In an earlier Grainews article I shared a bit of the early history of International Harvester crawler tractors in Western Canada. I looked at their evolution during the ’30s until after the Second World War, that was when improvements in wheel tractor design nearly spelled the end of crawlers for farm power. Fortunately, a new market was developing for smaller, lightweight models. They were being increasingly used in logging, support to the booming housing market, landscaping, and specialty farm and construction applications.
Senior management at corporate IH Canada recognized the opportunity and decided to capitalize on it using the engineering and manufacturing expertise that existed at the company’s Hamilton, Ontario, facility. This resulted in the 1959 release and introduction of an “all Canadian” crawler series, which included a T4, T5 and TD5 at 26.3, 30.9 and 28.5 drawbar horsepower respectively.
Hamilton Engineering had previously demonstrated its ability to design self propelled machines with a line of SP windrowers, and its model 91 SP combine with planetary steering was also released about the same time. The idea of a Canadian crawler line did not generate a lot of enthusiasm with some parent company people and dealers in the United States, so a parallel development program in the U.S. resulted in the T340 development and release at about the same time.
The T340 gas and diesel models shared some components with the Canadian crawlers but had many differences. This reinforced the fact that the T4-T5-TD5 line was truly Canadian.
At IH, serial numbers generally started at 501.This was true with the T4 and T5 tractors. The T5 model with serial number 501 was sold to a dairy farmer near Perth, Ontario. His story appeared in the 1959 fall edition of Canadian Farming.
His reason for purchasing was two-fold, he said. He had some low land, which a crawler could handle in spring and fall. But the main reason was to keep his lane open for the daily milk truck in the winter. While we don’t know all of its story from 1959 to 2004, T5 501 was purchased in 2004 by the Richards family for their IH collection. It underwent a complete bolt-by-bolt restoration.
Running the crawlers
My first IH crawler experience was with a T4, which we had in stock during the summer and fall of 1959, at a company owned retail dealership in Carman, Man. I was there undergoing initial product training, which included steam cleaning used combines and keeping the used lot tidy (and anything else that no one wanted to do). The used equipment lot was on a leased railroad right of way, which was low and poorly drained so we needed the T4 to move machines around.
My next assignment during the winter of 1959-60 was as a Canadian crawler specialist, which meant I had a three-quarter ton pickup truck, a tandem trailer and a T5 with a blade going to dealerships demonstrating the outfit. I wasn’t a particularly skilful operator, but most of the potential customers were. For a “tractor guy” not long off the farm, this was a dream assignment. Logging operators were our main target in eastern Manitoba and western Ontario; and since we had dealers in places like Rainy River, Dryden, Lac Du Bonnet and Sprague, we had a good chance to sell several crawlers in those regions. Most of the prospects were small family logging outfits where the crawlers replaced horses — and some were treated as such.
I recall one old bachelor who had a big door into the kitchen where his TD5 spent the nights!
Our market share was good and the little tractors gave a good account for themselves. In the rocky areas we had an advantage in that our final drives were inside the track and, thus, protected. Our principal competitor’s were not, and welded drive housings were a fairly common sight on their machines.
During the early ’60s, the crawlers were part of a rapidly expanding industrial equipment product offering. While most of the sales were to individual operators, there was one notable exception. A peat-harvesting company became interested, as they needed low ground pressure but sufficient power to drive the vacuum cleaner-like machine which sucked up the surface of the peat bog and blew it into a trailing buggy. The regular T5 C135 engine was deemed a bit short, so 54 units were fitted with the higher horsepower C153 engine from a combine. They worked well and half went into a fleet near Whitemouth, Man. The other 27 went to New Brunswick.
Over the years the model evolved into the 500 Series with both a farm and industrial version built. A joint venture with Drott was a bonus as it provided access to an excellent loader line and the 4-in-1 bucket.
A log skidder version — the TC5 Series B Track Skidder was released in 1963. It bridged the transition from tracked to wheeled logging tractors. The 500C was succeeded by the 500E in 1974. It was produced at Hamilton until 1976.
All of this is history now and most of the surviving Canadian Crawlers exist in the hands of collectors. One of the most complete collections belongs to the Richards family of Barrie and Stouffville, Ontario, who regularly show the “first one” at vintage events.