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A Bowtie for the back forty

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Hmmm, you’re thinking, a Chevrolet tractor?

That was our reaction too when Diecast Direct’s Logan Skeele sent us these photos shot at Southern Indiana’s Lanesville Heritage Weekend in Lanesville, September 7-10.

OK, so this rig looks homebuilt, judging from the hardware holding the sheetmetal together and that’s definitely a 216 Chevrolet six.

From owner Dale Hall’s show sign we learned that the splash-oiled 216 is mated to a four-speed transmission and a two-speed rear, apparently all from a medium-duty Chevrolet truck. The builder? Someone named Nutter as evidenced by the custom emblem below the hood.

From there we let the magic of google take us to Farm Show magazine’s website where a revealing story from 2004 is posted.

According to the article:

“The tractor is a one-of-a-kind prototype, without a PTO, hydraulics, belt pulley, or power lift of any kind. (Hall) acquired the tractor in 1991 when he answered an ad in a local paper about a truck for sale. When he went to see the truck, he happened to see an old tractor in the barn. Right away he knew it was unusual, so he bought it and left the truck.

The previous owner remembered seeing the tractor sitting idle on his neighbor’s farm when he was a kid. Upon asking about the tractor, the young man was told he could have it. He later did some research into the unusual tractor.

After World War II ended, a deaf and mute man named Nutter built the tractor in his garage, hoping to interest General Motors in manufacturing it. It was well known that the company wanted to get into the tractor business. He used a 1 1/2-ton Chevy truck engine, transmission, and rear end — common parts that he thought would help keep the production cost down. When the prototype was finished, someone from Chevrolet in Detroit came to look at it. Unfortunately, the company’s plants were all operating at full capacity in the post-war boom so no deal was ever worked out.”

Meanwhile, also in 2004, over at vintage farm-equipment magazine Farm Collector, there was coverage of the Nutter/Chevrolet Tractor in the March issue. That story spurred readers to write in and help fill in some of the blanks. Here (slightly edited) from the May 2004 issue of Farm Collector we learned even more:

“The Let’s Talk Rusty Iron column in the March 2004 issue of Farm Collector about Dale Hall’s Chevrolet tractor brought a couple of responses that dear up some — but not all — of the mystery surrounding the origin of the tractor.

Steel White of Versailles, Kentucky, called Dale to pass along a few tidbits about the tractor. White said that Willie Lee Nutter Sr. owned a large farm south of Georgetown, Kentucky, where he raised expensive saddle horses. Mr. Nutter had one son, Willie Lee Nutter Jr., who was born unable to speak, although it’s unclear if he was deaf, as well. He never went to school, but was tutored at home and apparently was a self-taught mechanical genius.

White worked on the Nutter farm when he was 16 and was shown a tractor that Willie Jr. — who White remembers as being in his 20s at the time — had built in a fully equipped machine shop on the farm. The tractor had a Chevy engine and steel wheels. White also said the younger Nutter had built a grain binder and a stationary hay baler, both of which White used when he worked on the farm.

In 1944, White turned 18 and joined the Army. When he returned in 1946, he heard young Nutter had built another tractor, and General Motors was involved in some capacity. White believes the local Chevy dealer had some connection with the project, which later fell through for some unknown reason. The Nutters used the tractor on their farm for years afterward.”

So… a Chevrolet tractor? Well, technically no, but an interesting piece of backyard engineering and scratch building nevertheless.

(Thanks to Logan Skeele for the photographs, Farm Show and Farm Collector for the great historical information, as well as owner Dale Hall for caring for and displaying this interesting artifact.)