The Bull with the Pull
By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner
Illustration of the Big Bull tractor.
The Modern Gas Tractor, 1919
During the second decade of the 20th century, the giant gas tractors that
rumbled across the prairies were just beginning to give way to their
smaller, cheaper and easier to handle counterparts. Expensive 10-ton
behemoths like the Big Four, Aultman-Taylor 30-60 and Rumely OilPull enjoyed
brief popularity but were not practical for small, half-section farms.
Farmers needed something affordable and economical to operate.
The small to medium size tractor market was heating up and the Bull Tractor Company, like dozens of others, wanted a piece of the action. Bull organizers were experienced tractor men. Their first effort was the cross-motor, three-wheeled Little Bull, priced at $335, which hit the market late in1913 or early 1914. Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Company had been contracted to build it. Some 3800 Little Bulls were sold in just nine months, making it the hottest-selling small tractor of the year. But the 5-12 horsepower engines just weren’t powerful enough and sales began to slip as the reputation of the Little Bull nosedived.
Undaunted, the company went ahead in 1915 with a bigger version they called the Big Bull. Rated at 7-20 horsepower, the Big Bull was also a three-wheeled tractor. But the contract with the original engine builder didn’t work out so Toro Motor Company was organized to build and supply the engines while Minneapolis Steel & Machinery continued to build the tractors. Bull took out advertisements in Canadian farm papers, anxious to crack the western market. The May, 1915 Gas Review ad claimed “4000 Bull Tractors Made and Sold to the Farmers of the United States in 10 Months…being more than all other small tractors combined.” Marketing aimed at replacing the horse with a Bull. “Save the mares to raise colts but sell the unprofitable geldings and buy a Big Bull to do the horse-killing work on the farm…”
Winnipeg’s Grain Growers’ Guide, June 9, 1915 carried a full-page ad under the heading “The Big Bull with the 7-Horse Pull.” By then, the company had a Canadian office in Winnipeg and an arrangement with a factory in Port Arthur, Ontario. “We have now got the Tractor you want, at the price you want, made in Canada, under conditions that guarantee absolute satisfaction….(it) will easily do the work of seven good horses…and the Big Bull feeds only while working.” To convince western buyers, demonstrations were held every day at the V.C. Maddock farm, in St. Charles, Manitoba. The following year, the July 5, 1916, Grain Growers’ Guide advised readers to see the Big Bull demonstrations at the Brandon and Regina Fairs. Price, FOB Regina, was $850.
About this time, Massey-Harris, Canada’s largest agricultural equipment manufacturer, was looking around for a small to medium size tractor it could import to meet customer demand. In 1917 they chose the Big Bull.
But there was trouble ahead for the Bull Tractor Company. Minneapolis Steel & Machinery decided to cancel its contract with Bull in 1917. Bull looked around for someone else to build its tractors but there were no takers. A couple of years later, Bull merged with Madison Motors Corporation of Anderson, Indiana, but it was too little too late, and by 1920 it was broke. Within seven years, Bull had gone from leading the pack in small tractor sales to bankruptcy and the deal with Massey-Harris failed.
But the Toro Motor Company, the company formed to build motors for the Big Bull in 1915, is still going strong in 2006. We know it best for its lawnmowers and snowblowers.
The Western Development Museum is fortunate to have a Big Bull tractor in its collection. The three-wheel Bull was acquired by the WDM in 1948 from Steve Kecho of Lestock, Saskatchewan. It is in storage at the WDM Curatorial Centre in Saskatoon.
Gas Review, May, 1915
Grain Growers’ Guide, Winnipeg, MB, June 9, 1915
Grain Growers’ Guide, Winnipeg, MB, July 5, 1916
Pagé, Victor W., The Modern Gas Tractor; Norman W. Henley Publishing Company, New York, 1919, p. 458
Wendel, C.H., Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, Crestline Publishing, Sarasota, FL, 1979
www.ssbtractor.com/Massey_Ferguson_tractors.html. History of the Massey Ferguson Farm Tractors, accessed April 4, 2006.
You might also like:
- Artifact Articles: Rumours surround legendary Bedaux trek