Written By Larry Gay
Until 1914 most of the farm tractors were similar in size to steam traction engines. The Hart-Parr 30-60 weighed 19,750 pounds and its 2-cylinder engine had a 10-inch bore and a 15-inch stroke. The Twin City line of tractors built by the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company included the 40-65 which weighed 23,700 pounds and had 84-inch diameter drive wheels with a 24-inch width. The largest Twin City tractor was the 60-90 with a weight of 27,700 pounds.
In contrast to these giant tractors, the Bull Tractor Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota, started selling the small Bull tractor in 1914 with a rating of 5 drawbar horsepower and 12 belt horsepower. The 5-12 model weighed only 3,050 pounds and its initial retail price was $335. Now there was a tractor on the market that the Midwest farmer could afford and it was the sensation of the National Power Farming Demonstrations held in Fremont, Nebraska, in August 1914. The Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company built this tractor for the Bull Tractor Company.
The Bull 5-12 tractor was a 3-wheel tractor with the right rear wheel being the only drive wheel. The drive wheel and the front wheel for steering ran in the furrow when plowing. The smaller left rear wheel was attached to an adjustable arm which permitted the tractor to be leveled when plowing. The tractor was powered by a horizontal, 2-cylinder opposed engine and the transmission provided 1-forward speed.
The Bull 5-12 model lasted only one year and was replaced in 1915 by the Big Bull model, a larger version of the same design, with a 7-20 horsepower rating and a $585 retail price. The Bull Tractor Company had difficulty obtaining engines from outside suppliers and finally started using engines built by the Toro Motor Company. The company advertised one dealer sold 96 Big Bull tractors in 1915, another sold 71, and a third sold 49. Massey-Harris started selling the Big Bull tractor in Canada in late 1916 and for the 1917 year, before discontinuing the line.
The Bull tractors were plagued with reliability problems and the company soon had financial problems. It attempted to merge with the Whitman Agricultural Company of St. Louis, but that deal was not completed. Then some tractors were built in the Toro factory in Minneapolis. In 1920 the company went out of business. Although the Bull tractor was not a success, it was a trendsetter for the tractor industry, because it made the other tractor manufacturers aware of the large market for small tractors.
Larry Gay is the author of four farm tractor books published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. These books may be obtained from ASABE at 800-695-2723 or asabe.org, click publications and then click history books.