Four Drive Tractor Company - Research & Questions

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J.H. Fitch

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Schuberg's Model F 15-30

Schuberg's 1929 "The Cat" Model F 15-30 serial #3064

    Even after 70 years, what happened to the company is still a mystery. There have been many theories and rumors surrounding the demise of the company. All of the key figures have passed away.  Hampering any research now is the unavailability of microfilm copies or originals of the Big Rapids newspaper "The Pioneer" - both at the local library and the Pioneer's own files - from 1914 to 1928.  Also, there are no known copies of the company's own records or files. The Mecosta County Historical Society in Big Rapids only has a handful of newspaper clippings, a stock certificate and a few flyers.

    A flurry of research concerning the Four Drive Tractor Company was conducted in Big Rapids in late 1991 and 1992. The issue was brought to light in the Big Rapids area on September 4, 1991 when "The Pioneer" - in their "Yesteryears"1 feature - published a reproduction of a stock certificate issued by the firm in 1918. There was a request for anyone with more information to contact "The Pioneer" or Keith Schuberg (of nearby Rodney, MI) and his sons, Randy and Terry, who had recently purchased a 1929 model of the Four Drive Tractor and was looking for information on the company.

    Ten months later, "The Pioneer" published a response from Robert Harvey2, the son of former Pioneer editor and publisher, Wells F. Harvey. In his response, Robert Harvey claimed that his father took the company to task over what he had considered to be unethical practices when he questioned why the company neither made money nor lost money over a period of years. The story was published 5 months after Robert had passed away.

    What Wells Harvey learned, his son claimed, that "the promoters, the men who had been at the point in securing community finance backing and were members of the Board of Directors of the Four Drive Tractor Co., also were the sole owners, stock holders and directors of The Four Drive Tractor Sales Co.," which reaped a rather substantial profit.

    As the younger Harvey explained in his response, "the boards of directors were the same people for both companies. Thus, the tractor company negotiated and executed a contract for the sale of its entire output to the sales company. The board of directors of the tractor company, in ‘negotiating' with its own members, set the price the sales company would pay for each tractor. The directors, being one and the same for both companies, merely had to satisfy themselves. They arranged it so that the tractor company made tractors and sold them - at cost; the sales company bought tractors at manufacturing cost and sold them at a profit." Therefore, the tractor company made just enough money stay operational, the stock holders received small dividends while the sales company and its directors made a huge profit and large dividends.

    Despite threats from the board of directors of the tractor company and investors in the firm to withdraw their advertising from his newspaper, Wells Harvey published a story of the duplicity in tractor manufacturing and tractor sales directorships that, according to Robert Harvey, eventually led to the sale Four Wheel Drive Company to a firm that he believed was located in Wisconsin.

    As to the unavailability of microfilm copies or originals of the Pioneer during the tenure of Wells Harvey as publisher from 1914 to 1928, Robert Harvey had charged that the Pioneer's own copies of the papers of that era may have been destroyed by families evolved in the tractor firm to avoid any further embarrassment.

    James Bruskotter, currently the managing editor of the Pioneer Group's weeklies, authored an article3 with information that the members of the Historical Society have dug through many old documents and newspapers at the Mecosta County Historical Museum in search of further information to substantiate Harvey's charges. They only found documentation of financial problems experienced by the firm, a suit filed by firm investors against a local bank, a flyer promoting the company in 1920, a flyer with a drawing and specifications of the tractor, and a brief history of the company.  These items shed little light on Mr. Harvey's charges.  

The Agricultural Tractor: 1855-1950 - R.B. Gray

"The Agricultural Farm Tractor" featuring a 1929 "Cat" Model E 15-30 on the cover

    Fitch Four Drive Tractors have appeared in a few tractor books and magazines over the years.

  • A "Cat" Model  E 15-30 appeared on the cover of The Agricultural Tractor: 1855-1950 by Roy B. Gray {1954 & 1975} (part I pg. 58 & 62 and part II pg. 19-20)

  • F.E. Bishop's 1929 Model D 20-35 at the Gunnedah Rural Museum was featured in chapter 9 of The World of Classic Tractors by Ian M. Johnston {1998} (pg. 73-82)

  • Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors by Charles H. Wendel {1992} (pg. 118)

  • Standard Catalog of Farm Tractors 1840-1960 by Charles H. Wendel, Craig Anderson, Keith Crawford & Kurt Aumann {2000} (pg. 228-229)

  • Unusual Vintage Tractors by Charles H. Wendel {1996} (pg. 123)

  • Antique American Tractor & Crawler Value Guide by Terry Dean & Larry L. Swenson {2001} (pg. 95)

  • Farm Tractor Collectibles by Lee Klancher (Editor), Nick Cedar, Kurt Aumann, Roger Welsch {1998} (pg. 153 - a photo of a flyer)

  • Ultimate American Farm Tractors Data Book: Nebraska Test Tractors 1920-1960 by Lorry Dunning {1999} (pg. 146)

  • Farm Tractors by April & Hans Halberstadt {1998} (pg. 11)

  • The Big Book of Farm Tractors by Robert Pripps & Andrew Moreland {2001} (pg. 213)

  • Tractor Operating Book & Directory by C. DeSparks {1919} (pg. 66)

  • The Year of the Tractor 1919 by Alan C. King {1989} (pg. 9, 10, 19)

  • "Four Drive: The Right Tractor For Road Work", More Orphan Tractors by Bill Vossler {2003} (pg. 79-82)

  • "The Four Drive Tractor", Chris Dixon, The Midland Antique Engine Club 15th Annual Show program {2003}(pg. 18)

  • "Four Play", by Jason Denney, Gas Engine Magazine {June 2005  Vol. 40, No. 6} (pg. 17-19)

Recycling Center

    The building where the Four Drive Tractor Company was based, located at 1105 East Maple Street, is now owned by Mecosta County and used by Ferris State University as a storage and recycling center.

1 "Yesteryears" was a feature of the Pioneer promoting the historical significance of the Big Rapids area and encouraging residents to help record the past before it is forgotten.

2 "Robert Harvey remembers Four Drive Tractor Company," July 1, 1992.

3 "Four Drive Co. - Historical Society finds information on former Big Rapids firm," December 2, 1992.