A Tractor for Florida
|April 12, 2012||Posted by Chris under Agriculture|
Mechanized agriculture has been around since humans first started planting crops 12,000 years ago. The first agricultural “engineer” was the person who decided he was tired of bending over to poke his finger in the ground to plant seeds, opting for a stick. There is a fine line between being lazy and being an innovator. It took a while, but someone decided he could drag the stick and make a straight line to plant rows. Eventually someone attached a conch shell to the stick making a hoe. Thousands of years, a Stone Age, Bronze Age, Jethro Tull, John Deere, a few industrial and agricultural revolutions later and we’re looking at a six-row, 560 horsepower turbocharged cotton picker which can be purchased at your local tractor dealer for just under $600,000. Stick man is looking more innovative now, although he probably wished he would have patented that one.
Once steam and then internal combustion engines became popular, the race was on to capture the agricultural market. Dozens of companies were started in the early days of automotive history. Most of the industrial manufacturing took place up North and in the Midwest around the Great Lakes. Many of the same companies looked to agricultural production for applications for their engines.
In 1913 Ransom E. Olds bought 37,000 acres on the northern shore of Tampa Bay naming the town – you guessed it – R.E. Olds-On-The-Bay. (Okay maybe you didn’t guess that.) His plan was for a self-sustaining community of 100,000 which could support manufacturing. Olds was not new to manufacturing. He had founded the Olds Motor Works in Michigan in 1897. In 1908 General Motors bought the company, renaming it Oldsmobile, and ended up selling 35 million cars under the name. Olds also started the REO Motor Car Company, which produced cars and trucks until 1975.
So it was no surprise that Olds wanted to start manufacturing in Florida. As the surrounding area was already known for winter vegetable and citrus production, work soon began clearing the land for farms. Most of the land had been cleared of the native pine trees by timber companies leaving a vast expanse of palmettos.
In 1918, together with the Kardell Tractor and Truck Company, Olds began building a tractor suited for Florida. He began by naming the venture the Oldsmar Tractor Company. (Sensing a theme here?)
The Oldsmar Garden Tractor was a small single-cylinder machine with large traction wheels on the front and smaller wheels to the rear. The machine looked like a reversed tractor with the operator sitting over the smaller wheels. This was the only thing backward about the tractor as it lacked a reverse gear. The company marketed the machine as a tractor designed for Florida’s farmers, eliminating the need for antiquated mule power on the farm.
Unfortunately, the tractor was no match for the palmetto roots. Having no reverse gear turned out to be a major flaw for a tractor that continuously got hung up on the most plentiful commodity in South Florida. Fortunately there were still some obsolete mules around which were useful in pulling tractors out of palmetto roots. By 1923, the Oldsmar Tractor Company closed its doors. There are no surviving tractors known to have been manufactured in Oldsmar and only grainy pictures even suggest its existence.