A note from Carl Hering, founder:
Why an Empire Tractor Owners Club of all things? That certainly is a fair question; I'll try to give you a short answer.
I used to own a small company called Empire Agri-Systems, so when I saw my first Empire Tractor at a car show in Moultrie, Georgia in 1991, I just had to have one. I finally located two near Fillmore, NY with the help of "Bump" Hamilton who operates an old tractor museum in Cuylerville about 30 miles south of Rochester. Using the two, I was able to end up with one real nice Empire that we used at local trade shows as kind of a company mascot. It sure draws a lot of attention.
As my interest in this unique tractor grew, I began to wonder how many were made? How many still exist? What is the history of this company? Prince Stevens from Gardiner, ME provided me with a list of Empire owners he had come across over the years and with this I was able to get the club started. To date we have over 140 members in over 35 states, three provinces of Canada, Argentina and even South Africa. We have located over 240 Empire tractors and keep track of them by serial number.
We believed in the beginning that this was a very rare tractor, but as it turns out, an estimated 6,587 tractors were made in the short life span of the company from late 1946 until early 1950.
The history of the Empire Tractor Corp. is sketchy at best, but here is what we believe to be true at this time (December 2004). The company had its main offices in New York City, at least in the beginning, and manufacturing facilities in Philadelphia, PA at 3700 Main St. The listed phone number for the plant in PA. was Ivy Ridge 3-3750. The Empire Tractor Corporation was incorporated in the state of Delaware in mid 1946 with production of the Model 88 Empire beginning about September of that year. The tractor was designed for use as a general purpose two bottom plow light duty farm tractor. The Model 88 Empire used war surplus Willys, and some Ford, 134 cubic inch four-cylinder engines, Warner Gear T84 four speed transmissions, Spicer model 18 transfer case with high & low range, a PTO output with dual levers and Willys rear end. The later model 90 tractors used the civilian 134 cubic inch Willys engine with the improved Warner Gear T90 transmission. These models also used the model 18 Spicer transfer case, a single lever PTO output and Willys rear end. A chain reducer was used to lower the speeds to the rear wheels and individual disk type rear brakes were used. The tractor came with rear belt pulley, large steel deck area, tool box, head lights, rear light and spring-shock seat. Monroe E-Z Ride and some other brand seats were used. Instruments included a temp gauge, amp meter, oil pressure gauge, starter button, ignition switch and motor speed governor “T” handle. The straight bar hitch was unique (and patented) as it pulled from under the center of the Empire making an overturn nearly impossible. With the high-low range transmission, speeds were such that the tractor could be used for low speed farm work or make a high speed trip to town for supplies. The model of the Empire changed from 88 to 90 about serial number 3,000 in early or mid 1947. Most model 90 tractors had stamped on the data plate “88-90” as the company was using up the extra 88 serial number tags. The major change between the two models was the switch from military surplus to civilian engines and transmissions.
The tractor was originally made for exportation in the Lend-Lease Program after World War II and we believe more than 2,000 were sent to South Africa, Argentina and other South American countries by early 1947. The original plan was to export all production with no intent to compete with existing US tractor manufacturers. It is believed that this deal did not go as planned and that the company was left with hundreds, and possibly thousands, of tractors in its inventory. The company then tried desperately to sell their product in the US and Canada, mainly through distributors, but with little success. The tractor proved not to be well suited for heavy-duty farm work and was best suited for orchard and other light duty chores. The original asking price of $1,600 was very high which made it hard to sell, especially when a hard-working Ford 8N could be bought for less than $700. In the end, many hundreds of tractors were sold at give-away prices to distributors throughout the US and Canada. These distributors, some working through dealers, ended up selling the Empire tractors for around $700. Court records show that major production ceased in late 1947, or a best, early 1948. Orders for tractors still straggling in after this time were put together with parts and engines left over at the factory. In the end, records show that 6,587 Empire tractors were built during the short life span of the company. Bankruptcy proceedings were filed by the company in 1948 and the assets of the company were sold at auction in 1950. The Delaware Charter was declared inoperative in 1951.
If we had to mention a couple of things that made the Empire Tractor really unique, one would be the straight bar hitch that pulled from under the center of the tractor (patented) thus making an overturn nearly impossible. The other selling point was, of course, the Willys engine and drive train made famous in the Jeep during World War II. The Empire was a well equipped tractor, very reliable and versatile with its wide range of speeds. Today this tractor draws a lot of attention at shows and is very sought after by collectors commanding higher than average prices. The Empire Tractor Owners Club provides a source for many parts, information, tractor specifications and sponsors an Empire tractor meet each year.
For more additional information about the Empire tractor and the Empire Tractor Owners Club write or call:.
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Phone: 315/253-8151 (Hm)
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