forward gears and reverse. The main clutches are dry disc and the walk-behind versions have a hardened steel sliding dog clutch on each drive pinion shaft to assist in turning. Walking tractor speeds vary from one-half to 5 MPH, while the top speed of the Model “4” is 10 MPH.
Soilfitter used Wisconsin engines in their Utilitor tractors. The Model “4” has a 16HP 4cylinder, air-cooled engine with 2 5/8 x 3 1/4 bore and stroke. The Model 26 was available with a Wisconsin AK 6HP engine in either water or air-cooled versions. The 4 and 5HP engines of the Models 24 and 25 are both air-cooled. All engines have high tension magneto ignition with impulse starting, and all models could be equipped with either steel wheels or rubber tires.
Fitted implements. A number of fitted implements were available for each of the Soilfitter Utilitor tractor models.
Customers could buy one bottom plows in 8, 10, 12, or 14-inch sizes, with jointers and rolling coulters if desired. Two-gang disc harrows, spike and spring tooth harrows, and Acme pulverizing harrows were available, as were one-row cultivators.
One-row corn and cotton planters, as well as one, two and three-row vegetable seeders were part of the line-up, as was a V -type snow plow and a spraying attachment for spraying field crops or trees.
Finally, single or 3-gang reel-type lawn mowers were available, as was a 3 1/2-foot sickle-bar field mower. One version of the field mower could be mounted to the front of a Model 24 or 25 walk-behind machine, while a wheeled, ride-on mower could be used behind any of the tractors.
Two row corn picker. Besides the Utilitor tractors, Soilfitter made a 2-row corn picker that could be mounted on any of the popular row-crop tractors of the day, several sizes of rotary hoes, disc harrows, cultipackers, and spring and spike tooth harrows. Soilfitter manure spreaders of 70 bushel capacity in 2 or 4-wheeled versions, with either steel or rubber tires, along with the slightly less expensive 4-wheeled General spreader with steel wheels only, were based upon the old Rude spreaders.
The catalog also lists lime and fertilizer spreaders, wagon gears and boxes, hay loaders, grain elevators, one-row potato planters and diggers, hammer mills, “Sagless” Farm gates, hand corn shellers, and wooden replacement handles for all sorts of hand tools.
The General Implement Company of America and its line of Soilfitter implements disappeared from the farm equipment directories about 1949, but I don’t believe the Utilitor tractors survived World War II. If anyone knows for sure, I’d appreciate hearing from them.
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