The unique design of the vintage Allis-Chalmers model G tractor (or implement carrier, as it could be more accurately described) makes it one of the most identifiable machines at any antique tractor show. It was manufactured from 1948 to 1955. And as Lydell Steiner, project lead on the Tilmor tractor project, sees it, it may have been a case of a manufacturer creating the right machine at the wrong time.
“If you think about what was happening at that time, agriculture kind of grew exponentially, kind of like the Industrial Revolution,” Steiner says. “People said, let’s not just have nine horsepower, how about 50, then 100, then 200. Now they want 500. So while the Allis G was a novel idea with a lot of potential, it came at the wrong time, I’d say, because people were trying to figure out how to get bigger not smaller.
Today’s agriculture, by contrast, is quicker to see the merits of going small instead of large, especially for new farms and in specialty applications.
So enter the Tilmor tractor.
Steiner and other members of his family who operate Venture Products, Inc. an Ohio-based manufacturing firm with deep and continuing roots to the farm, think the time is right for a reincarnation of the Allis-Chalmers G. Their Tilmor tractor uses the same tool carrier design, and they hope it catches the attention of the growing number of small-scale farmers.
“The last low-horsepower row-crop tractors were designed in the ’80s,” Steiner says. “They still make small row-crop tractors, but they’re minimum 50 horsepower or designed for vineyards, things like that, which may not be useful on small-purchase farms.”
And that’s precisely where he thinks the Tilmor can shine, making use of simple post-Second World War engineering that can still do the job very efficiently. It also makes a nice fit with small organic operations that have to rely on tillage.
“Our design follows the Allis-Chalmers G,” Steiner says. “It has two toolbars: one under the belly, a mid-mount, and one on the rear. And the Allis G was one of the few in that time to put the engine at the back and allow maximum upfront visibility.”
It’s that unique, purpose-built configuration that sets the Tilmor apart from the large offering of sub-compact utility tractors that already densely populate the low-horsepower market, few of which are really designed for field work like the Tilmor.
“Their design is focused on homesteads, around the farm or horse arena, to be able to bush hog, to have a blade, move snow or do some mowing,” Steiner says. “That’s what they’re designed for. They’re low profile, the tires are wide. They’re not designed for what we would call row-crop farming.
“Row-crop farming (tractors) need to have a little more clearance. They need to be much more agile at the end of the row, typically lighter. And they need to be designed for row-crop farming, such as having narrow, adjustable tires.”
The Steiner family aren’t novices when it comes to building tractors. They created the Steiner line of machines, but sold the company to a British firm several years ago. Today, they are mainly manufacturing specialty tractors designed for grounds care or municipal duties like snow clearance on sidewalks. When they officially launch the Tilmor tractor sometime in 2019, it will mark a return to agricultural tractor production.
But while the design of the Tilmor amounts to taking a page out of engineering history, how they intend to return to that rural marketplace is definitely not old school. They will direct market the Tilmor to farmers through their website, Tilmor.com. The website was launched late last year, and in November it began taking orders for a range of tillage equipment and attachments that could be mated with many of the vintage tractors, like the Allis G, that are still being used by small-scale producers.
“Starting out, it’s going well,” Steiner says. “I think it’s part of recognizing the needs of our target market. So while it may be a different (marketing) model, a big part of our research went into how farmers make purchasing decisions, where they were getting their information from, and identifying where they were comfortable seeing equipment for the first time. And we kept recognizing that online was an avenue that would be acceptable for our target market.”
Finding the right dealerships that want to focus on small-scale farmers may be difficult in many regions of North America, which makes the online marketing model the one Steiner thinks will be the best fit for their products.
“We’re going direct,” he explains. “There may be individuals or organizations that share the vision, the values and the ability to reach our target market that we may partner with. It may be challenging to find the right partner, simply because most dealers are focused on large agriculture. The reason for going direct is so we can put our energies on our target market.”
And that market isn’t confined to the U.S. and Canada. His family has been actively involved in development assistance projects in emerging countries over the years, so he sees the Tilmor as a good fit for agricultural startups in many underdeveloped regions of the world. In fact, there is already one Tilmor currently undergoing field trials in Nicaragua.
“We have more of a global vision than just North America,” Steiner says.
However, he recognizes the company can’t simply take an online order, ship a tractor out and be done with it. Service and support considerations must be addressed no matter what the marketing model.
“It is more basic; that is true,” Steiner says of the Tilmor’s engineering. “And that was a goal in our design, but to have it so basic that anyone could fix it at any time is difficult to achieve.
“So we’re approaching [service and support] in two ways. The first way is we are working on creating the best and most accessible teardown and repair guides that are digitally available. We’re developing a whole new system that will make those available to end-users or any service person anywhere. So you don’t have to go through Tilmor training to be a certified mechanic on this, but you could go to our website and download (for example) how to replace the transmission. And we’ll have a step-by-step guide of all the tools and steps required.
“Then there might be individuals who might say I would love to be added to your service network.”
There are still some things to be worked out on that front as well as in finalizing the tractor design and firming up pricing.
“We’re trying to be very general right now,” he explains. “We’re trying to get all the costs and haven’t got that done yet. The target price range is $15,000 to $20,000, depending on engine and options. There’ll be two engines, one gas and one diesel.”
With the company website up and already offering implements and attachment parts to farmers in both the U.S. and Canada, the focus right now is cultivation. Over time as they have more resources, the plan is to add a wider range of implements to make the Tilmor more of a full-season tractor.
There could also be an opportunity to expand the general range of products available online to allow for those made by third-party manufacturers that would interest small farmers.
But Steiner is cautious about making too many promises too soon, particularly about the launch of the tractor.
“We say ‘available in 2019,’” he says of the planned launch date.
“I’m hesitant to give you a specific time. An ideal time would be the second quarter, but we’re still working through some final details. We’re very cautious of overselling ourselves,” Steiner says. “We want to be clear that when we say we are going to do something, we do it.”