It was 1999 when Dan Shima, a good friend and Minneapolis Moline collector told us about the winter convention in Stuttgart, Arkansas. We traveled south in the middle of winter to a whole other lifestyle of rice fields and duck hunting and met the man who was instrumental in building what may be the first articulating tractor, the Stuttgart Tractor.
Don Oliver hosted the winter show and back then I got the honor of interviewing him for Belt Pulley magazine. Recently, Keith and I returned to Stuttgart through the efforts of Renee Robinson and invitation of the Grand Prairie Center to see what had happened to the original Stuttgart tractor since our last visit.
We had the rare opportunity to visit with Gary Oliver, Don’s son. The original number one Stuttgart tractor is in the family’s private museum. We were thrilled to learn that the tractor is still there and with the Oliver family.
In 1961, Don Oliver owned the largest Minneapolis Moline dealership in the county. Gary Oliver explained how his dad got into being a dealer. “Dad’s father-in-law was in the Case business and farmed. They bought the Weiman Minneapolis Moline dealership. Now Prairie Implement has been here in business for 62 years.”
Don Oliver, his sales manager Gale Stroh, and Kenneth Bull, the shop foreman set about building what would become the first, or one of the first agricultural articulated four-wheel drive tractors developed. “We put two rear ends together, and set a power unit above it and drove it with a chain link belt. We started with Minneapolis Moline U’s, but they didn’t work well, they were too narrow so we used GB’s and liked them because they were wider that the U’s,” Don had explained so many years ago.
The three men together built the tractor and they sold and delivered their first tractor in 1958. The very first tractor built Don Oliver used for his operation in the rice fields of his Stuttgart Arkansas farm. Gary Oliver has memories of working in the fields with that tractor. “I imagine I put about 50% of the hours on that tractor.”
The tractor was later taken to Minneaplos Moline’s engineering facility and they used is as a prototype for their version of the A4T-1400 tractor. (A4T stood for Articulating four-wheel drive tractor according to Gary).The Stuttgart tractor was the forerunner of the articulated tractors, even though the company didn’t officially acknowledge it. Gary said that he doesn’t think his dad, Gale and Kenneth realized just what they had done and how important their development was.
The tractor and the man that built it left a lasting affect on me. His kindness with Keith and I at such a busy time showed what a considerate man he was. We found the same characteristics in Gary Oliver who took time he really didn’t have while working in the fields to talk to two star struck collectors.
Watch for an upcoming article in Farm World in my column Wrenching Tales for the complete story!