Rubber Tires and the Racing U’s

(From Old Allis News )               
When Allis-Chalmers introduced rubber tires as standard equipment on the Model U in 1932, it did not go over with the farmers, nor did it go over with competitor tractor companies who questioned Allis-Chalmers claims of extra horsepower than what steel wheels would provide, less fuel consumption and as country roads were no longer primarily dirt roads, the tractor could travel on the surfaced roads. 

Several attempts at rubber tires on tractors had been made including hard rubber tires and high pressure pneumatic tires. Then engineers decided a low pressure tire with a flexible casing would work. That was when the Model U became available with steel wheels or the option of rubber tires.
Initial attempts with a “0″ pressure tire had been done with Goodrich Tire and Rubber Company, but now the experiments were done with airplane tires at low pressure with Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.

The first public demonstration was held near Dodge City, Kansas on Labor Day of 1932. One farmer was convinced and bought the tractor, but most farmers could not be convinced of the merits of rubber tires and extra money for rubber tires was a major consideration for farmers as this was the time of the Great Depression and money was scarce.

Allis-Chalmers knew something had to be done to convince the farmer of the merits of the rubber-tired tractor. How to go about it?

Farmers had likely heard that a Model U equipped with rubber tires had won the 1933 Wheatland Plowing Match in Illinois placing first with a wide margin.

At that time most tractors could not go more than 5 miles an hour. It was W. Elzey Brown of the advertising department who came up with the idea of speed racing.

All model U tractors had 4 speed transmissions. If you bought a U with steel wheels the 4th gear position on the shift pattern was plated over so it couldn’t be used. The 4th gear was a road gear and used with the rubber tires on the tractor and would go at speeds up to approximately 15 miles per hour. This was not the racing gear; only the road gear which could be used when rubber tires were put on the tractor.

With Brown’s idea, special high speed gears were installed in stock models of the U. It is not known how many of these were created and it is apparently unknown how A-C created the so called “racing speed.” It is not known if any of these racing speed gears exist and so far, no one has come up with how they were actually designed.

But they did just what Elzey Brown wanted. They got the attention of not only the farmers who couldn’t believe rubber tires were a good addition to tractors, but fairgoers when they saw the speed tests.

The first was held at West Allis on June 18, 1933. People attending the event saw the Model U plowing in the infield, then the plow was unhooked and local famous driver Frank Brisko drove around the track at a record 35.4 miles per hour. But that was just the beginning!

As the summer progressed, the racing tractors became a featured event at fairs around the country. Then on September 17, 1933 Barney Oldfield, a veteran automobile racer, drove on a measured course at a record 64.28 miles per hour.

Oldfield had been the first man to drive an automobile more than 60 miles an hour and he drove a tractor even faster. Barney Oldfield, although likely the name most remembered for these races, was one of the drivers and famous racer Ab Jenkins was another one. Oldfield had set many records in his racing career and, although he started his career in bicycle racing, his name became known and when someone was caught speeding, they were often asked the question, “What are you trying to be, Barney Oldfield?” Barney Oldfield did set a record on tractor 999 at 64.28 mph on September 1933, but as the photo indicates Ab Jenkins set another record of 65.45 mph on September 20, 1934.

Ab Jenkins is sitting on the tractor and Harvey Firestone is standing beside the tractor.

alis chalmers racing U tractor
Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. was a very important part of the research & development to put rubber tires on tractors.

Did the races work? They certainly brought attention to the fact of rubber tires on tractors and when you see a schedule of events for Oldfield, you can see he raced in seven states from Ohio to Kansas in less than two weeks.

And Firestone certainly did their part as a 1935 Firestone Tractor and Farm Implement Tire & Wheel Data brochure shows.

According to Firestone, their rubber tires (1) Increase use and value of tractor (2) Enable tractor to do more work (3) Permit higher speeds-save time (4) Save from 14 to 23 per cent in fuel (5) Do not throw dirt (6) Reduce vibration-lessen maintenance cost(7) Do not injure roads, or floors in farm buildings (8) Do not pack the ground (9) Do not injure surface roots or turf (10) Make turns without injuring adjoining fields (11)Make tractors ride smoothly with less fatigue (12) Are easily inflated and (13) Soon payfor themselves.

And testimonials from Farmers Endorse Them, only added to the success of rubber tired tractors and W. Elzey Brown’s great idea to get farmers to accept them worked.

Roger Briden of Crookston, Minn. “I have saved half the cost of the tires in my fall and spring work and wouldn’t sell them for $1,000 if I couldn’t get another set. They save one third on gasoline and my tractor will last more years mounted on rubber. I will last more years too. It certainly makes tractor work a pleasure instead of a backache.

John Wilde, Raymondville, Texas ” I purchased these three sets of Low-Pressure Tractor Tires for only one reason and that was I could not afford to do without them. I am now able to do approximately fifty per cent more work at no additional fuel cost.”

Ray Merriman of Axtel, Nebraska “I honestly believe that rubber tires will make a tractor last ten years on the average farm and the savings in fuel and repairs alone will pay for a new tractor and tires.”
Albert F. Schroeder, Waukesha, Wisconsin “In every comparison the Firestone Low-Pressure Tractor Tires have done a very much better job than the steel, spade-lug wheels and at considerably less cost. I certainly would not want to go back to the old steel lugs.”
(Tests were done on Albert Schroeder’s farm, but he had misgivings at the outset and asked that a tractor with lugs be brought along as well. The tires used indicated an inflation rate of 70 pounds, but this was reduced to 15 pounds. Schroeder used the tractor from that test in 1934 until 1946. The tractor used in this test is now on display at Stonefield, at Cassville, Wisconsin).

2 Responses to “Rubber Tires and the Racing U’s”

  1. Terry Williams Says:

    Does the tractor land speed record still stand at 65.45mph, if it does I would seriously consider setting a new land speed record.
    I have driven tractor all my life also I set the first distance record travelled by a tractor at 3,176 miles in 14 days.
    I like challenges and I would really like to set a land speed record of 100mph on a tractor.
    Let me know your thoughts on a new record attempt.

  2. dean Says:

    I believe this record still stands. One of our members tried to reproduce this result with the same tractor but could not achieve it. The challenge was to get a revised gear train into the gearbox to gain the extra speed. Lots of luck in your try.