1950 Crosley Farm-O-Road
1950 Crosley Farm-O-Road. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

In 1945, right after the Second World War, the Willys-Overland military Jeep made a successful transition into what was called the Universal, or Civilian Jeep (CJ). It was a kind of combination tractor, pickup truck and passenger vehicle that could do its duty in the fields, construction sites or on the outback trails, and then carry its owner and family to town.

Although several thousand were sold, the Universal/Civilian Jeep turned out to be a better off-roader and passenger vehicle that it did a tractor. It was soon abandoned for agricultural use, replaced by the new light tractors coming on the market from such companies and Ford and Ferguson.

This didn’t deter Powel Crosley Jr. of Cincinnati, Ohio, from trying the same idea a few years later. Crosley had made a fortune before the war manufacturing radios and refrigerators. He was an innovative entrepreneur, the first to market a low priced radio, and the first to put shelves in refrigerator doors – his famous Shelvador model.

Crosley satisfied a long-held dream by starting his own automobile company in 1939 to make a range of tiny cars, vans and trucks powered by air-cooled, two-cylinder engines. They were marginally engineered, and few were sold.

Following the war he resumed building his little vehicles, now redesigned and powered by a 724 cc (44 cu in.) overhead cam inline four developing 26 horsepower. The engine had been used during the war to power portable generator sets, and was called the Cobra because its cylinder block wasn’t made of the traditional cast iron, but was comprised of many sheet steel stampings that were Copper Brazed together.

The immediate post-war years were a seller’s market and Crosley did reasonably well, reaching a record high of 29,089 sales in 1948 before serious problems surfaced with the sheet metal engine. Corrosion of the steel allowed the coolant to leak out or contaminate the engine oil, with disastrous results. A switch to cast iron blocks in 1949 solved this problem, but Crosley’s reputation was damaged, and would never fully recover.

Powel Crosley had other interests besides his automotive operation, including broadcasting, farming and ownership of his beloved Cincinnati Reds baseball team, and Crosley Field where they played their games. His farming activities convinced him to develop a versatile little farm\road vehicle, which he introduced in 1950. Crosley called it the Farm-O-Road and it was, like the original Civilian/Universal Jeep, intended to be a true dual-purpose machine, but on a much smaller scale.

While the Crosley sedan was small, with its 2,032 mm (80 in.) wheelbase and 3,683 mm (145 in.) over-all length, the Farm-O-Road was positively Lilliputian at only 2,324 mm (91.5 in.) long. It rode on a 1,600 mm (63 in.) wheelbase and 12-inch wheels.

Despite its minuscule size, however, the Farm-O-Road was equipped to act like a real grown-up machine. It had two gear ranges, with six speeds forward. Its top speed in low range was 24 km/h (15 mph) and it would pull such farm implements as ploughs, rakes, harrows and mowers. Front and rear power takeoffs were optional, as was a hydraulically operated drawbar, and dual wheels. Power came from the overhead-cam four cylinder car engine.

In addition to its agricultural applications, the Farm-O-Road was also intended for road use. The company claimed a top speed in the 64 to 80 km/h (40 to 50 mph) range. The normal passenger accommodation was two, but an additional two could be carried by fitting an optional rear seat. If the owner wished to use the Farm-O-Road as a small pickup truck, an optional cargo box with a hydraulic dumping mechanism could be ordered.

A fabric top and side curtains provided basic protection from the elements, and the windshield could be folded forward for that really sporty feeling.

The Crosley Farm-O-Road was, then, truly a multi-purpose little machine, albeit on a miniature scale. It could be used as a light farm tractor, could serve as a small pickup, or could be pressed into service as a passenger vehicle.

The Farm-O-Road was not a sales success, being made for only a couple of years. It was, like Crosley’s cars, probably just too small to be taken seriously; it would be regarded today as no more than a good riding lawn mower. Total production was in the hundreds, not the thousands, but it was an interesting attempt at a dual-purpose vehicle.

Crosley Motors succumbed to bankruptcy in 1952, but the Farm-O-Road was revived a decade later by the Crofton Marine Engine Co. of San Diego, California, as the Crofton Bug. Again, it saw limited production, with only 200 to 250 being sold.

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