Two rare Illinois tractors sold at last year’s Aumann Auctions’ pre-Thanksgiving sale, Nov. 11. The auction was at the American Farm Heritage Museum in Greenville, Ill., and Kurt Aumann, auctioneer, observed, “It was the biggest Thanksgiving auction we have ever had.”
What made this sale particularly special were two rare Illinois Super Drive tractors. Kurt reported the tractors sold for $62,500 and $67,500. Just that there were two selling was a surprise in itself.
“I only knew there was one in existence before the auction,” he shared. “I had seen it displayed at Penfield and that was the only one I had ever seen before.”
The owner of both, Jim Adams, had taken the one to Penfield to share its unique history. Jim, who purchased his Illinois tractors from a farm in North Dakota – where they had sat for 20 years before he bought and restored them – has since passed away. It was his son, Jeff, who consigned the tractors for auction.
Jim did share his story about the tractors in the 2002 May/June issue of Belt Pulley magazine. The Illinois Tractor Co. was based in Bloomington, and the company started out building grain silos. It manufactured the Illinois Super Drive Tractor during 1919 and 1920. Before that, in 1916 Illinois Tractor Co. created the Illinois Motor Cultivator.
An article in Gas Engine Magazine describes this as “a crude, gangly-looking device powered by a 4-hp hopper-cooled stationary engine, it nonetheless provided the company with a starting point for its drive to grab a piece of the growing tractor market.”
Illinois Tractor Co. went on to produce the Illinois Super Drive Tractor model 18-36. One of the things that was significant about this tractor was the power came through the massive steel rear wheels that look like large cleats welded to the metal wheels. The wheel hubs had large springs to provide a cushioned drive and absorb shock loads.
These wheels used the patented Loxon cast iron wheel lugs. “The power for the Illinois Tractor was transmitted to the webs (of the wheel) and then sent out to the wheel. The webs were the Super Drive. The wheels were unique to the tractors,” Jim said.
In this old interview he mentioned that he had two tractors: one with steel wheels and the second with wheels covered with rubber in place.
The Illinois Tractor was outfitted with a 4-cylinder kerosene Climax engine that was made in Clinton, Iowa, and a Foote transmission and rear end from Chicago. A separate two-gallon tank held gasoline for starting and, once warmed up, the engine was switched to draw from an 18-gallon kerosene tank.
One of the fun facts Jim shared was that on the tag for the Illinois Tractor was its instruction for operation, including types of oil. “The tag also instructs the operator to ‘Always keep crankcase filled so that the ball is at the top of the oil gauge.’ Also advised is to keep the ‘drain clean and refill with new oil every other day,’” Jim reported.
Quite a list of things to do with oil!
An old ad Jim quoted stated the Illinois Tractor was five years ahead of its time. It claimed the Illinois Super Drive could “Plow deeper and better,” “Prepare a seed bed on time” and put “More land under cultivation” while “Harvesting crops on time.” The ad also stated the tractor had the “Power for belt work” and the “Power for road work.”
The 18-30 model built by the Illinois Tractor Co. was joined by a larger Illinois 22-40 model in 1920. Then the tractor, from all research, seems to have disappeared by 1921.
Jim said from what he was able to piece together, management just stopped showing up at the plant, and he thought the remaining tractors were used for parts. No one knows why the business stopped producing the tractor and why this forward-thinking machine did not become a success.
The two Illinois Tractors sold by Aumann headed south. One went to a private buyer in North Carolina and the other, to Kenny Buchheit of Buchheit farm stores based in Missouri.
Readers with questions or comments for Cindy Ladage may write to her in care of this publication.