1949 Sheppard SD-1
Sheppard Tractors are among the most rare of the orphan tractors. We covered a ‘51 Sheppard SD-3 for you back in 2015 and you can see the story online at the Diesel World website linked below. This time we show you the smallest Sheppard, built in very small numbers from early ‘49 into January of 1950. As you will learn, it’s one of the rarest collectible tractors you will ever see.
“The engine used in the SD-1 was built around a 3 x 4-inch bore and stroke. The air-cooled unit in the SD-1 was indirect injected and rated at 5.4 gross horsepower at 2000 rpm.”
We won’t rehash the entire R.H. Sheppard Company history, which you can read in the online story, but we will tell you that Richard Sheppard designed and started building diesel engines in 1937 as a sideline to some of his other business pursuits. The engine business was his main interest and passion, so he expanded it as he could and when the rearmament push came in 1940, followed by outright war in 1941, he was ready to supply engines for the war effort. That translated mainly into generator sets and single-cylinder engines for lifeboats and the wartime production boosted the diesel business.
Post War Aspirations
After the war, Sheppard was hungry to create a diesel empire in the world of agriculture. He started in 1948 with a repower kit to put the three-cylinder, 188 ci Sheppard diesel into IH Farmall M tractors. In 1949, Sheppard debuted his own line of tractors, the SD-1, SD2 and SD-3 tractors. Contrary to some reports, the “SD” in the tractor model designations did not stand “Sheppard Diesel.” According to Peter Sheppard, son of the founder, it was the first and last letters of “ShepparD.” The 1,2 or 3 in the designation indicated the plow rating and coincided with number of engine cylinders. The R.H. Sheppard Company would also build and sell bare diesel engines, generator sets, power units, and marine engines.
In the ‘40s and ‘50s, there were a lot of inexpensive compact tractors on the market, useful for plowing up the veggie patch, moving small wagons, maybe pulling a gang mower on a golf course. Because Sheppard had one-cylinder diesels, it seemed logical to start the lineup with a small tractor in this category, to be called the SD-1.
To accomplish all this quickly, they used as much outside-sourced material as possible. In the case of the diminutive SD-1, they bought an almost complete small tractor and installed a Sheppard one-cylinder, air cooled diesel. The SD-1 was built on a rolling chassis sourced from Doylestown Machine Company, of Danboro, Pennsylvania, about 132 miles from Sheppard’s Hanover, Pennsylvania plant. Doylestown produced a small tractor called the Atomic Babe, powered by a Novo gasoline engine. Sheppard made a few changes but with the exception of the engine, the SD-1 and the Atomic Babe are nearly identical.
The engine used in the SD-1 was built around a 3 x 4-inch bore and stroke. The air-cooled unit in the SD-1 was indirect injected and rated at 5.4 gross horsepower at 2000 rpm. A similar water-cooled engine was rated for up to 8 hp, but it was apparently only used in one experimental SD-1.
Fate of the SD-1
The SD-1 was a resounding failure. First off, list price was $1095, about 20 percent more than many equivalent competitive units. Secondly, Sheppard was harsh with their dealers. They had no floor or financing plans for the dealers and they had to buy their own demo tractors and all purchases were “cash-n-carry.” It appears from the sales ledgers that the dealer cost was about $995, so it appears there wasn’t a huge profit margin, either. On top of that, it was really a so-so to average tractor anyway and there wasn’t enough “whizbangness” to overcome the other obstacles. It’s only unique feature was the diesel engine and in the tractor market of 1949, that was as much a detriment as a draw. Diesels were still looked a skeptically by most small farmers.
In looking at the production ledgers with Wendell Kelch, owner of this SD-1, we could find only a total of 17 tractors, most of which were leftover units sold at bargain-basement prices to an outfit in the Philippines in January of 1950, after production had ended. The SD-2, and especially the SD-3, were more successful. The Sheppard line was further improved by the intro of the SD-4 in 1954, but that was near the end of the tractor era at Sheppard. In most ways, the SD-4 was the best Sheppard and compared well with other diesel tractors in the market, but was overpriced and dealers still weren’t incentivized. Sheppard left the tractor biz in 1956.
Ironically, Sheppard added power steering to the SD-4 and that changed their fortunes. In order to keep their factory hitting on all eight during the tractor era, they took on side manufacturing jobs, one of which was power steering systems. They began innovating and today, they are a foremost builder of power steering systems for trucks and tractors. They are still in Hanover and recently built a museum highlighting their manufacturing history.
1949 Sheppard SD-1
Displacement: 28 ci
Bore & Stroke: 3×4 in.
Compression Ratio: 20:1
Flywheel Power: 5.4 hp @ 2000 rpm
Weight: 1,100 lbs
Fuel Capacity: 1.5 gal.
Tires: Front- 4.00-12