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Alternative fuels featured at HHD antique farm machines display

The display shows the history and evolution of electric, liquid propane and steam-powered farm tractors.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

August 25, 2022

2 Min Read
A  border collie keeps an eye on the sheep as Tanya Gifford explains the herding instincts of the breed during Husker Harvest
OLD BUT NEW AGAIN: Discussions of moving our country to alternative fuels are nothing new. This year’s antique farm machinery display will feature tractors that once used electric, liquid propane, jet fuel and steam power.Kevin Schulz

Organizers of this year’s antique farming display at Husker Harvest Days are keeping up with the times by showcasing various fuels that have been tried for farm power over the years.

Several liquid propane tractors have been committed for the display that will be in the northwest quadrant between First and Second streets. Representatives will explain the history and development of diesel, electric and turbine power.

“A lot of things have been tried over the years, and we hope to create a platform where we can discuss the merits and downfalls of each,” says Howard Raymond of Wellfleet, Neb., who along with Brian Wolfe coordinates the antique farming display.

Fuel through the years

As a primer for the alternative fuel discussions at this year’s show, Raymond and Wolfe offer a history lesson:

1930s. In 1934, International Harvester introduced the first diesel-powered wheel tractor. It featured a unique dual-fuel starting system, where a decompression chamber in the head, along with a carburetor and magneto, allowed it to be started as a conventional gasoline engine.

“We plan to have an early example on display,” Raymond says.

1950s. Allis-Chalmers developed a hydrogen-powered fuel cell tractor, with research started in 1951. In October 1959 near West Allis, Wis., a fuel cell tractor plowed a field of alfalfa with a double-bottom plow.

Fuel cells produce electrical power directly through a chemical reaction, without heat, smoke or noise. Unlike standard batteries, fuel cells do not store energy but convert chemical energy to electric energy.

The original example of this tractor is housed at the county museum at Hutchinson, Minn. “But we were unable to secure it for our display due to renovations to the museum preventing its removal,” Raymond says.

Oliver Farm Equipment Corp. in 1957 developed an experimental model, the XO-121. According to Oliver, the tractor’s motor was the first of its kind to feature a 12-1 compression ratio, nearly double that of earlier and competing models.

The tractor’s motor used a then-special high-octane fuel developed by the Ethyl Corp., specially blended for use in the XO-121’s motor. This tractor could be seen at the Hart-Parr Oliver Collectors Association show in Norfolk, Neb., this past winter.

1960s. In 1961, IH pioneered the International HT-340 turbine experimental tractor. Powered by a turbine engine from the company’s Solar Aircraft Co., it was the first tractor to utilize a totally hydrostatic transmission. But it had serious drawbacks: It consumed copious amounts of jet fuel (kerosene), and its overall weight was insufficient for adequate traction.

Still, it showed change was possible. The hydrostatic transmission found its way into the Farmall 656 tractor in 1965.

Raymond and Wolfe say representatives will also discuss with show attendees the concepts of wood, gas, various applications of steam power, the semi-diesel hot-tube engine, high-compression gasoline and alcohol engines.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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