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Look back at little-known 1929 gas tractor

Then and Now: An ad in the Feb. 9, 1929, issue of Nebraska Farmer promotes the unique Baker Gas Tractor.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

July 10, 2024

3 Min Read
steam engine
KNOWN FOR STEAM: This is not a Baker steam traction engine hooked up for threshing, but the A.D. Baker Co. became famous for its steam engines such as this — at one time employing more than 120 workers at its Swanton, Ohio, plant. The company began making gas tractors in the 1920s, as steam tractors were on the decline. But it was only making parts by the 1940s, and the company dissolved after its founder’s death in 1953. Curt Arens

Have you ever heard of the Baker tractor? If you haven’t, it is probably because the A.D. Baker Co., based in Swanton, Ohio, was not really a gas tractor company at all. It made its name in the steam engine business.

We found an interesting ad in the Feb. 9, 1929, issue of Nebraska Farmer, promoting the new Baker Gas Tractor, available in models 22-40 and 25-50.

When the company shipped a new large gas tractor, its 25-50, to the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory at the University of Nebraska East Campus for testing, it tested at 75.88 hp for the belt and 55.72 hp for the drawbar. At the time, this was the highest horsepower rating of any tractor tested.

Tough tractor

The ad touted a heavy-duty Foote transmission, a heavy solid axle revolving on roller bearings, a four-plate heavy-duty clutch and a design with a PTO shaft that had three bearings. The company noted offices at the time — with complete service of machines and parts for sale — at Hastings, Neb., with Smith Machinery Co., and Lincoln, Neb., with Thorpe-Wood Machinery Co.

Abner D. Baker built his first traction engine in a shop in Ohio. He worked initially as a machinist for Empire Reaper Works and then for Erie City Iron Works and Frontier Iron Works in Detroit, before starting his own repair shop in Lucas County, Ohio, and eventually in Swanton.

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Farm Progress - ad for a new Baker gas tractor was run in the Feb. 9, 1929

He founded his manufacturing company in 1898, and incorporated it in 1901, focused mainly on steam traction engines. Baker’s traction engines used the Baker center-hung valve gear, Baker balance valve and seat, adjustable boxes for his rear axles, and the Baker uniflow cylinder.

The Baker valve gear was famous for its use on steam railroad locomotives. The company built its last steam engine around 1929, but by then, its gas tractor business was booming.

Ripe old age

The company purchased most of the components from other manufacturers to build the Baker gas tractors, which had been introduced in 1926. The workforce at the Baker plant was once more than 120 employees, but by the 1940s, at the height of the war years, it was reduced to four part-time workers — mostly building service parts for veteran steam tractors still in use.

Production of the Baker tractors ended during World War II, and the company dissolved in 1953, when Baker died at age 92.

In his lifetime, Baker had more than 270 patents, often disappearing for hours into his workshop to develop new inventions. In addition to steam traction engines and eventually gas tractors, the company added separators in 1907 and road rollers in 1910, always pushing the envelope to come up with equipment that was in demand.

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While the Baker gas tractors are largely forgotten today, the contributions of A.D. Baker and the company he founded play a part in the evolution and development of technology in the field that we now take for granted.

Combing through some of the antique tractor online forums, it appears that a few 25-50 Baker tractors are still around in the country as a testament to A.D. Baker and his ingenuity.

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About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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