Story of the Four Drive Tractor and Inventor Fitch Reads Like Romance With Happy Ending
Published November 11, 1916
Pioneer Herald Page 4

In the Four Drive Tractor company Big Rapids has an infant industry of great promise. With an almost limitless market in a comparitively new field, the prospects of the organization defy prophecy. The company plans to manufacture trucks as well as tractors, and only recently has the automobile truck business come into great prominence. A company manufacturing trucks in Michigan has more than tripled the size of its plant in the last three years, and has declared exceedingly attractive dividends besides.

The story of the inventor-president of the Four Drive Tractor company, Mr. J. H. Fitch, and of his machine which walks over stumps and climbs eighteen inch curbs, reads like a romance. He faced failure repeatedly from the time he first conceived the idea of building a four drive tractor until amidst the cheers and shouts of his neighbors he drove it up the highest hill on his farm in Mason county. But in the end, he always surmounted the seemingly unsurmountable obstacles until now succes has reached her encouraging hand to him.

During his farming days, Mr. Fitch used to watch automobiles pass over the roads bordering his fields. Occasionally one would get stuck in the sand, and the tourists would call on him to give them a lift with his horses. Now Mr. Fitch has done some inventing in the past and possessed a mechanical turn of mind. Before turning to farming he had made a very comfortable living by following his trade as a mill wright. In watching the motorists try to pull themselves through the sand, he noticed that the rear wheels buzzed around while the front ones stood helpless. The rear wheels did all the work and the front ones were the drones.

At that period Mr. Fitch began to think about building a machine that would give power to the front as well as to the rear axle. He figured out that if the engine gave pulling force to the front wheels, these would becomehelpers instead of standing idle, not only when the automobile might strike a hard spot to get through, but also over the level ground. Also he knew from handling a wheel barrow that a pulling force produces a greater effect than a push, and if the front wheels did have power, they would pull a weight instead of pushing it as the rear wheels did.

Mr. Fitch mused over these ideas for a time, and finally began to put them together. His friends gave him the dubious encouragement which inventors usually receive, and people not his friends scoffed at his plan. He assured the farmers around his "forty" in Mason county that the first time he ran his machine, he would take it right up the highest hill on his farm. Onday in 1915, he completed all the assembling, put gasoline into the tank, and started the engine. He headed his machine for the big hill and put on the power. All four wheels took hold and the machine walked right up that grade as if it were a level stretch. Neighbors around the countryide watched Mr. Fitch sitting at the wheel and moving up the slope, and when he reached the top, they waved their handkerchiefs and gave him lusty cheers. He had fulfilled his promise.

Soon after the four drive tractor came to the attention of the local board of trade. This organization decided that a plant manufacturing the machine would prove of value to Big Rapids. Mr. Bertrau, an experienced automobile man and president of the board, and the other members encouraged Mr. Fitch to locate here. In the late fall a group of men organized the Four Drive Tractor company for the purpose of manufacturing automobile trucks and tractors, capitalizing for $50,000. They elected the following officers: president J. H. Fitch; vice-president E. J. Jenkins; secretary, Clay F. Olmstedt; treasurer, R. J. Fitch.

The following men with these officers serve on the board of directors: Geirge Fitch, Ludington; Dr. Taylor, Ludington and C. E. Logan, Quenemo, Kansas.

On September sixteenth, the directors increased the capitalization to $200,000.

In the early part of this year they broke ground for the factory on Maple street east of of the Grand Rapids and Indiana railroad tracks. The building is 45x200 feet and built of brick at a cost of about $10,000. The board of trade of Big Rapids financed the construction of the new building, granting the copany liberal terms for repayment. It contains machinery and equipment enough for the manufacture of five or six machines a day. The company moved into its new quarters in April. Although the war caused a great delay in the arrival of raw material, the officers have not become discouraged over the impossibility at present of filing orders. They have taken the best possible measures for making the delay profitable, and have spent every minute perfecting the machine. New parts receive a most rigid test, in order to make the endurance qualities of the tractor as permanent as possible. Recently they provided for the installation of Timken roller bearings in the rear axle, and at present the machine works without a hitch.

The tractor will rank as one of medium weight and medium price. It weighs 4050 pounds and sells at $1035. But the charcter of the transmission of the power from motor to wheels gives it as great pulling strength as any machine again as large and heavy.

The tractor does "stunts" never before accomplished by any tractor, as far as the local management knows. One of its favorite sports is to climb over stumps, especially high ones. It can do this because of the arrangement of the steering gear and the three-point suspension of the frame upon the axles. This particular device constitutes one of the most important features of the machine, and Mr. Fitch has it protected by nine patents, of which eight are basic.

As important, however, as its stump-climbing ability, is the feat of running up to an eighteen inch curb or block of wood, coming to a full stop, and then walking right over the obstacle. It can do this only because of the great power possessed by the front wheels. When these get hold of the top of the obstacle and begin to pull and when the back wheels push, the tractor just has to move if it wants to stay with the wheels.

Mr. Carl Darrah, who acts as demonstrator for the company, when not in charge of the office, enjoys plowing and discing with the tractor. The lightness of the machine prevents it from sinking into the ground to any appreciable distance yet its power enables it to pull a very heavy farm tool. Recently the Oliver Plow company of South Bend sent up one of their plows for a work-out with the tractor, and the combination turned over a patch of ground in no time at all. Mr. Darrah has estimated that the tractor can easily do the work of nine or twelve horses in practically any sort of country.

Not long ago an editor of MOtor Age, a well-known magazine published in Chicago, wrote a story about the four drive tractor that climbs curbs and stumps, and as soon as the article appeared, literally hundreds of letters poured into the local office. Inquiries came from every state of the union and from every first class foreign nation. French, English and even Russian firms wrote for information regarding the new machine. Mr. Fitch, who has brought the tractor to this state of perfection and production, came originally from Germany. Born in Alsace in 1847, he journeyed to America with his parents at the age of seven. Then he went from New York, the landing port, directly to Ontario, where he lived until eighteen years old. From there he came to Michigan where he learned the trade of mill wright. In 1868 he married Miss Harriet Lano, and English girl who had come to Canada. A few years later, Mr. Fitch built a factory on a river south of Bellaire and east of Alden. Here he started a small town called Fitchville. He prospered until 1881 when the spring freshet carried out his dam, destroyed his power and left him penniless. He was then thirty-four years old. Undaunted, Mr. Fitch took his chest of tools and started out to find work. He soon had a "job", and before long had a fourth interest in a lumber mill. From this place, he went on the farm in Mason county and took up fruit growing. He still owns the farm, which his family now manages. In 1915 he came to Big Rapids to take charge of the tractor plant.