HISTORY OF THE DAVID BRADLEY COMPANY (PART II):
TRACTORS AND WAGONS
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the November/December 1999 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
By the time Sears Roebuck bought out the David Bradley Manufacturing Company in 1910, the “David Bradley” name was already associated with a wide range of different farm machinery products manufactured at its site in Bradley, Illinois. Nonetheless, the company remained small and relatively unknown outside its local market. Its connection with the Sears mail-order system, however, changed all that. Once David Bradley farm implements were offered to the public through Sears catalogue, David Bradley became a household name across the nation.
After Sears purchased the company, it added a great number of farm implements to the David Bradley line of equipment. Many of these implements were manufactured by other companies and merely sold under the David Bradley name. Soon these implements out-numbered products actually manufactured by the David Bradley Works. Nevertheless, whether made by the David Bradley Works or by someone else and merely sold under the David Bradley name, some products became very popular with farmers. Two examples were the very popular David Bradley garden tractor and the David Bradley farm wagon gear and wagon box. The garden tractor was a product manufactured at the David Bradley Works in Bradley, while the widely-sold David Bradley wagon was an example of one of the products made by another company and sold under the David Bradley name.
In 1938, Sears attempted to add a farm tractor to the David Bradley line. This tractor, called the Graham Bradley, was manufactured by the Graham Paige Motors Corporation and sold exclusively through the Sears catalogue or through Sears retail outlets. In 1946, however, all tractor production by the Graham Paige Company ceased when the company became part of Kaiser-Frazier Corporation. Despite the fact that the tractor was marketed in the Sears farm equipment line, the name “Bradley” on the Graham Bradley tractor appears to have had no connection with the David Bradley Manufacturing Works.
Sears also marketed two tractor kits for the farmer to assemble himself. These tractors, known as the Sears Economy and the Sears Thrifty, were powered by Chevrolet or Ford Model T or Ford Model A engines. It was the farmers’ choice! The tractors had a 3-speed transmission and a choice of flat steel wheels or tip-toe steel wheels (copied from Oliver). (“Farming Sears Style,” by Bill Rees, The Belt Pulley, January/February 1993, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 9-11.)
David Bradley may not have had outstanding success manufacturing a full-sized tractor, but following the Second World War, the David Bradley name once again became associated with tractors. These tractors, however, were intended for use in the garden rather than for use in the field. In 1949, the Sears catalogue advertised the new David Bradley 1-3/4 hp. garden tractor. This garden tractor was streamlined with a sheet-metal hood and soon became a very common sight across the nation. The name “David Bradley” became so closely identified with this garden tractor that the public forgot that the name had been applied to a whole line of farm field equipment. Tests of the garden tractor at the University of Nebraska in 1951 revealed that the little tractor with its single-cylinder Briggs and Stratton engine developed 1.41 hp. on the belt and 1.25 hp. at the drawbar. (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests, p. 163.)
Production of a two-wheeled, 12 horsepower “walk behind” tractor started in the late 1930s. That tractor was not much more than a frame, wheels and an exposed engine. Production of the tractor was suspended with the coming of the war, but with the end of the war, David Bradley fitted its pre-war garden tractor with a “streamlined” modern-looking hood over the engine and made a few other improvements. Sears and David Bradley soon found that it had a very popular item on their hands. While sales of the little garden tractor were slow before the Second World War, sales boomed in the late 1940s. Particularly, it was the streamlined garden tractor of the post-World War II period that became the single most popular item of machinery to bear the name “David Bradley”. There was no uniformity in the engines which were installed on the garden tractor at the factory: Continental engines were interspersed with a wide variety of engines from other companies. In 1951, the 311-pound tractor, fitted with a Briggs and Stratton engine, was tested at the University of Nebraska. Tests revealed that the tractor turned out a maximum of 1.56 hp. at the belt and 1.18 on the drawbar. (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests [Crestline Publishing: Oseola, Wis. 1985], p. 165.)
With sales still strong, three new models of the garden tractor were tested again in 1959. The 375-pound Super 575 David Bradley delivered 3.88 hp. to the belt and 2.64 hp. to the drawbar. The 486-pound Super 300 David Bradley delivered 1.77 hp. to the belt and 1.38 hp to the drawbar. The 175-pound Bradley “Handiman” tractor delivered 2.19 hp. to the belt and .69 hp. to the drawbar. (Ibid., pp. 254-255.) As a sign of urbanization (and suburbanization) of the United States in the 1950s, a more modern four-wheel riding tractor called the “Suburban” was also tested in 1959. Fitted with a 12-volt electrical system, the Suburban delivered 3.90 hp. to the belt and 2.80 hp. to the drawbar. All of the tractors tested in 1959 were fitted with Briggs and Stratton engines.
David Bradley garden tractors were offered with a wide assortment of implements specifically fitted to the tractor. These implements included a cultivator, a plow, a disc, and a drag harrow for use in the garden; and a sickle bar mower, a power reel-type lawn mower, a lawn roller, and a utility cart for use on the lawn. Additionally, there was a bulldozer blade, a buzz saw, an air-compressor with spraying attachment, and a 1000-watt electrical generator for all those special needs that might arise. One particularly uncommon attachment was the sulky which allowed the walk-behind tractor to become a riding tractor. The sulky could only be used in a limited number of operations, however, because the sulky attached to the same part of the tractor as did nearly all the other rear mounted equipment. One exception was the dump rake which attached to the rear of the sulky itself.
The characteristic red and green color scheme was used on the garden tractor. The hood was red, with green “David Bradley” lettering on both sides. The wheel rims on the tractor were light green. All of the accompanying yard and garden implements for the garden tractor were red. This color scheme, used for the entire David Bradley line of equipment, identifies the David Bradley light green as Martin Senour 90R-3724 or PPG – 41780. This light green paint is cross-referenced as Martin-Senour 21944 or DuPont 43073. David Bradley red is identified as Martin Senour 90R-3725 or PPG – 72155. However, collectors have found that these paints can be hard to find. To solve this problem, an exact match to the David Bradley green can be made by a mixture of 50% John Deere green and 50% John Deere yellow. The exact shade of green is a “Signal Green,” which is available from NAPA Stores under Martin-Senour paint number 21944. The Ditzler number is #41780 and the DuPont number is #43073. C.H. Wendel, in his collection of paint numbers published in a booklet called Wendel’s Notebook, is of great assistance to the restorer of farm machinery by identifying many different paint colors by their paint number. (Wendel’s Notebook is available for $8.50 from C.H. Wendel in Atkins, IA, Tel:  446-7156.) Some collectors report that International Harvester red is indistinguishable from the color on paint found on the protected areas of some tractors. Other collectors, however, have found that Massey-Ferguson red is an exact match with paint found on their tractors. Actually, both of these findings may be accurate. The reason for the discrepancy in the red color is that David Bradley, like many companies, did not buy paint from the same company. They bought paint from the lowest bidder over the years which resulted in variations in the shade of red on the David Bradley equipment. The lettering on the side of the garden tractor is a darker shade of green than the “signal green” used for the wheel rims. The shade of this green appears to be the same as the “Meadow green” used on Oliver farm tractors. Wendel’s Notebook says this is Martin-Senour 3751.
Following the color scheme of all David Bradley farm equipment, the walk-behind tractor was painted red with light green wheels. However, in its final year of production–1963–while all the implements remained with the traditional color scheme, the tractor was painted gold with royal blue wheels. One of these 1963 model tractors together with a complete set of implements–including a cultivator, plow, disc, drag harrow, sickle mower, bulldozer blade, sulky and dump rake–is owned by Marilyn (Hanks) Wells of LeSueur, Minnesota, and is exhibited at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show each year.
Spurred by fond memories of David Bradley tractors, many people across the nation have begun to collect David Bradley tractors. Marilyn Wells bought the 1963 David Bradley garden tractor because it reminded her of an earlier version of the garden tractor that the family had formerly owned and used in their farm garden. In 1956, the author’s family purchased a used David Bradley garden tractor for use in the family’s garden. This garden tractor had the “nobby” tires which appear on the tractor in the Spring 1949 Sears catalogue rather than the diagonal lug tires which appear in the 1950 and 1951 catalogues; therefore, this particular tractor must have been a 1949 model garden tractor. The 1949 tractor was accompanied by the David Bradley bulldozer snow removal blade and the rear-mounted cultivator. The tractor was used extensively in the Wayne and Marilyn Wells family garden through 1965. The author had a garden project in 4-H and so appreciated the garden tractor from an early age. This tractor was eventually sold to Marilyn Wells’ brother, Fred Hanks, of LeRoy, Minnesota, where it is to this day.
Another such tractor, purchased because of childhood memories of a David Bradley garden tractor, is a 1953 David Bradley tractor currently owned by E.A. Schreiber of Farmington, Minnesota. This tractor is outfitted with a Continental Red Seal engine, another engine that is sometimes found on these tractors.
Sears also had great success selling its David Bradley farm wagon gear and wagon boxes. However, nearly all of the wagon gear and virtually all of the rims for all David Bradley farm equipment were purchased from the Electric Wheel Company of Quincy, Illinois. As noted earlier, United States auto makers began moving away from installing 16″ tires on their cars in the late 1940s and early 1950s. (See the article called “Restoration of the Clark-Christenson Tractor: the Jim Ellis Plow” in the March/April 1998 Belt Pulley magazine [Vol. 11, No. 2.] p. 15.) By the mid 1950s, the 15″ tire was universal on all cars. Since, Sears often sold David Bradley equipment with only rims, thereby allowing the farmer to mount old car tires on new David Bradley equipment, in recognition of the complete shift by automakers from the 16″ tire to the 15″ tire as the universal tire of choice, Sears began offering 15″ rims on its wagon gear as optional equipment. By 1955, the 15″ rim was standard equipment and the 16″ rim was optional. By 1957, only the 15″ rim was available.
In 1951, the Howard Hanks family placed an order for a new David Bradley running gear for a wagon. As expected, the running gear arrived without tires, so the family mounted old tires on the gear. Howard Hanks, who had inherited his grandfather’s skill in woodworking, made a barge box for the wagon with sides that were removable. (As noted in an earlier article, Howard Hanks had many times previously outfitted wagon gear with the appropriate hayrack or box. See “The Larson Bundle Wagon” in the March/April 1996 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol. 9, No. 2, p. 28.) Following the custom for wagon boxes and hayracks, he painted the wagon box green. (This shade of green also appears to be the “Meadow green” used by Oliver.) With the sides of the box removed, the wagon could be used for hay and straw baling, thereby allowing the same wagon to be used all year around. The running gear, with its rocking bolster in the front, allowed the wagon to move over rough ground without unduly tipping the load. The rocking bolster was a feature not often found on competitive wagons of the same era; specifically, it was not found on the wagon gear offered by Montgomery Ward. The rocking bolster was one of the features of the 7000-lb. wagon on which Sears placed special emphasis in its catalogue advertisements. The Hanks family found the David Bradley wagon and barge box to be a great success, and in 1957, the family ordered another identical 7000-lb. wagon gear. This wagon too was outfitted with another homemade green-painted barge box. The two wagons were nearly indistinguishable, except that the running gear on the newer wagon had longer hubs on the wheels. This may have been an indication that the wagons were manufactured by two different companies, thereby implying that Sears had turned to a different wholesaler of wagons sometime around 1953. The two wagons continued to be used on the Hanks farm until the mid-1970s when they were replaced by heavier John Deere wagons.
In 1958, Wayne Wells, also of LeRoy, Minnesota, in an attempt to modernize his farming operation, purchased a hydraulic hoist from the Big Bear farm equipment store in nearby Austin, Minnesota. The hoist, which had been manufactured by the Midwest Company and was sold under the Big Bear name, was intended for installation under the big barge-style home-made wooden grain box on the Wells farm. However, the hoist could not be mounted on the light-duty Montgomery Ward wagon gear which the family owned, so Wayne also purchased a David Bradley 5-ton capacity wagon gear. The heavy duty construction of the 5-ton wagon with its rocking bolster was ideally suited for the new hydraulic hoist, and it continued to render good service on the Wells farm until the family left farming in 1964.
As for wagon boxes, the Sears catalogue originally offered kits to farmers which would aid them in building their own wooden barge-style grain boxes: wooden, straight-sided double boxes for grain; and later, in the 1930s, 100-bushel, wooden flare-sided grain boxes. Starting in 1946, following the Second World War, Sears began offering two new steel flare boxes–a 100-bushel model and a 126-bushel model. The 100-bushel flare box was an all-steel flare box manufactured by the Horn Manufacturing Company of Fort Dodge, Iowa. (For a history of the Horn Company and its contract with Sears, see the Winter 1995 issue of the Hart-Parr/Oliver Collector magazine, Vol VI, No. 4, p. 20). The 126-bushel flare-sided grain box was manufactured for Sears by the Electric Wheel Company. The 126-bushel flare-style wagon box was not an all-steel box; it had a wooden floor made of 2″ tongue and groove lumber.
As previously stated, custom and/or tradition dictated that all wagon boxes of whatever manufacture should be painted green, if they were painted at all, and since before 1900, this tradition had been upheld uniformly by all manufacturers of wagon boxes. In the first year of production after the war–1946–Sears also adhered to this tradition. Both the new all-steel 100-bushel flare-box and the 126-bushel flare box were traditional “meadow green” in color. In 1947, for the second year of production of the flare-sided wagon boxes, Sears broke with tradition and offered all its wagon boxes in David Bradley red. Red remained the color of Sears flare boxes as long as they were sold by Sears. Consequently, there are many more red David Bradley wagon boxes than there are green boxes. Nonetheless, there are still a few of the original green wagon boxes which can be seen around the country.
In April of 1951, the Horn Company was sold to the AVCO\New Idea Corporation, and shortly thereafter, all Horn Company wagon boxes were sold under the New Idea name. Sears was then required to turn to the Elecric Wheel Company as a source for both the 100-bushel flare-sided grain wagon box as well as the 126-bushel flare box. However, the Electric Company’s 100-bushel wagon box was not of all-steel construction; it came with a choice of a 1″ or a 2″ wooden floor.
Perhaps for the sake of old farm memories, Wayne Wells, in the spring of 1995, purchased a David Bradley hydraulic hoist at one of the regularly scheduled Fahey auctions near Belle Plaine, Minnesota. It was a post-1957 hydraulic hoist which contained the new-style “db” David Bradley logo. A year later, in the spring of 1996, Wayne saw a green flare-sided wagon box for sale in Dodge Center, Minnesota. The wagon box had a David Bradley decal on it and was owned by John Beder. As an employee of the McNeilus Corporation in Dodge Center, John was often directed by his employer to purchase old farm wagons for use on the McNeilus grounds. However, since McNeilus was only interested in using the wagon gear for hauling long lengths of pipe and other iron, John was to dispose of any wagon boxes which accompany the wagon gear. Therefore, this particular 126-bushel wagon box had been removed from a David Bradley wagon gear.
The 126-bushel flare box was green in color and, accordingly, was a 1946 model wagon box. John Beder had purchased the wagon and flare box from Suess Auction and Consignment House in Racine, Minnesota. Suess Auction House records indicated that the wagon and wagon box had come from Montana. However, the exact history of the wagon is uncertain. Perhaps it was used in the wheat growing areas of eastern Montana.
The David Bradley wagon box purchased by Wayne Wells was intended for use on the grounds of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association during the field demonstrations at its annual threshing show held each year in August. However, the 2″ wooden floor was rotted through and needed to be replaced. Furthermore, since McNeilus Corporation was keeping the wagon gear that John Beder had purchased with the wagon box, another wagon gear needed to be found for the 126-bushel flare box. Coincidentally, in the spring of 1996, during the same time that the flare box was obtained, Dave Preuhs of rural LeCenter, Minnesota (also a member of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association) purchased a pre-1953 David Bradley wagon gear with short hubs. Dave had purchased the wagon gear at another auction held at the Fahey farm. Thus, it was decided to remove the barge box that came with this David Bradley 7,000 lbs. wagon gear and install the David Bradley hoist and the 1946 Model 126-bushel flare box, thereby having an all-David Bradley restoration project. Once restored, the wagon would be put to use collecting grain from one of the threshers during the field demonstrations. Since the David Bradley 7000 lbs. wagon gear had the short hubs described above, the wagon gear dated from prior to 1953. In fact, it could be a 1946 wagon gear. Accordingly, the wagon gear and flare box make an appropriate fit; only the post-1957 David Bradley hydraulic hoist is out of place. When fully restored, the wagon would appear on the Pioneer Power Showgrounds as if it might have been purchased by a farmer in 1946 with a 126-bushel flare box, and that later (after 1957) the same farmer might have updated his wagon with a David Bradley hydraulic hoist.
Before replacing the 2″ tongue and groove floor, the 126-bushel wagon box was painted the shade of green noted above. It also had an unusual David Bradley decal located on the front-end of the box. Therefore, before painting the box, pictures and measurements of this decal were taken and an exact copy was made by Sign Pro of 801 S. Riverfront Dr. in Mankato, Minnesota 56001-2229, Tel: (507) 345-3388. As with all decals made by Sign Pro, a digital record was placed in Sign Pro’s computer database for future reference. (Copies of this and other decals may be obtained by restorers at a very inexpensive price from Sign Pro now that those decals are in the computer database.)
The pre-1953 wagon gear was also painted the proper color of red with black hubs and “lime” or “signal green” wheel rims. Additionally, two decals were obtained from Sign Pro for the wagon gear: one was the typical black-lettered David Bradley decal found on the rear axle of all David Bradley running gear of that period of time; the second showed the lot number of this particular wagon (No. 751) and was located on one of the front diagonal tubular braces of the wagon gear. Both decals were also obtained from Sign Pro and are currently a part of their computer database.
In addition to the wagon boxes and wagon gears, Sears offered other wagon-related items under the David Bradley name. One of these was the electric powered forage wagon unloader. One of these forage wagon unloaders was used by Earl Jacobson of LeRoy, Minnesota, for the silage wagons that he used in his custom silo filling business. Following the Second World War, Earl began his custom forage harvesting operation from his farm located northeast of the village of LeRoy. He owned all the equipment necessary for filling the silos of the neighborhood; e.g., a John Deere forage harvester and later a Papec forage harvester, a New Holland blower, and three forage wagons. His three forage wagons had homemade wooden boxes. Two boxes were mounted on a John Deere running gear and the third box was mounted on a Montgomery Ward running gear. In the early 1950s, all forage wagons were unloaded from the rear by men with forks pulling the ensilage out of the wagon into the blower hopper at the rear of the wagon. After the ensilage at the rear of the wagon had been removed, the men would have to crawl up into the wagon to pull out the ensilage at the front of the wagon. To make the job of unloading wagons easier, faster, and safer, David Bradley, along with other manufacturers, began producing power unloading systems for forage wagons. The David Bradley power unloading system involved a canvas on the floor of the wagon box which was connected to a roller at the rear of the wagon. The roller was rotated by a portable power unit which rolled up the canvas on the roller and effectively pulled the whole load of ensilage to the rear of the wagon where the men merely raked the ensilage down into the blower hopper. (Allis Chalmers had a similar unloading system which was powered directly from the blower. C.H. Wendel, The Allis Chalmers Story, [Crestline Publishing Company: Sarasota, FL 1988] p. 138. The Allis Chalmers system can be seen at work in the Allis Chalmers movie “More Power To You”  available from Keith Olthrogge, Box 529, Denver, IA 50622-0529, Tel.  984-5292.)
Earl Jacobson installed the David Bradley power unloading system on all three of his forage wagons. The only trouble encountered with the David Bradley power unloading system was that vigorous raking by the men with forks unloading the wagon produced tears and holes in the canvas conveyor. Therefore, Earl Jacobson replaced the canvas conveyor in all three wagons by a sled inside the wagon box. The sled was connected to the roller at the rear of the wagon by means of two cables. As the roller was turned, the cables would roll up and the sled would pull the load of ensilage to the rear of the wagon. This modified version of the David Bradley wagon unloading system worked well for Earl Jacobson until he retired from the custom forage business in 1958. Of all the products sold by Sears under the David Bradley line which were intended to make life easier for the farmer, the garden tractors and wagons were the most popular sellers. It is fitting that restorers are now working on David Bradley projects for use at various shows around the nation. These restorations will ensure that David Bradley, which played so large a role in North American agriculture, will remain a household name and will not be forgotten.