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Tractor time at Lester Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum

Down the Road: The former Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory is now a museum of tractor-test history and shows the evolution of tractors.

Curt Arens

January 16, 2024

6 Slides

Wilmot Crozier, a farmer from Osceola, Neb., just wanted his new tractor to work as advertised.

It was 1916, and there was a push in agriculture away from live horsepower and steam-engine tractors toward newfangled gasoline-powered tractors that had only been invented in Iowa 24 years earlier.

Crozier purchased the cheapest model he could from the Ford Tractor Co., which was based in Minneapolis and had no relation to the company that bore Henry Ford’s name. It was advertised as a strong, durable machine that could replace horses in most farm operations. Crozier found the machine unreliable and prone to breakdown, so he demanded a new one.

The new model broke down too, so he purchased a 1917 Bull tractor. More breakdowns. Finally, he got a used Rumely Oil-Pull that actually worked better than the company had advertised.

There should be a law

When Crozier was elected to the Nebraska Legislature in 1919, he helped write the Nebraska Tractor Test Bill that said in order for a company, dealer or individual to offer a tractor model for sale in the state, it had to have a state-issued sales permit.

These permits were only offered for tractor models that had been tested at the University of Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory and exceeded manufacturer claims, protecting the farmers who were buying these machines from unverified claims.

The first tractor tested at the new Nebraska lab was a Waterloo Boy Model N tractor, which was tested in 1920. Since then, more than 2,000 models have been tested at NTTL, and the law that Crozier helped to introduce still stands.

The old laboratory was retired in 1980 when a new, larger facility was built adjacent to the original NTTL. Then, in 1998, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Board of Regents recognized the old lab as the Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum.

It was dedicated to Larsen, who was chief engineer of NTTL from 1946 to 1975, and it was instrumental in the collection of historic tractor-test equipment and tractors that are now on display at the museum at 35th and Fair streets on UNL’s East Campus.

From the museum, you can see tractors being tested at the current NTTL and tractor track nearby. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, excluding specific UNL holidays. Admission is by donation, with $5 per adult suggested.

Learn more at tractormuseum.unl.edu.

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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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