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Written by Larry Gay
Four-wheel-drive tractors with four equal-sized wheels started in 1912 with the Heer tractor. In 1930, Massey-Harris introduced its General Purpose model with 4-wheel drive and adequate clearance to cultivate row crops. Both of these tractors had a rigid frame with front wheels that steered. The 4-wheel-drive tractors built by J. I. Case, starting in the 1960s and into the 1980s, had a rigid frame, but both the front wheels and the rear wheels could be steered. Today the large 4-wheel-drive tractors with equal-sized tires use an articulated frame for steering.
Wagner Tractor, Inc. of Portland, Oregon, is recognized as the manufacturer who first started building 4-wheel-drive agricultural tractors with articulated frame steering. The tractors consisted of a front unit with the front axle, a rear unit with the rear axle, and a hinged joint between the two units. The engine and operator’s station were located on the front unit. Hydraulic cylinders were used to pivot the tractors at the hinged coupling which also permitted some oscillation between the front and rear axles.
The first Wagner tractors went to the field in 1954 and the company built three models for the 1956 model year, primarily for the Western states. All three models were powered by Cummins diesel engines, with the TR-6 rated at 105 engine horsepower, the TR-9 at 120, and the TR-14 at 150. There were eight-forward speeds for the TR-6 and ten for the TR-9 and TR-14. By mid-1956, the trade magazines were writing articles about the Wagner 4-wheel-drive tractors, comparing their performance to the large crawler tractors used in the Western states.
The Wagner TR-9 was tested at Nebraska in 1957 and produced 87 drawbar horsepower. It was followed by the TR-14 in 1959 which developed 155 drawbar horsepower with an engine speed of 2,100 rpm. In early 1961, the company was bought by the FWD Corporation of Clintonville, Wisconsin, and the brand name became FWD Wagner. The paint color changed from orange to yellow, the model numbers changed from a TR prefix to a WA prefix, and the WA-17 model with 250 engine horsepower was added. The last FWD Wagner tractors were built in 1968, because the company started building only the WA-14 and WA-17 models for John Deere in 1969.
Larry Gay is the author of four farm tractor books and the “Machinery Milestones” articles in Heritage Iron magazine. To learn more about this magazine which focuses on the 1960-1985 era, go to heritageiron.com or call 1-800-552-6085.
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