1963 Gordon Hydraulic Tractor. Click image to enlarge
Article and photo by Bill Vance
The tractor is the heart of agriculture, the versatile workhorse that tills land, ploughs snow, carries haybales and does a thousand other jobs. But whether large or small, it has retained the same configuration for its whole existence.
Don Gordon thought a light tractor could be more versatile in shape and application, so in the late 1950s he set out to design one. As an implement dealer in Scarborough, Ontario handling such diverse products as Case and Gravely farm and garden implements and road maintenance machinery he knew the tractor’s static shape often compromised its efficiency. It had to be a “jack‑of‑all‑trades” without changing its basic form. Why not design a tractor that could be altered to suit the task?
The result was the Gordon hydraulic tractor. For ultimate versatility Don designed it with five separate components: a power unit with two 22-inch (559 mm) (outside diameter) wheels; riding “sulky” base with two 16 inch (406 mm) (OD) wheels; riding reversible top deck with steering wheel; reversible hood; and a walking handle insert.
By varying the way the components were attached to the power unit, the operator could create a front engine, front‑wheel drive tractor, a rear engine, rear‑wheel drive tractor, or a walking traction unit. The change could be made in under 10 minutes with regular hand tools.
The heart of the Gordon was the power unit which had either a one-cylinder Kohler air-cooled 12.5-horsepower engine or a 24-horsepower twin. This propelled the tractor at up to 19 km/h in either direction via an infinitely variable hydrostatic transmission driving through an automotive gear‑type differential. It also drove the hydraulic power takeoff and hoisting arms that controlled the height of the implement being used.
The riding sulky could be attached to the front or the rear of the power unit allowing implements like a snow blower, rotary mower, grader blade or power sprayer to be installed in their optimum locations, be it the front, back, or between the front and rear axles. The reversible top deck allowed the steering wheel to face either way. All attachments came with their own built‑in hydraulic motor driven by the power unit’s hydraulic pump.
If the operator wanted a walking tractor, the riding attachments were removed from the power unit and the “handlebar” type walking handle was inserted into the front or rear of the power unit, whichever was appropriate for the implement.
The complete tractor weighed less than 1,000 lb (454 kg), and the power unit’s track width could be varied from 34 to 44 inches (864 to 1,118 mm). The tractor was very versatile, acting as, for example, as a snow blower, grader, salt and sand spreader, lawn mower, roller, sprayer, fertilizer spreader, seeder, rotary tiller or plough. With a hydraulic fork lift accessory attached to the front it could even raise a 600 lb (272 kg) load to a height of five feet.
Don Gordon set out to get his invention produced and reached an agreement with Frink of Canada, a division of Turnbull Elevators located in Preston, Ontario (now part of Cambridge) to build and market his tractor. Frink was well known for its snowploughing equipment.
Gordon sold his implement business in 1961 and moved to Preston to join Frink as tractor division manager and begin working on the tractor project. For transporting it he designed a sturdy, tandem‑axle tilting trailer with electric brakes and parking jack, and carrying capacity of 3,000 lb (1,361) kg. It could also serve as a versatile general hauler.
Frink produced 18 Gordon tractors in 1963 as a pre‑production pilot run. They were displayed in New York City and at the Canada Farm and Industrial Equipment Show at Exhibition Park in Toronto. The Gordon tractor was priced at $1,424, with attachments running in the $250 to $400 range.
All 18 were readily sold, including two to the City of Hamilton, and the others to individuals and companies. But manufacturing costs escalated to the point that Frink put the project on hold and production never did resume.
Gordon searched unsuccessfully for another manufacturer to take it on. He eventually joined the University of Guelph to teach Farm Machinery Mechanics, Hydraulics and Engine Systems in the School of Engineering.
A few Gordon tractors have survived – Don still has one – and one occasionally shows up at farm implement shows. It stands as an example of one practical engineering attempt to promote a more efficient and versatile mechanical workhorse. Alas, even though it was patented in 10 countries, the market wasn’t ready to embrace it.